Erin Kramp was one of those rare people who had it all together all the time. Whether playing the role of a successful businesswoman who served on boards of directors by her 20s, in her marriage or as a mother to her young daughter, Peyton, Erin exuded a joy of life, a sense of ease and a quality of presence that were both palpable and contagious. Put another way, Erin had mastered “flow.” And as events would later prove, Erin could maintain this same level of productive, positive presence — that same flow — regardless of external circumstances. Everything seemed to change for Erin when she received a breast cancer diagnosis. Instead of buying hospitals as an investor, she was suddenly seeing them from the inside long before her daughter was grade-school age. But the most important thing, the essence of how Erin saw herself and interacted with the world, did not change. Instead of feeling like a victim of circumstances, she refocused her priorities and applied the same positive presence to the situation at hand. People noticed. First, her local Texas newspaper featured her, and later she appeared on “20/20” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” (Winfrey subsequently selected Erin as one of her most memorable guests of all time.) They all were fascinated by Erin’s ease and presence, especially in a series of tapes that she created for Peyton containing life lessons on everything from how to put on makeup to how to pick a husband. With her husband, Doug, Erin wrote a book, “Living With the End in Mind,” to help others in their journeys. She passed away in 1998, in flow to the very end.
What about now?
When in ‘flow,’ or fully present, goals are clear. Concentration deepens when someone is in a state of ‘flow.’
What Is This Elusive “Flow”?As part of his efforts to develop a better understanding of the underpinnings of happiness, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi realized that some people experience an absorption in their activities to the point of a state of consciousness that he called “flow.” In more modern terms, this is often described as being fully present.
How Does It Feel to be in Flow?In his book “Good Business: Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning,” Csikszentmihalyi describes the experience of flow in detail. Here are a few excerpts (emphasis and paraphrasing added).
- Goals are clear. True enjoyment comes from the steps one takes toward attaining a goal, not from actually reaching it. People often miss the opportunity to enjoy what they do because they focus all their attention on the outcome, rather than savoring the steps along the way.
- Concentration deepens. In everyday life, as we move through the day from morning to night, we rarely concentrate our attention beyond a very brief and superficial level. Instead we are constantly distracted, our attention flitting from one stimulus to the next. Such chronic distraction makes it difficult to experience the wholeness of our being. In flow, however, action and awareness merge in a seamless wave of energy.
- The present is what matters. Because in flow the task at hand demands complete attention, the worries and problems that are so nagging in everyday life have no chance to register in the mind. Our attention must be placed on the present. Events from the past or the future cannot find room in consciousness.
- Being in control is not important. In the clearly circumscribed world of flow activity, we know that as long as we respect its challenges and develop the appropriate skills to meet them, we stand a good chance of being able to cope with the situation. It involves a sense of confidence that comes from surrendering to the requirements of the situation (not trying to control them), becoming a vessel, being inspired, or of becoming possessed by the Muse.
- The loss of ego. Self-consciousness disappears and one is momentarily relieved of their ambitions and defeats as well as their fears and desires.While immersed in the experience, one tends to forget not only one’s problems and surroundings, but one’s very self.
Why Is “Flow” Important for the Veterinary Profession?Driven by a variety of external pressures — economics, rapid technological change, shifting gender and generational demographics, an increasingly competitive marketplace, to name a few — we’ve lost ourselves in “doing.” We’re a bunch of high achievers, perfectionists and control freaks, so the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world around us can push us to our limits. Many feel that they are on an accelerating performance treadmill with no end in sight.
What Can People Do to Bring More Flow Into Their Life?
- Get out of your head and stop trying to be in control of everything.
- “Be” intentional.
- How would I choose to be different in the things that I do if I suddenly found that my life was nearing its end?
- Why am I waiting?