May 7, 2021

REBEL MedEd Cast 1.0 – Autotelics and Flow

Take-Home Points:

The conditions needed to achieve flow are:

  • Clear goals
  • Immediate feedback
  • Balance between challenge and skill

We can use the flow state to supercharge our productivity.

  • Establish clear goals
  • Preform deep work
  • Reflect on shortcomings

REBEL MedEd Cast Ep1.0: – Autotelics and Flow

Definition of Autotelic:

  • Autotelic is derived from the Greek 
  • Auto (self) and telos (goal)
  • Autotelic activities are intrinsically motivating
  • The activity itself is its own reward

How does Flow relate to the idea of Autotelic?

  • Intrinsically motivating activities provide access to the flow state 
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, a psychologist and leading expert in flow states, found that the happiest people had the most flow states, and structured their lives to deliver the most flow states.

Entering the Flow State:

  • Any intrinsically motivating activity can elicit flow:
        • Reading a book
        • writing
        • playing a video game
        • runner’s high
  • Time seems to fly by when you’re in a flow state
  • AKA “the zone”, mystical experience, and peak experience
  • Csikszentmihaly: “An automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness…You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist.”

Flow in Sports:

  • Steven Kotler conceives the rich environment provided by extreme sports guarantees instant access to the flow state
  • He juxtaposes the massive progression of extreme sports to the marginal improvements in traditional sports and proposes flow is the reason for the difference

Establishing Flow:

  • Flow exits on a spectrum between boredom and anxiety
        • If the activity is too easy we become bored
        • if the activity far exceeds skill then we become anxious 
        • When challenge and skill are aligned, we can achieve flow

Components of flow:

  • Clear Goals
  • Concentration
  • A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness
  • Distorted sense of time
  • Direct and immediate feedback
  • Balance of ability level and challenge
  • A sense of personal control over the situation
  • The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so action is effortless
  • A lack of awareness of bodily needs

Flow in Medicine:

  • Common life-and-death ED experiences are aligned with the components of flow
  • Provide rich environment necessary to achieve flow

Dangers of the flow state:

  • Flow is a universally pleasant experience but not be harmless
  • Tunnel vision during procedure lose track of the patient’s overall condition 
          • Assign roles
          • plan when to abort a procedure
              • if the pulse ox < 90% 
              • stop, bag the patient, 
              • Allow senior practitioner to attempt

Achieving the Flow State:

3 conditions are needed to achieve flow:

  • Clear goals
  • Immediate feedback
  • Balance between challenge and skill

Take-Home Points:

The conditions needed to achieve flow are:

  • Clear goals
  • Immediate feedback
  • Balance between challenge and skill

We can use the flow state to supercharge our productivity.

  • Establish clear goals
  • Preform deep work
  • Reflect on shortcomings

For More Thoughts on This Topic Checkout:

Post Peer Reviewed By: Salim R. Rezaie, MD (Twitter: @srrezaie)

Cite this article as: Anand Swaminathan, "REBEL MedEd Cast 1.0 – Autotelics and Flow", REBEL EM blog, May 7, 2021. Available at: https://rebelem.com/rebel-meded-cast-1-0-autotelics-and-flow/.
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Anand Swaminathan

Clinical Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at St. Joe's Regional Medical Center (Paterson, NJ)
REBEL EM Associate Editor and Author
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