Ever been so immersed in a task that you lose track of time and your surroundings? That is what we call “flow” in positive psychology.
This mental state, often known as the “zone,” is about being entirely immersed in your task, so much so that the outside world fades away, and time, hunger, and thirst seem to vanish.
The concept of “flow” was introduced by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi way back in 1975. He described it as an “optimal experience.”
When in a “flow” state, you are fully focused, blissfully unaware of what’s happening around you. Your sense of self and your activity weave together so well that you don’t feel separate from the task at hand.
In your personal life, you can find flow while listening to your favorite music, reading your favorite book, or doing some hobby activity you love. But you can’t do those at work.
Why do you need flow at work?
Your work hours today overflow with distractions. So, tapping into flow is more relevant than ever.
Finding flow at work is finding a mental state that lets you find your rhythm and achieve your best work. Flow at work boosts your productivity, focus, and creativity, and makes your work enjoyable and fulfilling.
In flow, difficult tasks don’t overwhelm you, as you have struck the perfect balance between your skill and the task difficulty.
Flow leads to optimal performance and peak productivity as well as a profound sense of satisfaction.
How to find flow at work?
Flow is something you create with action; it does not happen out of passivity. And it usually emerges when you are doing your favorite activity.
So, either love your work or find work that you love.
Here is how you can find flow at work and make your productivity soar:
1. Choose Activities That Trigger Flow
Flow emerges when you do something that is interesting as well as challenging.
You have to find the right activity to find flow, one that you enjoy doing that is neither too easy nor too difficult.
You can do the right activity for a long time without losing interest, while still expanding your skill limits.
So, find an activity that you enjoy and that is helpful to your company, and schedule time for it regularly. Inform others about your dedicated chunk of time when they will avoid pushing you with other tasks.
If you like problem-solving, find a problem and set aside some time to solve it. If learning new skills in the latest tech is your favorite activity, make time for it every day.
2. Balance Your Skills With Task Complexity
The activity must challenge you to the outer border of your competence; not more, not less.
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.
So analyze your skill level against the difficulty level of the activity. This balance between the skill level and difficulty level is the most vital part of finding flow.
Take these examples to help you understand this skill-challenge equation.
- Suppose you are a coder. If you rate yourself above the beginner level, you could practice your coding skills with AI tools like Copilot and ChatGPT to achieve the skill-challenge balance.
- Suppose you work in the marketing department. Then you must stay current with “marketing psychology” to devise the most effective strategies for your company.
Flow needs an activity that has clear goals, matches your skill, and gives quick feedback.
So, match your skill to the challenge level of the activity.
Flow is also independent of your external circumstances, so don’t wait for the right circumstances to happen to enable flow; rather, make it happen.
3. Set Goals That Push Your Limits
Unless you have some goals to live up to, you cannot improve your lot in life.
“What gets measured gets done,” so goes the saying. To measure, though, you must have a measuring stick marked with your goals.
Your goals must align with your passions and also challenge your limits of skills and tolerance.
If your goals do not stretch you beyond what you are currently good at, your “good” will decay into “average,” and then “inadequate.”
If you’re aiming for a promotion in accounting, but your passion lies in graphic design, disinterest and boredom may hinder your progress in the office.
In a larger sense, we all need a series of bigger and bigger goals that push us beyond our present status if we are to find our meaning in life.
Find the three best ways to set goals: 3 Highly Effective Goal Setting Techniques.
4. Boost Your Focus & Avoid Distractions
It takes time and effort to improve focus and avoid distractions. To get better at concentrating fully on a task, you must practice regularly.
One simple way to sharpen and sustain your focus is by learning mindfulness.
- Mindfulness training helps you accept what is going on around you, allowing you to go beyond your typical reflex reactions.
- Mindfulness also enhances your present-moment-focus, making it easier to find flow at work and tackle tasks with greater ease and efficiency.
To fully excel at mindfulness, set time boundaries with others, minimize digital interruptions, and practice persistence.
5. Use Imagination To Find Your Flow
You don’t have to get all smeared in grime and dust to find flow. You can unlock it using the power of your imagination.
Close your eyes and focus your mind on visualizing the task or activity you’re working on. By immersing yourself in this mental exercise, you can tap into “the zone” just like top performers do when they mentally rehearse their actions in a real-life situation.
Use your creativity and imagination to experience the joy of flow, much like how avid readers create moving images and lively scenes in their minds while reading. The joy of those mental adventures is just as same as the real ones.
With time and practice, the process gets even better.
Repetition helps our memories recall the experience more quickly, while our logical abilities refine our skills and iron out any flaws.
So, let your imagination run wild and welcome flow into your work life.
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.
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.
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 researched by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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