Episode 14

#014 - PERMA-V: Engagement and the Flow State

Published on: 9th November, 2020

Welcome to the Wanna Grab Coffee? Podcast. In today's episode, Robert, Igor, and Charles continue our series diving into the PERMA-V model of well-being by talking about E - Engagement. 

Engagement, is about flow, the flow state. We've all heard of elite athletes, world class musicians, and even experienced for ourselves losing a sense of self and losing track of time. Not a mindless way, but in a very focus and engaged way. That's Engagement. We discuss flow, the conditions required for flow, and how character strengths can lead to a more engaged life . 

Links Discussed:

Thanks for joining us today and don't forget to subscribe and drop us a line at [email protected].


Charles Knight 0:02

Welcome to the Wanna Grab Coffee podcast. In today's episode, Robert, Igor, and I continue our series diving into the Perma-V model of well being by talking about E-engagement. Engagement is about flow. In this conversation, we discuss flow, the conditions required for flow, and how character strengths can lead to a more engaged life. Thanks for joining us today. And don't forget to subscribe, and drop us a line at [email protected]

Hey, guys,

Robert Greiner 0:35

Hey, how's it going?

Igor Geyfman 0:37


Charles Knight 0:38

I'm doing pretty good. Now having a good day so far.

Robert Greiner 0:41

Yeah, doing well ready for the weekend?

Igor Geyfman 0:43

Yeah, now that I'm chatting with you guys, I'm doing pretty good.

Charles Knight 0:46

Thanks for grabbing coffee with me today. I wanted to talk to you all about engagement. You know, we've been talking about positive psychology, the Perma-V model that we can use to increase our well being. And yeah, I wanted to talk to you all today about engagement. And engagement can mean a lot of different things to people. And I think the best way that I'd like to define it for our conversation is that like, fully engaged is like being in a state of flow. And I know you all know what that means. I'm sure we've experienced it in a variety of settings, or we've at least heard about it. For our purposes, I think we can talk about engagement and flow interchangeably. Does that makes sense?

Igor Geyfman 1:32

Yeah, makes sense. When you say flow, man, I always have a hard time with this dude's name, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. He wrote about the flow state is that was specifically what we're talking about, or something different, Charles?

Charles Knight 1:47

I think so. Yeah. It's like the world class performers, or athletes, musicians, artists, they all talk about this state that they get into whenever they're doing their craft, or their profession, where, it's characterized by, like absorption and the activity, losing a sense of time, maybe even a narrowing of vision, or a slowing down of time. But yeah, there's actually been a lot of research and books come out about the state of flow, and how do you get into it? You know, for example, I'm not sure how many times I've entered into the state of flow. It's not a regular occurrence. I guess I would say that. So. Igor, do you? Do you remember a time maybe the most recent time that you would say you were in the flow state?

Igor Geyfman 2:38

You know, I think that the activity that would most likely induce a flow state for me, was writing code. And I'm not a core kind of software developer, right. So I have written, you know, code for for my job before, but not as my main job ever. But when I when I wrote code, especially like, c++, like fairly low level code, and it would induce like a state where I would just lose hours in it, never with front end, right? Like not like web browser front end, because there's a lot of gross things that you have to do to make it work, cross different sort of browsers and stuff like that. But when I you know, if I'm writing, like a little game for myself, you know, like, I wrote, like a little adventure game in c++, I definitely lost track of time, like, I would start coding, and I would look up. And I'm like, oh, eight hours has passed. But it felt literally like maybe 15 or 20 minutes. That's my memory.

Charles Knight 3:46

If you recall those experiences. Would you say that those experiences were good for your well being?

Igor Geyfman 3:54


Charles Knight 3:54

Do you think you'd be able to explain why?

Igor Geyfman 3:56

Yeah, I you feel strong. There's maybe euphoria is the right word. There's a euphoria that's associated with that flow state for me. And so it was kind of this positive energy. And I also felt very capable.

Charles Knight 4:13

Robert, how about you, you have a memory of a flow state?

