When we think of efficiency, we tend to imagine something that requires the least amount of effort to obtain maximal results. In Positive Psychology, there is an idea called Flow Theory that is based on the premise of balancing traits to enter the “flow zone.” The gist of flow theory is that when balanced, skill and challenge yield a timeless, almost meditative state called flow. But skill and challenge in sports, video games, and musical instruments are not the only places we can find efficiency . . . and it’s not always called ‘flow.’
If we look at how we solve problems in daily life, we essentially say that we can focus on:
- The “Why” of the problem, and
- The “How” of the solution
The desired result of this focus is to obtain clarity that leads to action.
Like flow theory, the optimal state is the balanced zone between each.
So what does this mean? It means that when it comes to taking action (behavior change) that solves a problem, we want to be in an efficient zone where we are most likely to follow through on what solves our problem. In the graph above, if we focus too much on the Why of the problem, and not enough on the How of the solution, we feel stuck in the problem. On the other hand, if we focus too much on the various potential solutions (the How’s), then we experience analysis paralysis where we cannot make a decision because of all the options. We could say that both “stuck-ness” and “analysis paralysis” are different types of being overwhelmed, or out of balance.
But in the middle zone, where there is a balance, sometimes a little more on the “how,” other times a little more on the “why,” we get clear options and decisive action.
Feeling mind and Thinking mind
When we consider that we have a “Thinking mind” and a “Feeling mind” we can see that the proper balance leads to the flow experience of “Wise mind.” Wise mind is a concept from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
When out of balance, we either feel emotionally over-dramatic (too much feeling-mind), or over-intellectual (too much thinking-mind). Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to make decisions when feeling overly emotional or overly intellectual; although there are times that you are wise to lean in one direction to counter-balance the other. Remember, the balance area is a zone, not a line; it has many shades of gray.
Yin and Yang
There is an Eastern concept that also nicely applies to Flow Theory: The Yin and the Yang:
It’s not a graph, but it still captures the essence of balance. In a relationship, the Yin, or feminine energy, is balanced by the Yang, or the Masculine energy. There is a little of each contained within the other.
Out of balance, and a relationship is chaotic, manipulative, controlling, etc. However, when the feminine energy is matched with masculine energy, balance is achieved and the relationship seems to just “flow” better.
Sometimes there’s more Yin, sometimes more Yang. But overall, there is a balance between the two. Generally speaking, in a healthy relationship, balance is a shifting back and forth from Yin to Yang, only passing through a 50/50 split of energy.
Considering that any 2 people both have their own balancing acts going on, we can begin to look at the interplay between their balance zones. If we look at people interacting with one another, we begin to see how somebody that is more thought-based can find flow with somebody that is more emotion-based by mindfully tuning into their wise mind (and vice versa). Even if the other person does not tune into their wise mind, the flexibility of the one person’s wise mind is often enough to create the middle ground or flow zone, for the interaction.
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Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan is a Gottman-trained Couples Counselor, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.