You want to be experiencing “flow.” It’s when you’re so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world fades away:
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity… The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described… as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.
When do you usually feel flow? It’s when you’re challenged but not beyond your skill level. Passive activities don’t create flow. Neither do overwhelming challenges.
Flow is generally reported when a person is doing his or her favorite activity – gardening, listening to music, bowling, cooking a good meal. It also occurs when driving, when talking to friends and surprisingly often at work. Very rarely do people report flow in passive leisure activities, such as watching television or relaxing.
There are a handful of things that need to be present for you to experience flow:
- Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable.
- Immediate feedback.
- Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between personal skill level and the challenge presented.
- Strong concentration and focused attention.
- The activity is intrinsically rewarding.
Finding that balance between challenge and skills is best illustrated by this chart:
What can you do to increase the flow you feel at work?
First, figure out what brings you flow already and think about how to maximize those moments. Dan Pink offers an excellent exercise to help with that
Set a reminder on your computer or mobile phone to go off at forty random times in a week. Each time your device beeps, write down what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, and whether you’re in “flow.” Record your observations, look at the patterns, and consider the following questions:
- Which moments produced feelings of “flow”? Where were you? What were you working on? Who were you with?
- Are certain times of day more flow-friendly than others? How could you restructure your day based on your findings?
- How might you increase the number of optimal experiences and reduce the moments when you felt disengaged or distracted?
- If you’re having doubts about your job or career, what does this exercise tell you about your true source of intrinsic motivation?
Second, do your best to take your regular work activities and add in the factors that create flow.
…almost any activity can produce flow provided the relevant elements are present, it is possible to improve the quality of life by making sure that clear goals, immediate feedback, skills balanced to action, opportunities, and the remaining conditions of flow are as much possible a constant part of everyday life.
Third, significantly increasing the amount of flow you experience is often the result of using your unique talents — your “signature strengths.”
Via UPenn happiness expert Martin Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness:
- Identify your signature strengths.
- Choose work that lets you use them every day.
- Recraft your present work to use your signature strengths more.
- If you are the employer, choose employees whose signature strengths mesh with the work they will do. If you are a manager, make room to allow employees to recraft the work within the bounds of your goals.
For more on flow, check out these books:
- Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
- Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
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