What Do Playing Basketball and Persuading Others Have in Common?

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament begins this week. Teams play all season for the opportunity to compete in what is arguably sport’s most exciting event, and the ones that are “hot,” or “in the zone,” or “firing on all cylinders” usually perform the best.

Claremont Graduate University’s Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced MEE-hye CHEEK-sent- -HYE-ee) calls this progression the “state of flow.”

In his groundbreaking 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi described “flow” as “the process of total involvement with life.” Later, in a 1996 interview with Wired magazine, he defined “flow” as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Unwittingly, Csikszentmihalyi also was describing peak performance, which occurs when you perform almost effortlessly at an incredibly high ability in challenging situations. Like the athlete who makes the winning free throw with 1.2 seconds remaining, the salesperson who performs gracefully and comfortably in challenging and complex selling situations, or the marketing manager who convinces a roomful of opinionated people that his way is best.

Think about it.

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