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December 11, 2011


Ah...yet another post to add to my Dare to Dream "Bible"! Thanks for so clearly summarizing Csikszentmihalyi's philosophy - so helpful.

I experience flow every day in my work. At the end of each hour, I can't believe how quickly the time has passed. I am "in" it. I am becoming more interested in extending flow into other areas of my life.

Love this topic.

Flow is about the liberating moments we feel when we are 'in the zone' - like me goosebumping myself as I get that a-ha moment where I could see clearly what I want to say & connect that to what the audience of my work (in particular, instruction manuals for trainers / facilitators) need to see how they can inject their own experiences & personalities into a training or learning workshop while communicating the essential points to their participants.

In my experience, flow arrives after multiple drafts. It hides in the most mundane of activities. Case in point: I'm writing an operations guide for my Human Resource team. Right now, if my team leader or any of the more experienced team members were to resign, the rest of us would be in complete darkness - we'd be scrambling for the internal memos, processes, notes etc to guide us in the many steps we need to take to offer advice to our 1,200+ colleagues with regards to their allowances, visa applications, payroll, benefits - what-have-yous. All these notes, policies & guidelines are floating around us, in people's heads, files & email inboxes. My intention is for any one of us to pick up this manual & be able to quickly refer to processes & policies as a safety net while we take specific action on each case. Think of it as freeing ourselves to do the right thing for each unique situation while maintaining consistency.

To see my colleagues take the information in the manual draft, improve on it, & together make it better, is rewarding for me.

Thanks again for an insightful post to move us forward - dare to dream, dare to do.


Thanks for putting this together, I especially like this: "People who thrive in disruption are meticulous gatekeepers of their own consciousness."

I would submit that people that are meticulous with their consciousness will be able to thrive in all sorts of ways. It can be difficult to get people to overcome their internalized biases and become meticulous.

Definitely worth further study!

I can't believe how timely this post is for me right now. It gave me the chills.

I am currently going through a period of BIG disruptive change in my life with my career.

I work in Sales full-time but it's not where I want to be.

I feel like I'm not fulfilling my purpose here through this type of work. My purpose is to help people-to help people make changes that will allow them to really experience and enjoy life. To escape the minutia and be present.

So I started a blog to fulfill my purpose. I love the blog as it gives me a great opportunity to connect with amazing people and share my own thoughts which hopefully help people in some way shape or form.

The hope and plan was to build the blog so I could make a living from it...and therefore, make a living by fulfilling my purpose.

But the blog isn't there yet and I may end up getting fired from my job fairly soon.

Most people who be rushing to find another job right now.

But I can't do that. I'm trying to follow my gut and my gut says that is a bad idea.

I've been in this place before and jumped to safety by finding another job.

But the cycle repeats...I am doing work that is not fulfilling my purpose and I'm not happy.

So this time, I am trusting in "the unknown".

I don't know what is next for me "career-wise". I don't know how I will be making a living if I get fired.

All I know is that I am here for something more and I can't get there unless I have faith that things will unfold for me, as long as I don't give in to the fear of not knowing and accept that I will be ok. The right things will happen and life will continue to be amazing.

I like the idea of "immersing ourselves in the process instead of distracting ourselves with the outcome (which is unknowable anyway)". This speaks loudly to me. I am always concerned with the outcome...Example: how will I pay the bills if I get fired!

I don't quite understand it all yet, but I know that I just need to have faith, enjoy the present and bring every ounce of positive energy to every situation in my life. Even if it's a job I don't enjoy.

Each day is another baby step. But the more I trust and follow my gut, the more my path unfolds and I'm loving it.

It feels a little irresponsible but I guess I have to get over that.

If I think (worry) of the outcome, the anxiety sets in.

So instead, I'll focus on the now and immerse myself in the process.

I can fulfill my purpose NOW, instead of waiting for the right career to enable me to do that.

Change is inevitable throughout our lives and it's when we resist it that change morphs into stress and anxiety.

Learning to develop acceptance in any situation is a life skill that creates balance out of disruption.

Your comment sums it up beautifully: "...When it comes to disruption, we can be very proactive in setting ourselves up to enjoy the process and thrive in it."

Thank you for this inspiring post, Susan!

Thanks for this wonderfully consuming fires to ignite the brain, Susan and Whitney!

Long an avid follower of Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi – I loved the way you unpacked his insights into extended colors and shapes for an innovation era!

Like you I’ve enjoyed how “Whitney brilliantly encourages us to dream and then act on our dreams.”

I also liked your notion of “any change we actively choose for ourselves, and personal disruption – with its countless opportunities."

Did you know it takes extra dopamine in the brain to advance mental skill sets for thriving in disruption?

Loved your illustrations for Ordered consciousness, Autotelic activities, and Flow


To your compelling question - Have you ever experienced flow, in work or play? … my answer is both yes and no.

The answer is YES when I use multiple intelligences and take risks to leap off a cliff in some new venture that allows these insights to integrate into usable tools – for instance.

The answer is NO whenever I fear that the risk may not allow me to win at what I do best, so that I allow cortisol to stall or shut down my brain.

Thankfully, your amazing post, and Whitney’s interactions over the past many months, give me more YESes than NOs lately.

Thanks Susan, for another shot at wonder – since I have a high stakes meeting tomorrow, here at the Brain Center with top innovative leaders I deeply respect here in the Rochester, NY area. Now I expect a few more cliff hangers as innovative takeaways from that venture – with flow as a possibility! Stay blessed! Ellen

Wow, everyone! What a great round of comments! My thanks to:

Whitney, for all the great work you do in encouraging personal disruption. It is a pleasure to know you and honor to guest post on your blog.

