By Nora F. Murphy Johnson, PhD
Authenticity, Fluency, Flow, and Life Force: Why These Matter for Healthy Changemaking
I recently read the article "What the new science of authenticity says about discovering your true self" by Matthew Baldwin, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Florida. Dr. Baldwin suggests that instead of focusing on self-reflection, the key to discovering our true selves might lie in concentrating on what feels good and natural (Baldwin, 2021). The article highlights the concept of fluency, defined as the ease with which we can perform a task or engage in an experience (Baldwin, 2021). According to Dr. Baldwin (2021), the more fluent we feel when doing something, the more we perceive that the task or experience aligns with our authentic self, originating from a place of genuine alignment with our true nature. This perspective on fluency offers a new understanding of how we can develop our authentic selves through personal growth and increased wellbeing.
At Inspire to Change, we talk about authenticity as the experience of wholeness. We say that working from a place of wholeness allows us to experience flow, which preserves and even generates life force–critical aspects of healthy changemaking. Because let's face it. Changemaking often leads to burnout. We need valuable strategies to individually and collectively shift from burnout to joy, from depletion to restoration (Brown, 2019; Menakem, 2021).
So what is the relationship between authenticity, fluency, flow, and life force? And why might these be core concepts for healthy changemaking?
Let's start by defining them.
Authenticity is the congruence between our inner values and our outer actions. In his book "Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation," Palmer (2000) emphasizes that authenticity is not about being true to an abstract, idealized self but rather about discovering and embracing our true nature, with all its strengths and limitations.
Fluency refers to the ease and smoothness with which a person can perform a task, communicate, or express themselves. Achieving fluency in a particular domain allows for more efficient performance, reducing cognitive strain and conserving energy (Goleman, 2005).
Flow, as described by Csikszentmihalyi (2008), is a psychological state in which an individual is fully immersed in an activity, experiencing a deep sense of enjoyment and losing track of time. Flow is characterized by the balance between the challenge of the task and the individual's skill level. This state of complete engagement can lead to increased productivity, creativity, and wellbeing.
Life force is the innate energy source each of us is born with. Because life force is manifested in our physical bodies, we are responsible for caring for ourselves in a way that preserves and restores this energy source. In his book "The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation," Thich Nhat Hanh's (1975) teachings on mindfulness and cultivating inner peace can be understood as a means to manage and preserve one's vital energy. By practicing mindfulness, changemakers can conserve their vital energy, enabling them to maintain their wellbeing and be more effective in their pursuits.
Okay, you can see the connections between these concepts, right? Let's clarify how these interconnected concepts contribute to personal growth, wellbeing, and effective changemaking.
Authenticity, as discussed by Palmer (1999) and Baldwin (2021), refers to the congruence between our inner values and our outer actions. Authenticity, if thought of as a verb, is the action of embracing our true nature and aligning our actions with our genuine sense of self.
Acting from this aligned place makes us more likely to experience fluency. The more fluent we feel when doing something, the more we perceive that the task or experience aligns with our authentic selves. This relationship between acting from a place of authenticity, and experiencing fluency, is a virtuous feedback loop, each enhancing the other (Goldstein, 2021).
The more we experience fluency, the more likely we can enter a flow state. Flow states are magical. It's that state where we are fully immersed in an activity, experiencing a deep sense of enjoyment and losing track of time. Study after study shows that flow states increase productivity, creativity, and wellbeing for people of all professions.
All of this leads to conserved or expanded life force, which is the conservation or expansion of our vital energy. And really, energy is the pure thing we must give in this life. As changemakers, we must manage our energy well so we can fulfill the responsibility set forth for us by our ancestors, maximize our impact in a healthy and sustainable manner, and create the best possible stage for our descendants.
Baldwin, M. (2021). What the new science of authenticity says about discovering your true self. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/what-the-new-science-of-authenticity-says-about-discovering-your-true-self-172611
Brown, A. M. (2019). Pleasure activism. AK Press.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: the psychology of optimal experience Harper perennial modern classics.
Goldstein, B. E. (2021). Jumpstart Virtuous Cycles Within Social Innovation Communities. Social Innovations Journal, 5.
Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Bantam Books.
Menakem, R. (2021). My grandmother's hands: Racialized trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies. penguin UK.
Naht Hahn, T. (1975). The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation.
Palmer, P. J. (1999). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. John Wiley & Sons.