Robert Greiner 4:16

When you say flow, I have two very specific internal reactions, right. One is absolutely that feeling of being in the zone, right. And I don't think you have to be a world class performer to enter a flow state. And so that's okay. And I'm with Igor, that the main time that I experienced flow was as a software developer, regularly writing code, this act of creating something out of nothing. You can really get lost in that activity and time goes by, you don't really feel time going by, right you're fully immersed. And there's this nice focus that is really hard, it's really hard to enter into intentionally I know there's some work and research around that. And then when you get knocked out of it, it's almost impossible to to like get back in. It is a good feeling because you have that level of accomplishment. Everything seems to be working when you're in a flow state. And for me, it's kind of around potential, like some of my best work, as I reflect on my career as a software developer, was certainly when I felt really dialed in, had everything configured properly, my space was good, I knew what I was working on. And it just like the work just kind of happened, it's hard to enter into that state. I think in other areas of life. It just, I think some activities are more closely related allow for a flow state.

Charles Knight 5:42

For me, I don't think I ever got into a flow state writing code. You know, we all started off close to software. But I do remember a very vivid moment of getting into a state of flow when I was creating a PowerPoint presentation. As silly as that feels. To me, one of the things that I remember being a criteria for entering into the state of flow was an element of danger. Actually, pre pandemic, there were conferences where some of the companies that were on the leading edge of research in this space, they would set up these rigs, essentially, that would allow people to strap in, it's probably some sort of bungee jumping, where it creates this experience to try to be able to at will create the state of flow in our world of knowledge work. The danger for me was a deadline. I had a, I had a major deadline, I hadn't done a whole lot of work, I only had a short period of time. And I did some really, really great work at that point. That was my my recollection of flow. And, Robert, the research that's come out of positive psychology in particular, which is separate from the research of flow itself, they believe that the way normal folks because I agree, you don't have to be a world class performer to experience this. The way to reliably to more reliably enter into this state is by engaging what they call character strengths. Character strengths, interestingly, Igor, they're not skills, per se. These are things that are innate to you. They are default to you, when you use them. It's effortless. But it doesn't take a lot of effort to apply this particular strength. And when you use this strength, it's energizing. Right? There are things that we do every single day that drain us. Character strengths when used, they energize us. It's interesting that, Igor, when you were describing, hey, why is this good for you? You mentioned those things, you feel strong, you know, you feel capable. You feel energy. And so let's talk about character strengths, because that I will tell you, I agree, when I've entered into those flow states, it feels good. And then I do think that it's positive to my well being, and so I'm interested to learn how I can do that more frequently. In my day job, you know, without putting myself into into danger.

Robert Greiner 8:34

The mental model, the framework around flow, and we'll put this in the show notes, really runs across two dimensions, and then it relates to a couple of other things. So the two dimensions are skill level and challenge level. So if you have a high skill level in something and it's a high challenge, that's the most likely combination of factors that will help get you into a flow state. Cal Newport and Dan Pink, talk about this idea that following your passion, is maybe not the best advice, what you should do is build mastery over a skill, which leads to the ability to create some autonomy in your day to day, which allows you to contribute to something that has a higher meaning a higher purpose to it. And when you have that autonomy, mastery and purpose, that's where career satisfaction, for instance, comes into play. So when we talk about these things, I think they're all interrelated. But really working on things that are a high skill level, high challenge level to create some mastery, which is a which is a constituent element of overall career satisfaction, and turning something into a passion. So you're following your passion through building mastery in a skill?

Charles Knight 9:49

Yeah, thanks for that, Robert for laying down that mental model. I do think it's all interconnected. And I think it's probably appropriate now to maybe shares some examples of character strengths. And I know that you all and myself, we've taken a character strengths survey that's offered by, link to it in the show notes. But it has emerged from this research in positive psychology. And in each of you, Robert, maybe you go first, what are some of your top character strengths?

Robert Greiner:

My top five, according to the VIA Institute on Character Strengths profile, which we've all taken. I would definitely recommend you take as well, any kind of information you can gather around knowing yourself better can can only be a good thing. So my number one is humor, liking to laugh and tease, bringing smiles to other people, seeing the light side making not necessarily telling jokes. So that's probably not a surprise to the group. We've talked about it on prior podcasts, that's definitely number one by a margin. Second is love of learning. So mastering new skills and topics, bodies of knowledge. On my own formally, or and this is really just related to curiosity, and also adding to sort of the library have what I know. Third is hope, which I like a little bit better than naive or optimism, expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it. I think that's just such a wonderful definition of this idea of hope, believing that a good future is something that can be brought about. I've said several times, you know, we are categorically quantitatively, by all measures living in the best possible time in history, even though it doesn't feel like that at times, and things are only getting better in the future. So I do tend to default to that level of hope and expecting the best in the future. Number four, leadership encouraging a group of which I'm a member to get things done. And at the same time, maintain good relations within the group, really focused on human centric leadership, organizing group activities, facilitating and making things happen. So that's, you know, as I'm reading these, they really resonate strongly with me, which is funny because when we get to the the weaknesses, or the lowest strength, like I tend to, to agree with those less. And then five, curiosity, which I think is related to love of learning. Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake, we talk about the infinite game, finding subjects and topics fascinating, exploring, discovering, that's very much baked into how I'm wired. So, I fully agree with these as my top five strengths and again, helpful to know how I might flex those strengths in a given situation to make the most of them and really push towards this idea of being engaged and doing meaningful work.

