In addition to the benefits and costs described in the previous posts, there are two positive side effects that may interest you. These are described below.
Abraham Maslow called it a peak experience. Athletes, artists and performers call it being in the zone or playing their A-game. Researchers in positive psychology refer to it as flow and philosophers, spiritual and religious writers call it a transcendent experience. Regardless of the name you use, “it” is that experience when everything is working well – when your skills and experience allow you to complete a difficult task; you have positive relationships with your co-workers; or you are maintaining a healthy balance in your life. You do your best work. You lose track of time because you are totally engaged in what you are doing or with your co-workers or customers. It is those times when everything seems to go “just right.”
In 500 BC, the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu described it as: “Without going beyond his own nature, one can achieve ultimate wisdom. Therefore, the intelligent man knows all he needs to know without going away, and he sees all he needs to see without looking elsewhere, and does all he needs to do without undue exertion,” (1). These transcendent experiences are intermittent – they come and go, and they occur more often when you attend to your well-being.
Peak Experience Behaviors
People who have peak experiences tend to act in certain ways. They are more inclusive and less ego driven. They value those around them and are sensitive to the emotions of others. They are able to see the big picture and appreciate the detail. Curiosity and knowledge work together. This leads to effective problem-solving and innovation. Peak experiences lead to a more holistic view of the world, including the workplace. Those who have these experiences are able to look beyond their own needs to the needs of the team, department, company and even the community. They are articulate, motivated and responsive to those around them.
Virtuous Circle of Well-being
You have heard the termvicious cycle – it is a situation in which the solution to one problem leads to another problem, which in turn leads to a third problem and on, and on it goes. There is also a virtuous circle in which a successful problem solution leads to a second successful solution and so on. Well-being is a virtuous circle.
Working on our well-being leads to positive results, which in turn motivate us to do more work on our well-being. For example, I know I need to exercise to improve my well-being, so I ride my bicycle, because I love riding my bicycle. My improved physical well-being leads to more energy and creativity. I discovered that bike riding leads to better problem solving. So, when I get stuck in my writing, I take a break and ride my bike around the block a few times; and voila, I get unstuck, go back to my computer and solve my problem, which in turn, improves my productivity, which makes me happier and more social.
When I had a “real job” (40-plus hours a week in an office with paid vacation and health insurance), I would do something similar. When I “got stuck,” I went for a little walk – only five minutes, and it was enough. Even in the middle of a sub-zero degree January in Minnesota, I would walk around the office for the few minutes.
The virtuous cycle, also called an upward positive cycle, is what happens when you work to improve our well-being. Well-being leads to more opportunities, which improves well-being. In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and his associates describe the core features and benefits of well-being. These include positive emotions, self-esteem, resilience, vitality, accomplishment, growth, beneficial relationships, meaning and purpose in life and gratitude.(2)
Think about the last time you had a peak experience. What was it like? What factors, within your control contributed to it? How can you creat those factors in future situations.
Next: What do I have to do?
- Lao Tzu, Tao te Ching, Chapter, 47 Stephen Mitchell translation, pocket edition, 1990
- Seligman, Martin (2011), Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, New York, NY: Free Press