Much has been written about flow and being in the present moment. I have read a ton of it, searching for keys to experiencing more flow in my life and work. I can work so hard at times that I exhaust myself in the process. There have also been too many times in my life when I have worked like crazy and not been particularly satisfied with the outcome or the journey. Does this sound familiar?
I have a contribution from the sport of Mountain Biking, my own experience and having gotten others started in the sport: There usually is a natural progression from incompetence to competence, and eventually to being able to achieve a state of flow, typically referred to as the “Four Stages of Competence” , here’s the MTB version:
Stage 1.) Unconscious Incompetence
- You don’t fall a lot: You have fun, take it easy, discover the ins and outs and don’t fall a lot because you’re not trying all that hard.
Stage 2.) Conscious Incompetence
- You fall a little more often: You become aware of how little you know, how much others can do, the fact that certain obstacles are outside your capacity to clear, and when trying anything new stiffen your body and mind.
Stage 3.) Conscious Competence
- You fall a lot: You are aware of your own capabilities and limits, but the fact that you are focused on testing these limits makes you go over the edge, resulting in more falls. Your mind is focused, but still over thinking how to approach each obstacle. Many people never progress beyond this stage.
Stage 4.) Unconscious Competence
- You don’t fall at all. The trail is a river, you are the water flowing over it. Your mind wanders in appreciation of the woods, the smells, the light, the blur of leaves underneath you, your own breathing. With continued practice it gets easier to recognize the onset of flow, and to maintain this state.
Being an authentic leader has much in common with achieving stage 4 in your life and work: On our way there it is helpful to remember that one cannot get there without first passing through stages 1-2, and therefore falling a lot!
PS Wikipedia suggests that a fifth stage should be added, called “Reflective Competence”