The emotional states of the human mind can be viewed as a graph. Label the left axis Challenges in life and the bottom axis as Skills required in life. The four corner regions are Anxiety when your challenges are very high and your skill level is very low. You want to do something, but you are thwarted from doing it because you can’t – you don’t have the tools to do it. A corner region labeled Apathy is when you have no challenges in life and no skills. You are not challenged and you don’t care – you have no concern or interest.
The other two regions are Relaxation and Flow. Relaxation occurs when you have high skill levels, but no challenges. This is good for a while. It’s good to relax – to remove the stresses in your life. It’s the area a lot of people think they want to be in when they retire – a life of relaxation.
Flow is defined on the chart by having high skills and many challenges. I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘in the flow’ or ‘in the zone’ when someone is highly competent and producing. The term is usually equated it to sports, but many times it is exhibited in working environments.
How many times do we live in the upper or lower bands of challenge and skills? Probably not many! I’m sure that some people do. They tend to burn out occasionally when stress exceeds their ability to cope with it.
Most of us live in those regions where we don’t produce at 100% every minute of every day. We don’t have challenge after challenge that has to be met (sometimes it feels that way though). We have a challenge and a skill to complete a task. Then we move on to the next one. Most of these tasks are externally driven – from our bosses, our coaches, our family, etc.
The middle regions are where most of us live and spend our time. The region between Flow and Anxiety – where we are highly challenged but don’t have the skills to meet those challenges is called Arousal. We want to achieve, but can’t quite complete the project on time, within budget, or to the satisfaction of those measuring us. We would be in the flow if we could just produce a little more.
Between Flow and Relaxation is Control. You have the skills to handle a myriad of activities and the challenge level is something that you can handle easily. You are in control of your destiny. You have the skills, knowledge, wisdom, and ability to meet your goals on time and within budget.
The region between Anxiety and Apathy is called Worry. You don’t have the skills required to achieve challenges that are just beyond your ability. You care about getting the job done but worry that you cannot do it. The last region on this chart is labeled Boredom. It’s between Relaxation and Apathy. You have little to no challenges in life and you have the skills to achieve a lot more than is being thrown at you.
Our brain allows us to see and do things as if they were real. We create our own levels of boredom, worry, arousal, and control There is a true story about a prisoner of war being held in North Vietnam who mentally constructed a house during his imprisonment. He ordered all the materials, drew the plans, and phoned suppliers to expedite items that were late or delivered in error. He built his home one day at a time, one brick at a time, and one paint stroke at a time.
He would change his mind and tear out part what was already constructed and remodel it. He was still in prison when his home was fully built. He enjoyed the home for a few days – did some odd jobs here and there. Then he set it on fire. He was still in prison and had no hope of going home anytime in the near future. He allowed the fire to consume his home and he began immediately to visualize the clearing of the lot, the filing of insurance claims, talking to adjusters, etc. He then began the construction process again. He kept his mind occupied with things he could do – self-imposed challenges when the external world kept him in a cell.
When we are bored we don’t think about the things we could be doing – mentally – that require no more resources than what we already have with us. Pick a project that will take some time to accomplish and concentrate your free time on building that dream you want to have later in life. You can have what you want by building it, modifying it, readjusting the little things so it will be done to your satisfaction. Never stop dreaming!