We think of building healthy behaviors or increasing productivity as a matter of willpower. We seek knowledge and goal setting skills to make the desired change. With determination and discipline, we may succeed, at least for days or even months—but more than often, we fall off course. The common assumption is that our day-to-day decisions are conscious choices. But our ability to make informed decisions that control our behavior is fundamentally limited. Psychology and neuroscience suggest that most of our actions are borne out of habit—they are reflexive, instinctive, and occur outside the awareness of our conscious mind. And if we pit one against the other, our thinking minds are no match for our automatic habits.
Named by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the concept of “flow” has existed for thousands of years in different forms. When you are in the flow, you are fully immersed and energized by what you are doing. In sports, performing at that point where natural skills and peak performance align is called “being in the zone.” And in ancient Chinese philosophy, when your body is in harmony between opposing Yin and Yang forces, you have an optimal flow of the vital energy called “Qi.”