Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Importance of Observer State in Relation to the Zone

Volume 2, Issue 17

We all love to see people performing in the Zone. The Olympics is only one of the more obvious proofs of this. Actors, musicians, singers, athletes — these people are the focus of a large proportion of our time spent in conversation, especially athletes. We tacitly assume it’s just because we’re interested in the sport, or want to dream about having the kind of life they have, and there’s truth to all that — but some unsuspected portion of our interest has to do with an unconscious desire to be in the Zone, the Flow state, ourselves.

The superheroes in cartoons and movies are another manifestation of our ancient dream. Deep down inside we know we have secret powers that come out when we least expect them and are gone in a flash. Or they surface when we face the severest challenges of our lives. Old women are suddenly briefly able to carry people to safety. Within the Flow state are levels that provably increase “psychic powers” as measured by the Rhine card method. Because the Flow state is so dramatic and amazing, we have focused on heuristics to attain and maintain Flow as the prelude to a serious discussion of the Observer state. Now it’s time to turn our attention for a while to the Observer state. Why? Observer state is the precondition for Flow. It’s also a thousand times easier to get into Observer state, which brings with it a highly significant increase in creative effectiveness and a sharp reduction in emotional suffering.

The purpose of our book Freeing Creative Effectiveness is to provide ways of thinking and openness to perceptual information, hunches, and feelings that make it easy and effortless to thereafter slip into Observer state. Our premise is that more Flow state experiences will be created this way than by trying to help people get directly into the Flow state.

Here’s how you will know when you are in the Observer state:

  • You’ll detect an internal mental toughness that makes you demand proof from yourself about the thoughts you are having, and you find yourself being honest with yourself.
  • You’ve engaged your fatalism and whatever you would normally be afraid of losing you are now prepared to deal with, regardless of what happens.
  • Your attention is highly focused and you are too calm to be distractible.

You might find it interesting and useful to keep notes of times you catch yourself in this state, and times when you are brought down from this state (“triggered” as my great new friend Dr. Phillip Romero would say) into what I call Emergency Oversimplification Procedure (EOP), where you are joylessly trying to keep up with tasks in an atmosphere subconsciously charged with dread of failure.

As longtime readers have detected, most of my posts are about how to move from EOP to Observer and Flow states (“the Zone”). Indeed, this is the aim of my life and the purpose of the Human Effectiveness Institute.

Hope you are all keeping cool in the current weather wherever you are.

Best to all,


Probability of Winning Is Proportional to Acceptance of Losing

Volume 2, Issue 16

Sharing techniques to attain and maintain Observer and Flow (Zone) states, in earlier posts we described the Yerkes Dodson Law and explained why we perform best when our motivational arousal is moderate rather than extreme, and why ancient Greek and Indian philosophies esteemed nonattachment which we redefined as “losability” the mental/emotional acceptance of outcomes divergent from targeted or desired outcomes.

We also linked motivation to values and therefore recommended a rethink of what you want out of life so as to reset yourself for a fuller life with more capability for creative effectiveness through these two higher states of consciousness, Observer and Flow.

To the degree that you are afraid of losing a match, the more likely you are to lose it; that is the corollary of the title for this week’s post. You get out of this fear by understanding it, the same way you get out of any fear. You might realize in this process before the big game or other big moment that your fear stems from other people’s opinions or judgment of you, and you might decide that it is ignoble for you to be driven by such things. You might then find yourself able to discard such a base motivation and suddenly experience a lasting fearlessness that allows you to win the big game by simply playing it as a game, enjoying the process without attachment to the outcome — the very conditions that cause Flow. This applies to every challenge you face every day, even those you don’t normally think of as challenges.

Perhaps all of us at some point in our lives have gone through the following thought process, which leads one to become motivated by something larger than oneself. This might happen when one has just been called up to be sent to a war zone. One thinks of the option of conscientious objection, running away to Canada (if one is an American), and realizes that some gut feeling inside holds you back. One might then face the possibility of dying on the battlefield. Then comes the thought, well it might be OK if I die, so long as my family is taken care of, and I have prepared for that so they will be. It might be OK if I die so long as America lives and goes on to rekindle its idealism and help lead the world to decency, fairness and justice.

At that stage probably only a few of us — perhaps those who are philosophers — think further down this same track. Well, dying might be OK so long as Earth humanity survives and learns from its mistakes and goes on to a better way of being. And then: well, even if Earth is destroyed, that might be OK if the universe goes on and evolves highly idealistic and kind races. Or even: well, dying might be OK so long as there is a benevolent God and such a God is happy with all outcomes.

There is inherently no operational difference between the first stage of latching one’s motivations to something larger than oneself — e.g. one’s family — and the later stages all the way up to God. In all cases one has already accepted the ultimate losability. I may die, but I’ve set my family up well, they all know I love them, they will grieve and miss me but their lives can be happy with the strength I have imbued in them by example and by loving communication. I can die knowing that my family will be OK — my country will be stronger for what I did while alive — the human race was enhanced by my accomplishments — the Universe and God will certainly be all right with me dead — hopefully I will have added some value along the way, and the universe learned some lessons from my mistakes.

When Bucky Fuller, despondent over a lost love affair, decided to commit suicide he reached the highest realization of his life up until that point: he was now free and could go on living. By agreeing with himself to give up life, he discovered that was harder than giving up the lost woman, and the attitude shift required to decide on suicide had freed him from the cause of suicide. From that point on he had true perspective on what is large and what is small. Perspective is what allows a sense of humor even in the most menacing situations — grace under fire — true courage, the virtue upon which all others are based according to Winston Churchill.

These are the utilitarian values of an attitude of losability.

