Flow is a state of mind and activity where your skills are just about at the level of the meaningful challenge you’re working on.
Mihaly c, psychologist, and author of the book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” notes that while you can be happy from external circumstances, like a vacation or a raise, flow is “what makes for excellence in life.”
What keeps you from the optimal experience of flow?
If your skills are way above your challenge, you’ll feel bored.
If your skills are way below your challenge, you’ll feel anxious.
What to do with boredom?
What can you do if you’re feeling bored? Of course, we all have mundane activities we have to do, in both our personal and professional lives. Try making it a game. How can you make that process faster or more efficient?
Or, you can practice mindfulness.
When you’re washing the dishes, just think about the process of washing the dishes.
Zen Master and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh explains it this way in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness:
“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can only occur when you aren’t doing them. . . I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. . . each second of life is a miracle.”
What do with anxiety?
If the challenge is harder than your skills will accommodate, consider your options.
Do you have time to learn the skill during the time available to complete the task? Will this be a task that recurs? Are you expected to know how to do it as a condition for your employment?
Then definitely seek out the training you need. When you go to learn the skills necessary, stay in “growth mindset.”
Carol Dweck, Stanford psychology professor and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, notes that people with a fixed mindset are afraid of failure because they see this as a negative statement about their basic abilities.
People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see failure as feedback and understand feedback is necessary for growth.
Which group do you suppose will be happier?
Dweck says that growth mindset allows people to live a less stressful and more successful life.
Your willingness to experience the mental and emotional stretch it takes to learn new skills can give you the ability to enter into flow. When you’re stretching you create a positive effect called “eustress.”
When you’re in flow, you lessen negative stress, and increase your happiness and success in life. Big win.
10 Flow Factors in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s own words. You can be in flow with just having a few of these:
1. Clear goals: expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities. Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
2. Concentration: a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention.
3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness: the merging of action and awareness.
4. Distorted sense of time: one’s is altered.
5. Direct and immediate feedback: successes and failures are apparent, so behavior can be adjusted as needed.
6. Balance between ability level and challenge: the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult.
7. A sense of personal control over the situation.
8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so action is effortlessness.
9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs.
10. Absorption: narrowing of awareness down to the activity itself.
3 Ways you can ease into flow:
1. Create clear goals.
Know where the finish line is.
Imagine trying to meet friends at a restaurant when you have no idea which restaurant.
Whenever I deliver a keynote speech, I ask my client ahead of time “How will we know this was a successful keynote?” The answer helps me craft my work to make sure I reach the client’s goals.
2. Pay attention to staying on course.
Given your clear goal, make sure your actions are purposeful and deliberate.
Attend to what Daniel Goleman calls a “feedback loop.” That is, check in to make sure you’re on track to success.
My gym has a class called body pump. Light weights on a bar, high reps. Proper form is key. The mirrored wall in the front of the class is the feedback loop. You know what proper form is, because the instructor demonstrated it. By looking at yourself in the mirror, you know right away what you need to tweak to have great form.
3. Eliminate distractions.
This supports you in paying attention. To eliminate distractions you have control over, if you’re using a media screen, use only one, with only one window open.
University of Sussex referenced a study showing high media multi-tasking is connected to “poor attention in the face of distractions, along with emotional problems such as depression and anxiety.”
Multi-tasking is the anti-flow.
Stay single-mindedly focused. This is especially important because to enter into flow, your task is going to be challenging in the first place, requiring you to work on the outer limits of your skill sets.
The struggle to grow is the joy of flow
Csikszentmihalyi writes, “These periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable in their lives.”
There’s food for thought. Deliberately asking more from yourself in expanding your skills to conquer new demands on your intellect and ability is immensely gratifying.
Csikszentmihalyi again here: “By stretching skills, by reaching toward higher challenges, such a person becomes and increasingly extraordinary individual.”
Give yourself that gift of stretching and reaching higher and higher as you flow from one gratifying experience to the next and discover the depth and breadth of your potential.