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Mindfulness & Balanced Efficiency

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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 a 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 music instruments are not the only places we can find efficiency . . . and it’s not always called ‘flow.’

In problem solving

If we look at how we solve problems in daily life, we essentially say that we can focus on:

  1. The “Why” of the problem, and
  2. The “How” of the solution

The desired result of this focus is to obtain clarity that leads to action. To examine how to balance our focus, we plot these on a traditional (X, Y) grid where the X-axis is “Why of the problem,” and the Y-axis is “How of the solution.”

Grid showing How and Why on an X, Y axis with clarity being the best fit zone at 45 degrees

When we balance Why of the problem with How of the solution, we attain clarity of 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).

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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:

Yin and Yang imageIt’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 of 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.

Interpersonal application

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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