Janna, for appreciating the Csikszentmihalyi summary. I've long believed the world needs one, and I'm delighted to offer one.

Faz, for totally rocking. I especially love these words: "[F]low arrives after multiple drafts. It hides in the most mundane of activities." I have them queued in a tweet for tomorrow.

Stephen, for pointing out the challenge of learning to order one's consciousness. The good news is - and Csikszentmihalyi is clear on this - that it's a learnable skill that everyone can get better and better at.

Tim, for putting it all out there. It's admirable for you to define and pursue your purpose - now, instead of waiting around for the "right time" to disrupt yourself. You are courageous indeed.

Ginny, for pointing out the perils of resisting change. We all need to encourage each other. It's great that these ideas are becoming known and shared. Hopefully we all can play a part in bringing about less resistance and more disruption.

Dr. Webber, for all your kind words, for sharing that amazing fact about dopamine and disruption, and for telling us about the circumstances that have (and haven't) lead you to flow. I hope you feel it in your meeting.

As Csikszentmihalyi encourages, let's push more and more of our experiences into the flow channel! Thanks again, everyone!


meticulous gatekeepers of their own consciousness... actively choose what and what not to pay attention to... "what we pay attention to is no trivial matter; we are what we attend to .... [it is] our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience."

Love, love, love this! I have printed and put it where I can see it often. Thank you Susan and Whitney. Tim, tell us your blog.

Thanks so much, Maria. They are hugely powerful words, aren't they? I find myself thinking a lot about them as well. Printing them out is a great idea.

I looked at your site - very well done! Tim's blog is

And yes, it's great of Whitney to have me as a guest here. I'm very grateful for that.


The process of breaking out of our professional comfort zone and executing on an innovative idea sounds simple, but is certainly not. To break away from the norm, to say "even if this is the way it has always been done, I think I have a better way," is an immense challenge because it holds you up to scrutiny.

In addition to the 3 factors you mentioned, I would add resilience and the ability to tolerate risk as necessary for thriving in disruption.

Very thought provoking post!

Thank you, Nancy. Great comment.

Disruption is indeed a process and a challenge. So many traits come into play, including, as you mention, resilience and risk tolerance.

The question, I think, is how do we develop traits like these, and how do we build on them?

As I read Csikszentmihalyi, the 3 forces outlined in this post are foundational and supportive of such traits. In other words, if we're in a situation requiring us to pick ourselves up and forge ahead (resilience), or we're contemplating or experiencing risk, we're more likely to move forward and thrive if we employ the 3 forces, because the 3 forces enable those traits.

What do you think? Thanks again for commenting, Nancy.

Thank you to Susan for such an insightful post and for moderating such an engaging discussion. And thank you also to Nancy, Maria, Janna, Ginny, Tim, Stephen and Faz. You made the conversation that much richer.

Flow and disruptive change are so important. I think "disruptive change" is particularly important when there is no flow or restricted flow.

I look at the pictures Susan chose for the post -- a flowing river -- and cannot help but think how often I feel that my life has gotten dammed up behind some wall of resistance. I know that by blowing up the dam, the river will start flowing and will cause massive disruption downstream, but it will chart a new course and settle in.

I'm not sure that I have experienced an autotelic activity -- where the joy just comes from the doing. Probably because I've been too dense to notice. I definitely plan to pay more attention -- part of Susan's approach to disruptive change: Get the Motion in Motion and the Measure the Mastery of it. Perhaps it is the motion that is the autotelic part?


Yes, Motion is indeed the autotelic part. It's fueled by the other 3 "M" principles: Mindset (believing we can change and grow); Mastery (which brings intrinsic reward); and Measurement (which shows us whether what we're doing is working).

I like your analogy to the damming up of a flowing river - and blowing up the dam to bring about disruption (good disruption). We all have self imposed walls of resistance. What's important is to be aware of it and choose the ones to dismantle (and in what order).

Csikszentmihalyi can be difficult to read, but I'm glad I plowed through it and figured out how his findings relate to each other, i.e. Ordered Consciousness (choosing what we pay attention to) enables Autotelic Activity (loving the process of what we're doing), and those things enable Flow (finding complete absorption in what we're doing).

The structure of the business world is very different from all of this. It's so often about "getting," like "getting" funding, "getting" traction, "getting" profits. Those are realities, but we still have the option of restructuring the experience and living it on our own terms, i.e. within the framework Csikszentmihalyi shows us leads to happiness and a life worth living.

There are any number of examples of people who have taken this approach and still "gotten" tangible results. Derek Sivers comes to mind. In his great book Anything You Want, he writes repeatedly about how he loved the process, and how he narrowed his focus specifically to what he was doing, while ignoring convention and purported wisdom that sounded good, but didn't apply to his niche endeavor. There's a lot to learn there.

What a great experience this has been, Whitney. Thank you for hosting this post and the great discussion it lead to.


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About this blog

  • When I took a sabbatical from Wall Street to pursue a different dream and help others live theirs, I learned that women in the U.S. may be placated, even pampered, but because we aren't dreaming, we are also desperate and depressed. Drawing on a variety of sources, ranging from academic studies to pop culture, dare to dream encourages us to dream. And then to act on our dreams.


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