This article will assume you've read both Flow and Mastery. The two books are complimentary and we'll examine how to view them, in this case how the Path of Mastery fits in to flow and the optimal experience. Or more properly, how someone on the Path of Mastery can take advantage of Flow. Specifically now we'll look at the three types of people who never get on the Path of Mastery and then the Master, see where they go wrong and how one can use the concept of flow to stay on the Path.
Click on the pics for larger.
The Flow Chart
|Figure 1: The Flow Chart|
Figure 1 is the standard Flow...chart. The gist of it is that if your skills match the challenges presented to them, you can achieve flow. Note that the flow channel is a channel and not a line - this means that at any given skill level, you can take on a variety of challenges while still being able to attain flow and also, any given challenge will allow for a variety of skill levels to attempt it while still being in flow. If you have some spare time, think about why it is - it's pretty fascinating.
As the level of the challenges you face gets higher relative to your skill, you will eventually find yourself outside of the flow channel and experiencing anxiety. Boredom works in the opposite fashion - it occurs when your skill is greater than the challenge presented to it.
To stay in the flow channel then, one must increase the challenge in proportion to their skill. This of course assumes that you're engaging in an activity that can provide flow in the first place.
Simple enough, right? Note that time is not represented on these charts. Time is necessary in that it takes time in order to learn new skills and complete challenging tasks that will allow you to learn, but your skills and challenges and progress are largely independent of time. It's also largely irrelevant, at least for this discussion. It will become important later when we discuss the Power Law and how to apply it to your training.
As an example, I'm sure you've had the experience of training something over and over and noticing an improvement, however slight over the course of a couple weeks. Doing better at that task moves you to the right of the chart and allows you to take on more difficult challenges, which allows you to move up on the chart. Let's say that your practice lets you move one "skill unit" to the right. It took you a couple weeks to get there.
I'm sure you've also had one of those revelatory moments where all of the sudden something "clicked" and you could immediately incorporate that into your game. Maybe you took a seminar and saw the instructor move a certain way, maybe you were watching a fight and you noticed the practical application of something you knew in theory but could never make it work in practice, or maybe what your coach had been telling you all these years finally sunk in. Regardless, you incorporated that into your game and it worked. You moved up a "skill unit" and it only took you a couple seconds.
Of course, as your skill increases, it's entirely likely that before too long you'll hit a point of diminishing returns and and up on what Leonard called the plateau. How you deal with that separates the following three types of people from the Master.
|Figure 2: The Dabbler|
They'll then find some other activity and continue the pattern. I'm sure you've seen these people around the gym. The worst cases tell you they are having a lot of fun but can't come in more than once or twice a week because Monday is kickboxing, Tuesday is motorcross, Wednesday is cooking, Thursday is a TV show, Friday is networking dinner, etc. For guys that sorta stick around, you'll find that they've been training for years, hopping between schools whenever they get promoted, or are about to get promoted, get frustrated or bored and find a new gym to continue. In this, they are much like the Hacker.
The Dabbler has enthusiasm but not drive. He is missing the Master Key of Practice.
|Figure 3: The Obsessive|
Sooner or later, you see him using any excuse necessary to get the advanced guys in the ring for some full contact sparring and shortly thereafter he ends up injured, burnt out or not welcome because he pissed everyone off.
The obsessive has no understanding of feedback and/or an inability to accurately judge his own skills. They also tend to be control freaks and unable to surrender themselves to their practice (Leonard's 3rd Master Key).
|Figure 4: The Hacker|
While doing this, it's likely his skill will increase, but if he hits the lower bound of the flow channel, he'll just figure out another way to keep performing the same task in a different manner rather than increasing the challenge of the task.
Thus it's possible that the hacker will increase his skill, but that's rather accidental and much slower than it would otherwise be if he were working towards increasingly difficult goals - the biggest failure of the hacker is improper goal setting. He doesn't understand Master Key 5 - The Edge.
As an aside, the hacker is unfortunately named - Leonard means it in the sense of a tinkerer. To him, the hacker just wants to "hack around with fellow hackers" (Leonard, 23). This is different than what most of us think of as hackers, those who understand the limitations of a tool and either use it in unintended ways or modify the tool in question to improve it's effectiveness.
|Figure 5: The Master|
How does the Master use the Five Master Keys to stay within the flow channel?
- Instruction - aka. feedback. Whether the Master has an instructor or some detailed metrics, they will know when it's time to ease up and when it's time to work harder. The Obsessive either lacks or ignores their feedback.
- Practice - Unlike the Dabbler who likes the thought of doing something more than they like the practice or the Hacker who mistakes busywork for progress, the Master enjoys (in the Flow sense of enjoyment leading to greater complexity) practice and understands its necessity in increasing skill.
- Surrender - Csikszentmihalyi describes a loss of self-consciousness as being one of the seven characteristics of a flow activity, but Leonard uses it in more of a meta-sense. Here, we see the Master say, "I'm going to do this thing...it requires certain thing and I'm going to let it tell me what I need to do to get better."
- Intentionality - Leonard discusses this in terms of visualization and aligning what some call the "inner game" with the outer.
- The Edge - Really, being at the edges of the flow channel. Sometimes you will need to set more complex goals and hang out at the upper bound to give yourself something to work towards, but you risk anxiety. Sometimes you need to increase your skills before you take on the harder challenges and risk boredom at the lower bound. The Master knows that he will have to