In my last post I touched on the moment I first felt fatherhood (say that three times fast). After some time questioning my capability within this new role, I had finally seen the light. An instant connection was made in a spontaneous moment that brought immediate meaning to the relationship I now cherish with my son. Max and I share a special bond. As he grows, I grow with him. At the time I didn’t understand what had happened and, quite frankly, I didn’t care. I knew it felt right and gave me the confidence I needed as a father. Now, nine and a half years later, I’m beginning to comprehend the source of that original magical moment. This new understanding not only helps explain the past, but also gives me direction moving forward in fatherhood and life.

For years, athletes, artists, creative and intellectual types alike have described a state of intense focus from which they claim a near supernatural ability to perform. This radical state of mind has no definitive definition but has been described as “the zone” or, more recently by psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as a “flow state.” Csikszentmihalyi is an expert on happiness and believes that, as humans, the clear path towards its achievement is through active participation, specifically in voluntary efforts to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. He considers the same criteria as the primary portal to a flow state. Author Steven Kotler agrees, providing further explanation is his book, The Rise of Superman, that flow states are often the result of simple relationships between people in which a set of specific triggers are present. Those triggers include – among other things – shared goals, familiarity, serious concentration, immediate feedback and an element of risk.

The moment of clarity I shared with Max exemplified a flow state triggered accordingly through Csikszentmihalyi and Kotler’s principles. Our goals were aligned in survival. We maintained familiarity through family and time spent reading together. Both of us were concentrated on each other. Feedback was instantly communicated non-verbally through eye contact and vocal inflection.   Any father will tell you that, in the early days especially, everyday is filled with the risks of uncertainty and fear of failure.  Parenthood is voluntary, difficult and worthwhile. The ingredients for flow were there. Once I abandoned a passive stance and engaged in the pursuit of fatherhood, the switch flipped and flow began to, well, flow.

Fatherhood is a dynamic and challenging process. In that sense, it is not unlike life. What my experience with my infant son Max taught me all those years ago was that embracing the adversities in relationships and in life is a key to establishing the powerful but illusive flow state. It is avenue towards growth and potential in all aspects of life and, perhaps most important these days, a source of meaning capable of producing true happiness.