Charles Knight:

Yeah, thanks, Robert, for sharing, let's do a quick test. Remember, I said hey, character strengths, they're effortless, and they're energizing? You know, would you say that those are true for your top five?

Robert Greiner:

Oh, absolutely. I mean, nothing feels better to me than being around a group of people and creating a moment where everybody has a positive experience and is laughing and having a good time. Things are jelling. When I'm learning when I'm in a new space, learning something new, when I get to work on making the future better for myself, my family, others, like those things are all definitely feeling energized and effortless. Yes. Yeah, certainly, effortless. And I think I may just add one more idea to that which is effortless, is the opposite of it, not it's not to mean it's not hard work. It's the opposite of tedious. Right? It's like, yeah, I can just naturally go into this. And I don't get tired. I'm not coming through dozens of spreadsheets and trying to figure out where the third decimal places wrong, right? Like, there are things we do in life that just absolutely zap our energy, and we cannot even find the motivation to do them, even if we're really good at it. And so from an effortless perspective, doesn't mean you have to feel like it's easy. It's just that it either gives you energy, or it doesn't drain you quite as fast.

Charles Knight:

Absolutely. I mean, these are all such positive, wholesome strengths. I can't remember how many there are 20, 25, 30 character strengths and total, you know that and we're talking about top five, and we'll talk about bottom five here in a second. It's a wonderful thing, because each person and you'll hear, we have some overlaps in terms of top five, and we've got lots of differences too. And that diversity is a really powerful thing when you get people together into a group and a team, you know, and so I second the value and taking this and for both self-introspection, but also in sharing with your team. And you could have a great conversation around what are your strengths. One of the things that I've talked to my team about before around these is, hey, how frequently would you say you use your top strengths on a daily basis? And so Robert, I'll turn that back to you is like do you feel like these are things you use on a daily basis, weekly, some more so than others?

Robert Greiner:

Well, humor to a fault, right? Like, that's that that's a daily or hourly thing. I think hope is just something that's built into the way I'm wired and goes into decision making and discussions and things like that as well. Leadership, probably by definition of my role at work, right, getting things done, meaning maintaining good relations within the group, and then curiosity and love of learning that, as you were talking about, that was so interesting. The question that you ask, because humor and hope are, under my control, almost exclusively. Leadership, even without role power, maintaining good relations within a group collectively getting stuff done, that's a natural thing. But this love of learning and curiosity, you you can be at moments in your life, in your career, where you're doing something really soul crushing, and boring. And that kind of zaps the fun, the enjoyment, the engagement out of a situation. And those are the two that I think caused the most risk for kind of bleeding into happiness, because I have less control over that. So I think there's an element of intentionality that needs to happen in love of learning and curiosity that doesn't come quite as naturally to others or is as readily available as the other ones, because it is a little bit more dependent on the situation around me,

Charles Knight:

That makes sense in it, I think that creates opportunity for you and others who feel that same way to try to design their day design their work, to create more opportunities for that. Because you can be intentional about applying some of those strengths. To be more curious and to learn more. Igor, I want to shift to you, I would love to hear your top five because I don't remember them. But I would also like to hear your bottom five. And because I know you like to, intend to take a contrarian view, at times, I would love to hear your disagreements, either with top five or bottom five.

