How To Find Flow At Work

What is flow in psychology?

Flow or “zone” is a state of mind in which one feels deeply absorbed in work, oblivious of the outside world. In the flow state, a person works at their peak level with full concentration, without being aware of what is happening around them. They seem to lose the sense of time.

The work challenges you, but it doesn’t overwhelm you. You tackle it at the right skill level, without slackening your focus. Your work and your self-identity merge, so much that you don’t feel you’re a person separate from your work. No hunger and no thirst appear greater than the work you’re involved in.

All the while, your inner sense of happiness is so complete that it is almost an ecstasy. When in flow, it seems as if you’ve found the perfect work — or the perfect work has found you.

As a concept, flow was presented by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi back in 1975, but its significance today in our world full of distractions stands even more relevant. He described it as an “optimal experience.”

What is Flow Theory? What does this mean for our students?

How To Find Flow At Your Work?

How do you find flow at work, or at anything you do for a living? To find flow at work, or in an activity, you have to find an activity that has clear goals, gives immediate feedback, and matches your skill.

Flow is of your own making. It does not emerge as a result of an act that you do passively.

What is Flow by Csikszentmihalyi

Also, it does not depend on your external circumstances. It happens from inside you, and you make it happen. In finding flow, you find authentic happiness.

Here are 5 steps to help you find flow at work:

  1. Find The Right Activity
  2. Assess Your Skill
  3. Set Up Your Goals
  4. Sharpen Your Focus
  5. Play In Your Fantasy

1. Find The Right Activity

You have to find an activity to engage in, while making sure it is something neither too easy, nor too difficult. So that you can do it without losing interest, and at the same time it expands your personal limits.

In other words, it challenges you to the outer border of your competence; not more, not less.

Flow generally occurs when a person is doing his or her favorite activity, such as, listening to music, reading a book, talking to friends, and often at our work.

It’s almost never a result of a passive act as watching prolonged periods of TV. So, find an activity that is interesting as well as challenging.

2. Assess Your Skill

Now, analyze your skill level against the difficulty level of the activity. This skill-level and task-difficulty balance is perhaps the most vital part.

If the difficulty level is too high, you may abandon it because it will demand time and effort that you do not have. And if it’s too simple, you may skip it as well, but this time out of boredom.

Take these examples to help you understand this skill-challenge equation.

  • You’re a chess player. Now, if you rate yourself anywhere beyond the beginner level, to reach the skill-challenge balance, you should be aiming at practicing your middle games and solving one-move and two-move puzzles.
  • You’re a tennis player of a beginner kind. Then you could aim at simply catching the ball with your racket and hitting it over the net, instead of trying lofty forehand volleys. (By the way, when the tennis ball touches the net strap but still lands on the other side, the umpire calls it a “Let” — not Net)!

So, match your skill to the challenge level of the activity.

3. Set Up Your Goals

You can improve only when you have set some goals.

However, while setting them, make sure your goals align with your passions and challenge your limits.

If it’s the drums you want to challenge yourself to, but it’s football that you’re setting your goals up for, then you can be sure that your disinterest and boredom will pull you out of the field.

find flow at work
Find Flow At Your Work

In a larger sense, to find our meaning in life, we all need an ultimate goal to set focus on.

So, set up a goal that you are enthusiastic about. And if you want to know what are the three best ways to set goals, see this: 3 Highly Effective Goal Setting Techniques.

4. Sharpen Your Focus

Paying attention that is absolute takes effort. To learn to rein in your whole focus to your activity, you need to practice.

One technique to increase your ability to focus is to learn mindfulness. By practicing being mindful, you can learn to perceive much more than what your automatic response allows.

To become exceptionally mindful, you need to strengthen your self-control too. So, learn how to be mindful to sharpen your focus.

5. Play In Your Fantasy

You don’t have to get all smeared in grime and dust to find flow. You can just play in your mind and experience it.

Close your eyes. Now try to focus all of your mind’s attention on playing out the activity in your imagination, and find yourself entering “the zone.”

As top players are known to do; they mentally go through the motions and move as if in a real game.

So, use your creative imagination and free-rolling fantasy to invite the joy of flow, as good readers do while reading — creating moving images and interpreting ‘living’ scenes. The enjoyment of those mind-movies is equal.

And it gets finer with time and practice. With repetition, our memories retrieve the experience faster, and our logical skills smooth out our flaws better.

Neo And Flow

Let’s see flow this way. Remember Neo from the movie The Matrix when he’s stopping bullets in the air.

Neo sees the bullets travel towards him, and holds out his hand, tilts his head a little, and zones out gazing into them. And the bullets slow down and freeze, mid-air.

Then, with a look of deep curiosity, he plucks out one, turns it around in his fingers, and drops it to the floor. As if on cue, the rest of the bullets fall down.

What had happened was this: Hacker that he was, Neo had successfully changed the Matrix code in real-time. To his mind, they were not bullets; they were just codes. To pull that feat, Neo had gone into a state of flow.

Those looks, first zoning out, and then deep curiosity, explain what it feels like to be in flow.

find flow at work
Keanu Reeves as Neo in ‘The Matrix’ — Stopping bullets in the air (Warner Bros.)

Think Neo again.

In The Matrix, the makers imagined the everyday world to be the product of a computer-generated digital program that is controlled by androids. Morpheus had told Neo, “When the Matrix was first built, there was a man born inside who had the ability to change whatever he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit.”

Up until then, Neo could not bring himself to believe that he was The One who could remake the Matrix. But now, as he was focusing intently on those flying bullets, his mind was furiously hacking their codes. He was actually working out of the belief that he now held the skill to rewrite the superhuman code.

And then, when the bullets freeze, and he pulls out one, he was checking the reality of it — immediate feedback.

Final Words

We can choose to enter flow whenever we are craving for that deep state of calm happiness.

I couldn’t have said it better than Michael Hedrick, a writer and photographer who has lived with schizophrenia for many years, and written Connections: The Journey Of A Schizophrenic:

All I ask is that you don’t close your minds to the notion that we could all find that thing (called flow) which makes us happy. We don’t have to make a living out of it, we just have to know that it’s there in case we need it.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.

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