The Daily Challenge: Flow state


It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, good and bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly. — J.S. Mill


Go with the (work) flow

Read Time: 3 Minutes

The work of athletes, writers, musicians, mathematicians, and CEOs is very different, but has something in common: it can be a pathway to a sense of flow.

Flow state, or a state of optimal experience, is concentration so focused that it results in absolute absorption in an activity. You’ve likely experienced it. It’s those moments when you realize you’ve been working on something for hours without even realizing it.

At work getting into a state of flow may help you make your job more engaging, which in turn can elevate your performance.

For example, some research has indicated that in sports flow experiences were positively related to team performance, and, in hospitals, experiencing flow during work decreased exhaustion among nurses.

The concept of flow was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian-born writer, and professor of Psychology and Education at the University of Chicago. In his extensive research, Csikszentmihalyi explored the connection between human creativity and fulfillment. His findings indicate that in most cultures and career paths, people love doing what they do well, and the nature of that experience is what brings them meaning, growth, and happiness.

What is interesting about that optimal experience is that, according to Csikszentmihalyi, it isn’t supposed to come easy. On the opposite, the right balance between challenge and skills is when you’re able to get into a flow state.

Today, identify how you can get into flow with your work-related projects.

Step 1: Pick a project that is connected to your long-term work-related goals. According to Csikszentmihalyi, the meaning behind the task can ease us into the state of flow, especially if we are trying to apply the method in the workplace. Without clearly seeing how the task taps into a bigger goal, it’s hard to become absorbed by it.

Step 2. Set a challenging but manageable goal for this project. The task should be difficult enough for you to develop skills when working on it, but manageable enough for you to stay motivated. Csikszentmihalyi claims that when the task is too challenging, it might bring anxiety, and in case it’s too simple, you might get bored.

Step 3: Create a space for focus by scheduling a continuous time block of at least 90 minutes with no distractions. Focused attention and concentration are a requirement to enter the flow state, and shifting between tasks or resisting such common distractions as office noise or your phone can be energy-consuming.

Pro-tip: Stay focused. Guide your mind back to the task when it slips away. The flow state requires intention and high self-discipline. Don’t expect the flow state to happen to you, instead, be intentional to enter and stay in it.

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