I got drunk every night in November.
Yep. 30 days straight. And no I’m not an alcoholic.
In November I spent those 30 days learning about wine as part of my massive monthly effort to do little lifestyle experiments.
This particular experiment was related to giving myself a flow test and learn more about my natural strengths and inclinations.
For more than a year I have actively pursued many methods to help hone in on my “passions” and natural strengths, but many of these programs overwhelmingly had one main flaw: the fact that you can only “think it through” so much.
Now, sometime between giving myself a strengthsfinder test and going through half a dozen books on learning what you’re good at, I came across the recommendation to give myself a flow test.
This was said to be a regular exercise of Jim Collins, who wrote Good to Great and is a legendary business guru. Daniel Pink in his book Drive also recommended this.
Now, before I talk about how awesome flow tests are (and how to carry them out), I want to show you why they’re so important.
Stop waiting for love at first site and start testing the waters
Many people make a massive error when trying to improve their work, life or relationships. They do exactly what I did – try to work it all out in their head.
It’s like when you first start selling a product online or take up a new hobby – there are TONS of assumptions in your head but only some of them, you realize, are correct once you start testing. And there’s TONS of weird stuff you would never have guessed was effective, but the little experiments (reality) confirmed they were.
Many of us try to work out our relationships in our head – as if we can control the future and exactly how it will pan out.
And many of us have a list of qualities and characteristics we want our ideal partner to have — only to find that, once we got the partner, they weren’t that important or we really didn’t like them.
I fell for this too when trying to initially figure out what business I wanted to start, which is part of the reason why I collected so many false-starts and failures (read more about my previous false-starts and failures here).
Ultimately, this led to the realization that rapid testing is much more important than thinking things through, and fortunately, there are nifty little exercises to rapidly test many of our assumptions.
If you have no goddamn clue what you could possibly do for the rest of your life, spend as little time as possible testing as many various options as you can.
A perfect example of rapidly testing ideas is Sean over at Oneweekjob.com, who worked a new job every week for 52 weeks in an attempt to get closer to figure out what he loves to do for work.
Stop thinking you’re going to be finding that one straight shot for your dream person, your dream job, or your dream lifestyle. Creating anything ideal is not about “finding” it, but about assembling each piece of the puzzle over time.
For many many years I figured I would just test the things out a bit. Date someone here, date someone there, and never commit, because when I found the one I’d know right?
I did the same for work – in one year I started (and quit) four jobs trying to get closer to a more ideal job every time.
And I did the same for life – I lived in rural areas, massive cities, I lived in cities that spoke English and cities that spoke French, German & Chinese. I lived at home and I lived abroad.
The actual lifestyle experiments themselves turned out to be much more valuable than my many thousands of hours thinking things through. Test.
What does drinking wine and getting drunk have to do with all of this?
It took me a long time to realize it, but you’re probably a lot like me. If you’re reading this you’re probably very intellectual (read: in your head) about how you approach life.
You think you can work most of the path out in your head, and then make more informed decisions in person.
Unfortunately In my experience this is a totally false mindset – you can only “guess” so accurately based on intellectual assessment.
Drinking wine for 30 days was part of my experiment in learning as much about as many random topics as possible, to see what ended up sticking.
And that’s where the flow test comes in.
Flow testing 101
A couple months back, I was thinking a hell of a lot about my life and where I wanted it to go. There were too many things in my head, too many businesses I wanted to test or start, and too many other variables that were making decision making impossible.
I was getting unhappy too.
So I decided to keep it stupid simple. I set an alarm at 5-7 times throughout the day, and when it went off, I recorded how I felt, what I was doing, and whether or not I was in flow.
So my daily alarm schedule looked like this:
- 9 am — Feeling: Currently doing: In Flow?
- 11 am — Feeling: Currently doing: In Flow?
- 1 pm — Feeling: Currently doing: In Flow?
- 3 pm — Feeling: Currently doing: In Flow?
- 5 pm — Feeling: Currently doing: In Flow?
- 7 pm — Feeling: Currently doing: In Flow?
- 9 pm — Feeling: Currently doing: In Flow?
A lot of the time, my answers looked like this:
9 am: Feeling: Bored Currently Doing: Working In Flow? Nope.
But sometimes, an interesting gem popped up, like this:
5 pm: Feeling: Excited, motivated Currently Doing: Writing a free guide In Flow: Yep (For 3-5 hours straight)
6 pm: Feeling: Happy, energized Currently doing: Working out In Flow: Yep
8:30 pm: Feeling: Excited, almost manic excited Currently Doing: Consulting a new biz owner on ways to bring in more customers In Flow: Yes, couldn’t sleep.
4 pm: Feeling: Insanely excited Currently Doing: Preparing a talk for a big conference In Flow: Yes, crazy motivated
7 Pm: Feeling: Light, happy Currently Doing: Making dinner In Flow: Yes
11 Pm: Feeling: Exciteed, relaxed Currently Doing: Carving a pumpkin In Flow: Yes
The simple test that will change it all
Jim Collins was said to regularly give himself flow tests to constantly improve his efficiency and find out what activities obviously weren’t doing it for him, and which activities naturally made him feel happy and motivated.
One thing this test will show you is the quality of your work: usually if you’re not in flow, you’re not getting much done. Work is segmented. There are constant interruptions. It’s boring and un-engaging.
It’s pretty much your typical office 9-5.
I learned that my day-job work is almost never flow-producing which was a deadgivaway that it was time to switch jobs and that I wasn’t learning much.
I also learned some new things that I had no idea were so fun: like designing online programs and information products. They are naturally flow producing for me and leave me in a happy, motivated state even after I’ve worked for 5 hours.
This goes along well with what I frquently talk about – going with the past of least resistance instead of forcing yourself to be disciplined.
It also showed me a new strength/passion of mine: speaking. A few months ago I gave a speech to the American Marketing Association, and everything from preparing the speech& the slides, to actually giving it, was flow-producing for me. The entire thing was fun.
The test also went a long way towards showing me what makes me happy on a daily basis — such as activities that have a clear beginning and clear ending, with plenty of feedback along the way.
Other random things (like siting and drinking an espresso in the afternoon with a book) made me more happy than I thought.
Another randomly enjoyable experience was just sitting down in a coffee shop with a business owner and talking about how to use digital products to expand the online portion of their business. I realized that teaching is one of my greatest passions and natural strengths.
When in doubt – go get drunk for 30 days
Learning about wine was one of my many experiments in constantly searching for things that I feel make my time more worthwhile and conversation-worthy.
If you can’t quite seem to find what makes you happy in your work or life, give yourself a flow test, you may be surprised what it tells you about yourself.
Image – Fosmiling