Igor Geyfman:

It's my terrible habit of wanting to play devil's advocate, which was honed during my time in debate, competition, you get drilled into very quickly that every issue has two sides to it. And when you're doing debate, you have to create a case for both sides of an issue, you can't just always take the affirmative side. And so that's probably why get a reputation for that sort of thing, good or bad. I also, you know, I went back and I looked up my my strengths. I took this probably about a little bit over a year ago, as part of a team activity. So everyone on the account, took the Strengths Finder test, and we shared it, and we talked about it. And then you asked about it recently. And then as I looked at it, I also wanted to connect to what you said earlier, you know, how did these things contribute to your flow state? And I'll go through my top five, but I want to dig in a little bit on this connection. And and probably like what, how it makes sense to me, because I was not good at writing c++ code. When I was entering into this flow state, nobody would say Igor was a, you know, top 10 c++ developer at that time. And then I started thinking about like, what other things, you know, maybe it wasn't that deep of a flow state, but had the same feeling. You know, we've talked about this on other podcasts recently, I've been getting into DJing. And so I lose hours, just listening to music and working through mixes, and thinking about the compositions. And there's a flow state there. Before that, I was like, what's the time before that? And it was a couple years ago, when I was exploring, like machine learning. So it's like on Coursera, I was taking the Andrew Ng course and I was doing you know, all the different sort of modeling and things that you do as part of machine learning. Definitely not. So I'm not a great c++ developer. I'm not a machine learning expert. I'm definitely not like a top tier DJ. But all three of those things really arouse the flow state in me. Why is that? Like, that's weird. And when I look at my top five strengths, I think it makes a lot more sense. And so here they are. So number one is social intelligence. And that's defined as being aware of motives and feelings of others and oneself and knowing what to do to fit into different social situations and knowing what makes other people tick. Number two is appreciation of beauty and excellence. And that is noticing and appreciating beauty excellence, and our skilled performance in various domains of life, from nature, to art, to mathematics, to science, to everyday experiences. And I think the key to my flow state is my third strength, which is love of learning, which Robert had already mentioned. So I'm not going to go dive into that definition. But when I'm learning, especially a new skill, when you're early on in your learning process, your gains are massive, as opposed to being in year 10. And so I think that's why it's so much easier for me to unintentionally enter a flow state at something that I'm not particularly good at, but that I'm really excited about learning. And I'm still like in the early stages of me developing my knowledge and understanding of it. So I think that's how it connects to my engagement into my flow state. And then my number four strength is honesty, which is speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way, and acting in a sincere way, without pretense and taking responsibility for one's feelings and actions. And my number five is humor. So we have a couple of things in common, Robert and I,

Robert Greiner:

Igor, it just struck me too. And we won't get into the details. But we had a work related discussion earlier today, where my perspective was counter to number four for you, which is honesty, I think that had I really understood these elements of your strengths and how you're wired, I might have suggested you go down a different path, not that I was asking you to lie about anything. Your top five strengths is honesty, you're really, you're going to feel that tension and the guilt and the pull to do the right thing. Even if there's like a 1% chance or a point 1% chance that someone could view your actions as being misleading. And so what what might not be a big deal to me or anyone else around, you may feel compelled to disclose to socialize a mistake you made, for instance, because of how you're wired. And so that's a really good thing to know about yourself, and how to deal with others. And then another thing you could do is communicate that with those around you and say, hey, I'm wired this way. So I may come to you with, with what I feel is like a confession, and you may not care. But it's important to me that I'm conducting myself in this manner. And so you know, humor me, please. So it's really interesting, that really stuck out at me when you said it, I was thinking, Oh, we just, we just had a conversation earlier today where this is this is applicable.

Igor Geyfman:

Yeah. Just being myself and all those things. Charles, I'm curious about your top five.

Charles Knight:

Yeah, I can share that pretty quickly. And, Igor, as you're running through yours, I scanned back through mine. And you know, obviously, I've been thinking about this a lot, right? I've been, I've been applying positive psychology concepts, both at work at home, with nonprofits that I work with, and still blown away as I look through this, it's like, geez, everything that I do, is connected to all of these top five. And it was just was really just kind of cool to see that. So top top five, judgment, and critical thinking and open mindedness. The second one is perspective wisdom. And that one's, I really kind of had to think about but there's a lot of people who say, oh, Charles, you have an interesting perspective on this. I think I just look at things from different angles, and I can see how things connect. And I think people appreciate that. Third is hope. So Igor, that's a no, actually, that was Robert, Robert you had hope. Fourth is bravery and valor. And fifth is gratitude. This feels like me. This is me at my strongest. And when I talk with people, I help them solve problems. I'm thinking of new ideas. I leverage each and every one of these things. And I think it's part of what makes me great. And your top five are what makes both of you great. Robert, you're you may have been mentioning a little bit about this. I want to call attention to the fact that you can be intentional about how you use these. We've talked about how you can effortlessly apply these. But you had mentioned, it doesn't mean it's easy, necessarily. And I think there are cases when these Character Strengths can be applied in inopportune times and moments. Humor for sure you've talked about before Robert, on prior episode. Igor, I'm sure honesty as a character strength and a default can cause some potentially hurt feelings in others. And so there's, there's a little bit of wisdom that has to be applied to these character strengths. There's judgment that has to be applied. And you can also use these character strengths to cover off on perceived or maybe even real weaknesses, because I'll talk about my last bottom five, this one, I still have to reconcile. So one of my lowest five strengths is leadership. And I remember looking at that, and thinking, wait a second, I consider myself a leader. Why is that so low? It must be wrong. Because I think I identify as a leader, and I've had to work through and say, okay, let me test it. Is the effortless? Is it energizing for me? I don't know. It's not as clear to me as the others. But I can absolutely tell you that when I am leading, like, if I'm facilitating a group, I'm trying to move a group forward in they're thinking, I absolutely apply my top five strengths. And so to me, I'm perfectly okay that leadership is in my bottom five, because I believe I can still lead effectively, by leveraging those things that I am, that come naturally to me, you know, that I feel like I'm strong in, does that make sense? How we can apply strengths to cover off on maybe perceived weaknesses?

