“We shape our life by deciding to pay attention to it. It is the direction of our attention and its intensity that will determine what we accomplish and how well.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
“Believe.” – Ted Lasso
So, Ted Lasso and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi show up in the same sentence a lot, right? Well, not so much. . . and maybe they should.
- Ted Lasso is the upbeat, relentlessly optimistic coach of a fictional soccer team on the wildly popular Apple TV+ comedy series.
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was a renowned, respected happiness researcher who delivered a wildly popular 2004 TED talk on the concept of “flow” in work and life.
Apart from having interesting professional lives, the connection between Ted and Mihaly might not look obvious on the surface. Yet they’re both exemplars of the Innocent story type, even though they took very different routes to stand for three words I suggest we all take in while looking toward 2022: Belief, Simplicity, and Wonder. All three of these words are foundational to activating the Innocent archetype—and one of them is my word of the year (more on that later, along with my book of the year).
I do a lot of work with organizations and individuals who want to build an authentic and energizing sense of identity—and set a direction for themselves that becomes an inspiring expression of it. Some of them are deeply in the “who am I” question. Others are more focused on a “what should I do next” kind of inquiry.
Do you believe?
Those questions of being and doing represent the two halves of a human whole—and people who really flourish and find meaning in their work have to develop both of those sides. There’s no better way to do both than waking up the Innocent archetype and embracing the belief, simplicity, and wonder it offers us.
Ted and Mihaly can help show us the way. Both of them suggest we’ll thrive by making an Innocent-like decision to shift our attention away from what’s disillusioning, unproductive, or “needs fixing” about us. Instead, they invite us to focus on what’s best within us—believe in it, shine a light on it, commit to it. Attend to what’s working and what’s possible.
- Ted Lasso lives in the world of being. He works to restore hope and positivity in the face of cynicism and even ennui. In Ted’s world, it’s pretty simple. Focus on being your best, believe in yourself and the people around you–be a certain kind of person and it’s all good. Above all, believe (which isn’t very different than seeing and directing your attention towards what matters most intensely to you, as Mihaly suggests). Impossible things can be achieved when you do that.
- Mihaly lived in the world of doing. He worked to advance the concept of “flow,” which has been described as a state of consciousness experienced when we’re totally absorbed in what we do best. In Mihaly’s world, it was pretty simple. Focus on getting lost in what engages you most intensely, what flows out of you most effortlessly—do a certain kind of thing that fascinates you and it’s all good. When you bring the right amount of intensity to that, your attention will help you become your best self. Impossible things can be achieved when you do that.
Notice that both Ted and Mihaly aren’t shying away from results. Ted needs his team to win soccer games (and turns around a rag-tag bunch of players into a winning unit by believing in them and igniting their capacity to believe in themselves). Mihaly worked to help organizations and people in all kinds of professions achieve optimal performance (and did that by helping them understand how to find their own flow).
Neither of them couples success with extrinsic reward or puts productivity ahead of passion, though. Instead, they both focus on meaningful, authentic being and doing as the foundation of both a life well lived and the best possible results that an individual can create. Most of us would agree that those are pretty great outcomes. But there’s more the Innocent story type has to offer us, though. That’s where word #3—wonder—comes in, and it’s my word of the year for 2022.
Why wonder isn’t child’s play
We hear the phrase “child-like wonder” a lot, as if the state is somehow reserved for kids or even something we can or should grow out of or past. And yet, the very definitions of wonder capture what most adults could use a whole lot more of right now.
There are two main definitions of the word wonder; one is associated with being and the other with doing.
- Being definition of wonder: to be filled with feelings of surprise, delight, or admiration caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. Ted Lasso pays attention to the wonder around him (whether it’s an unexpected snowfall or a memory of a past delight). He pauses to take them in and frequently realizes something that would help his team or someone on it when he does.
- Doing definition of wonder: to speculate curiously or be curious; having the desire to know something; to feel surprised, puzzled, or fascinated interest. Mihaly described what he saw as the surest path to both meaning and excellence—maintaining an intense and committed involvement with what fascinates us and continuing learning about it in ways that present us with a compelling sense of enduring challenge.
So now for my book of the year and why you should read it. It’s Tracking Wonder: Reclaiming a Life of Meaning and Possibility in a World Obsessed with Productivity by Jeffrey Daniels. Daniels defines and repositions wonder as far more than child’s play. “Wonder is a quiet disruptor of biases,” he says. “It dissolves our habitual ways of seeing and thinking so we may glimpse anew the beauty of what is real, true, and possible.”
The book jacket describes Daniels’s work as a “refreshing counter-voice to the exhausting narrative of hyper-productivity” that shades most of what goes on in our working real these days. Far more than a respite from what’s making us feel so weary, Daniels’s book offers a new take on enhancing professional innovation, navigating real-world chaos with grace, and building resilience. His six facets of wonder are one of the most interesting takes I’ve ever seen on the topic (bewilderment is a positive facet, for example). Give it a read, and if you do, let me know what you think about it.
So there are three more words to close out 2021 for you: Innovation, Grace, and Resilience. I wish them all for you as we move into the mystery and possibility of another new year. And I’m already wondering what that will look like for you!
Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help professionals, teams, and organizations understand and express who they really are in the world. She’s the co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (take the free version here: https://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/).