Best to all,


The Role of Attention in the Zone

Volume 2, Issue 15

Our nonprofit organization,The Human Effectiveness Institute, may be unique among nonprofit foundations in providing people with heuristics specifically designed to increase individual experience of the Observer and Flow (Zone) states of consciousness. Books that contain ancient scriptural texts from India, and other psychotechnologies derived from these teachings or rediscovered experientially, also offer such advice, since the samadhi, satori and zazen states are neurological levels within Flow.

In recent posts we have looked at Flow from many different points of view, including the relation to Flow of values, motivations, attachments, matching of skills and challenges, doing something for its own sake not for outcomes, and striving for Flow in the work one does best. In this post we will consider how attention  is central to both Observer and Flow states.

ADD and ADHD are two modern symptomologies of Acceleritis, which undoubtedly also existed in the past but were never so prevalent as to warrant being named and studied. With the world culture veering wildly as information overload overwhelms our cortical abilities, our attention tends to be diffuse, unfocused, and constantly hopping from one distraction to another — conditions inimical to Flow.

A terrific book given to me recently by my great new friend and partner in Playshops, Richard Zackon, The Taboo of Subjectivity, by Alan Wallace — which recounts with such authenticity one feels as if Wallace is the reincarnation of William James — describes how James analyzes the most advanced “mystical” contemplative state he himself achieved as being one of alert vivid attention. Furthermore, the state was free of subjective constructs, conceptual thinking, and the singlepointed focus was on the nature of the experience of consciousness itself, thus utterly transcending the usual experience of mindand its incessant chatter. James thus demystified this state by explaining its differentness in purely scientific terms.

So long as one is not master of one’s own attention, none of the other suggestions we have provided or can provide will bear fruit in the way of Flow state. This is why so many of the Eastern traditions start with, and continuously emphasize, concentration training. Such training is no longer optional in the racing world of information overflow in which we now live, it is something we all need almost as much as we need love.

We cannot cover the subject of concentration training fully in this one post. A few key secrets of achieving concentration in current real world conditions will have to suffice for a start:

  • Focus 100% on one thing at a time.
  • Be present in the moment.
  • Do not rush — go no faster than you can with a rational and appropriate degree of perfectionism for the challenge you are facing.

In order to focus on one thing at a time you need:

  • To ruthlessly block off distractions.
  • As distracting but important ideas arise, jot them down on a side notepad and put them totally out of your mind until later. At the end of each day, integrate the list of waiting thoughts in priority order in a single list (or a personal list and a core business list). This will enable you to turn away from distracting thoughts without your mind tugging at your sleeve, fearing that important time limits are being exceeded on one or more of these items. Indeed, get done the side-notes in their own needed timeframes.

More on attention in future posts. This one dimension is one of the most important overlooked matters in world culture circa 2012.

Best to all,


PS – Gian Fulgoni was kind to tweet our last post – Click here.

President Clinton and the Propaganda Industry

Volume 2, Issue 14

During WWII the U.S. military and paramilitary evolved the attitude scales that have become the persuasion metrics of the advertising industry. What was to become the CIA was then called the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and at the end of the war some of its prominent members migrated into the advertising industry. These are just two of the historical ties between propaganda, psychological warfare, and advertising.

The word “propaganda” historically had an exclusively negative connotation until its use by America and its allies in WWII helped win the war.

Advertising today is moving away from the subtle coercion model and toward a relationship model built on transparency and trust with people, which is a good thing. It isn’t happening solely because Mad Men and Women are becoming more saintly — although we see some of that — the Internet has forced the hand of the industry.

Someday people will no longer distrust all advertising as a result of more advertisers using transparent and socially constructive approaches. When that day comes, there will no longer be any resistance to advertisers saving money by only sending ads to people for whom their product or service is relevant. Today, this approach is regarded by some as an evil thing. Such distrust will go away after enough years of transparency between advertisers and people.

Noting and appreciating the abilities of the advertising creative community to communicate powerfully, last month in Cannes former President Bill Clinton called on the advertising industry — gathered in the Palais des Congres on the beautiful shoreline La Croisette Boulevard as part of the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity — to use its powers to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems, by communicating effectively the desirability of collaboration, tolerance, and clean energy.

Years ago I approached two agencies proposing essentially the same idea. Larry Deckinger at Grey agreed with the proposal but believed it impossible to convince clients. Don Johnston then running JWT took the same view.

But that was then and this is now. If the industry doesn’t jump on this, Bill Clinton’s idea could still be carried out through the Ad Council, the nonprofit that takes donated air time and donated print space, mixes it with donated creative, to publish public service content that has had powerful impact for the Greater Good. Creatives who feel the tug to give back and make a difference could offer their services to the Ad Council, who would make it happen.

But why not also consider this as part of what any advertiser might do on their own? Cause Marketing exists and is growing — President Clinton’s idea could fit squarely into that channel. Even within more general advertising, leaders such as Coca-Cola have for decades planned their advertising to reflect and positively address the tensions of the times in ways honest yet tasteful and subtle.

Why would an advertiser do this? Not only for its own sake, to make the world safer and more prosperous, and for the obvious economic cascade effects, but also because people will be grateful to see or hear inclusively positive messaging done at the highly affective level of execution the advertising industry can often achieve — and Gratitude Effect has seven times the persuasion effect of image sell (i.e. typical advertising).

Such a concerted effort on the part of the advertising industry can improve its own sales effect and help pull the world back up by its bootstraps economically and attitudinally. Why not seize this golden opportunity? There is no downside. It is inherently bipartisan*.

Best to all,


*Although Bill Clinton could not resist knocking Republicans for “making the denial of climate change a campaign tactic”, as Kunur Patel put it in Advertising Age. However, our recommendation and anticipation is that all advertisers will only want to implement this idea — positive thoughts riding on the carrier wave of advertising — on a strictly nonpartisan basis.