Igor Geyfman:

We really load the word leadership with a lot of meaning and sub-context. There's this definition of leadership that I really liked, that I heard a couple years ago, and it was basically like, the only thing that makes you a leader is having followers, and everything else actually doesn't matter. Like you can have any number of characteristics, and still be a great leader. As long as people follow you, and align towards your vision, you don't have to be a great orator. You don't have to be super charismatic. You know, those are things that we normally assigned to leaders. But I know plenty of amazing leaders that don't have those characteristics that I follow. And that I would do anything for.

Robert Greiner:

Well, Igor, you've hit on the core component of this, which is you have these inherent strengths or attributes. And then you have to manifest behaviors that magnify them and turn into outcomes and results. And so even if you're not wired a certain way, you can still be considered, for instance, a great leader because you have followers, because people who you trust, give you feedback on your leadership style and say that it's good. It may not be a top strength, but I'm not even sure that the fact that it's ranked 24th for you necessarily means it's a weakness, maybe it just requires more energy or something like that. And so certainly, I could see the argument of this is not straightforward, and effortless for me. But I also coming back to it, it really just matters how effective you are at manifesting behaviors that leads to results. And if you're doing that, that's what matters. And that's why I think it's cool to know this stuff. But it's also not deterministic, right? Humor can be 24th, and you could be a stand up comedian, you can still be funny, you can still wield humor, in certain situations intentionally. Even if you're bad at it, as an attempt to bring group cohesiveness together. It doesn't matter, right. It's about the behaviors you choose to engage in. So I think that's an important takeaway as well.

Charles Knight:

When I learned about my character strengths, and I came to terms with them, especially the bottom ones, because the top ones felt felt like me. It became a simple exercise of how can I use the strength of bravery and courage at work? You know, how can I share my perspective more often at work? When I asked that question, it became pretty clear to me, it's like, ah, I could share my stories. I could share my struggles, about life, about work, I can be vulnerable, like vulnerability is a very powerful thing. That has changed my life and so I've I've been adapted my environment, and what I do and my job to allow me to express these strengths more often. And I think that's what the power of this, this tool can give individuals. And it helps you understand yourself. But more importantly, it then helps you to identify things that are within your control that you can do more and more, that help you to feel strong, and to feel energetic and to feel capable. And that's why this is so important to to well being. And with that, I think the call to action here is, if you are interested in learning more, take the Character Strengths survey, and it'll be linked in the show notes. And it's for free. And you just have to answer a few questions as honestly as you can. And I think there's a world of insight awaiting you if you do that. And with that, I wanted to say thanks, guys. Appreciate the chat.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, great stuff. Thank you, thanks for coffee.

Igor Geyfman:

Thanks, y'all. See ya.

Charles Knight:

Take care. Bye.

Robert Greiner:


That's it for today. Thanks for joining and don't forget to follow us on Twitter at WannaGrabCoffee or drop us a line at [email protected].

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Wanna Grab Coffee?
Join us for weekly discussions about careers, leadership, and balancing work and life.
A podcast about all of the topics we discuss during our mid-day coffee breaks. We bring you stories, thoughts, and ideas around life as a professional, leadership concepts, and work/life balance. We view career and leadership development as a practice that spans decades and we are excited to go on this journey with you.