This series takes a look at how 10 qualities of Rhythm can help make things easier, both personally and for teams at work.

ENTRAINMENT:  The Shortcut to Flow

Doorway to FlowDo you wish for more Flow in your life?  To reach that in-the-zone state of effortless expression or progress or achievement?  To feel fully alive and fully able to do what you’re doing, and love it?

I sure do.  It’s delicious to be there, isn’t it?

Doorways to Flow

People often experience a state of Flow in a group drumming or rhythm circle — including many who have never drummed before.

There’s something about connecting with a fundamental Pulse, sensing the forward movement of Cycle, and feeling rising confidence through Pattern that creates the perfect opening to step into the Flow state.

Reaching Flow while drumming is much easier to reach in a group compared to drumming alone, and this reveals one more key to a drum circle’s doorway to Flow:  The group itself.

Drumming — or doing anything — in a group context brings a powerful potential force into play:  Entrainment.

Cycles + Connection ENTRAINMENTPendulum Clock

Entrainment is the phenomenon in physics where connected objects that start with different movement cycles synchronize and align over time.

Entrainment was first identified by Christian Huygens in 1666.  He noticed how pendulum clocks on a wall that were swinging randomly when he went to bed would be swinging in unison by morning.  Every time, no matter how differently they started out.  You can see a delightful demonstration of this kind of entrainment in this video.

What makes Entrainment fascinating to me is that we see it in both inanimate and living things.  That tells me that it’s something fundamental to how the Universe works.

Creatures Do It Too

We see entrainment among living things that aren’t connected physically, but rather through their sense of group.  Steven Strogatz, in his book Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life, describes fireflies in Southeast Asia that synchronize and blink together in a collective mating ritual.

We do it too.  Think of how we walk side by side:  Our steps will quickly align, even if one person has much longer legs.  Or that concert experience, where clapping after the last song becomes a synchronized call for for an encore, resonating through the whole arena.

What is going on here?

What is the common thread in both inanimate and living situations that gives rise to Entrainment?

Put simply, Entrainment happens because it’s the Easier Way.

Clock pendulums conserve energy as they shift from random patterns to synchronized movement.  Asynchronous movements create cross-vibrations that waste energy and dampen the oscillations.  The “system” of Clock A + Wall + Clock B will “self-optimize” by aligning those different swing frequencies into one.

Entrainment in Drumming and in Life

Entrainment DrumsWhen a group begins an improvisational drum groove, there is usually an initial “wobbly” period where the music sounds uneven — even mildly chaotic.  Each drummer is experimenting to find their own pattern, and adjusting it to what they hear taking shape around them.

As the players settle in to their repeating Patterns, there is often a discernible “Entrainment Moment” (as named by my friend Christine Stevens) — an “Ahhh!” point in time when the different rhythms come together in a coherent “song.”  Not only do people’s individual rhythms align with each other and sound better, there is also a definite feeling of relief as the tensions of the wobbly experiments resolve into a unified song.

When we drum while also listening to the group, we instinctively seek the Entrainment Moment, even if we’re not conscious of doing so.  We do this because “it’s easier.”  It simply feels better to play in alignment with others than to maintain the aural “friction” of an out-of-sync pattern.

Hard-wired to Connect

Mirron NeuronsOur tendency to entrain goes far beyond musical sensibility.  We can easily entrain to the activity and emotional cycles of those around us because we are hard-wired to connect — without our even knowing it.  Our brains have mirror neurons, which fire identically both when we act, and when we watch someone else.  In other words, they bring someone else’s experience into our own neurological system.

Human cycles + emotional connection are a natural setup for entrainment.

Entrainment is a powerful force, in other words — and risky to ignore.  Unless we make conscious effort not to, we WILL entrain to the rhythms and energies around us — both positive and negative.

Therefore, it’s important to be aware and careful about who and what we choose to be around!  The kinds of music, media, people, and emotions that surround us literally shape and become part of our own physical and emotional experience.

Maintaining Healthy Entrainment

Here are some ways to have Entrainment work for you.

1.  Develop Your Radar.  Be mindful of what is going on around you, and notice how you feel in different environments.  If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, start here: Do I feel open or closed?  “Closed” means pulled back and protected.  “Open” is curious, engaged, and growing.

2.  Choose More Open. Put yourself in more contexts that feel good, and stay away from what doesn’t.  Obvious, right?  Or is it?  Every time we put up with trash-talk music, TV, or gossip — or fixate on what is wrong with our job / relationship / the world — we’re volunteering to entrain to negative energy.  Make your life easier:  Surround yourself with Good!

3.  Use your Force Field.  When you’re in a negative situation that you can’t avoid, turn on your force field of heightened awareness.  Become ultra-conscious of your thoughts and feelings, and fully commit to steer your own emotional boat.  Remember that other people’s negativity is about them.  Protect yourself with positive, compassionate self-talk.  If possible, stand up, move around, or take a bathroom break to disrupt the negative patterns.

Positive Entrainment: The Superpower for Effective Groups and Teams

The power of Positive Entrainment strengthens groups and teams as well.  Here are some ways to help your team entrain into the flow:

co-workers with thumbs joined together1.  Amplify the Good Vibes.  Positive Entrainment happens quickly when the atmosphere is open and appreciative.  You add to it with each smile, encouraging comment, and warm, “How’s it going?”

2.  Create the Connections.  Entrainment only works when things are connected.  How well-connected are your group or team members to each other, and to the rhythm of their purpose and workflow?  Bring them together in new ways with interactive team building, meetings & retreats, skills development, and social opportunities.

3.  Celebrate Team Resilience.  In drumming, an entrained group stays in the groove when someone loses the beat, which makes it easy for him or her to “fall back in” with the rhythm.  Similarly, a positively entrained group carries on through individual wobbles and glitches, focusing on returning to forward progress.

4. Allow Support from Group Power.  We all have our ragged days and messed up moments.  Instead of reacting with perfectionist stress, take a breath and relax!  Allow the team momentum to help carry you through the challenges, until you get back in your own rhythm.  Everyone will get their turn over time!

The bottom line:

Entrainment WANTS to happen — it’s the easier way!

Harnessing this natural phenomenon creates a doorway to Flow, that rich state of unfolding creating accomplishment.

Now it’s your turn.  What are ways you can enjoy more Positive Entrainment in your life and workplace?  Tell us about them in the comments below!

Next up in Rhythm Tools for Life: THE ONE

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