How can you add more flow to our everyday work-life? How to achieve full immersion in our job? What are some of the elements that can help us create flow?
Those are a few of the things I hope to answer in the following post!
Now, why would you want to have more flow in the first place?
Let’s start by looking how the absence of flow looks like. It is a state that we usually have a hard time describing, but there is actually a word for it, and that’s languishing.
It is a term that has been talked about for a while within positive psychology and the topics of wellbeing at work and happiness at work – because when we look into statistics, it turns out that a surprisingly big percentage of workers feels a sense of languishing at work! The details depend on the country and the exact research, but it is regularly >50%!
Yet the COVID-19 pandemic gave a whole new boost to languishing.
For many of us, the pandemic robbed us of some of the quality of our connections with others. Activities that we enjoy often suffered. Life got less diverse and a bit less rich in adventure, freedom, and spontaneity. Uncertainty was on the rise, and we all got less confident about trusting our new plans.
All of this leads to that “blah” feeling.
How can we work against languishing, both in our private lives and at our workplace?
How can we bring more motivation, enjoyment, fun, and a sense of meaning into everyday activities?
The state of flow is one of the most powerful antidotes to languishing.
It is that state in which we don’t focus on positive emotions and hedonism (which would lead us to feel momentarily happy, but over longer term leaves us empty of sense of meaning) – instead, we focus on actively working on something that is meaningful to us, in a focused, goal oriented and immersive way.
It is the state that often spontaneously happens for many of us. Yet flow is also a state that, by learning more about it, we can strengthen, develop and have much more of it in our life and work.
The first step is to learn what creates more flow. Curious? I will be happy to share more ideas in a bit – but as flow is all about being active & proactive, how about taking a moment to reflect before you continue reading?
Moment of reflection:
What gives you a sense of flow (feeling of being “in the zone”)?
What activities, environments, circumstances, or people?
What works for you to build even more flow?
How is flow making a difference?
Flow is the state of “blissful immersion”, being “in the zone”, “optimal experience”, when we feel fully immersed into an activity that we are doing.
It usually happens while doing something that we consider important and worthwhile, but also that challenges us and stretches our focus and abilities.
For most of us, flow happens often in the similar type of activities that work best for us – for some is sports, for others arts or music, for third ones meaningful projects at work. Yet what we often fail to recognize is what a power we have over how much flow we are experiencing in life!
You see, it is a state that positive psychology researched deeply and broadly, and one for which we have quite a lot of guidelines of how to build more of it.
Moment of reflection:
Before we dive into how it works – how about taking a moment to reflect on when do you get into that state?
What would you say are the characteristics of the activities and circumstances that you detected in the previous moment to reflect?
Here are several “ingredients” or steps that are needed for flow to happen.
First “secret” to flow - balancing challenge and skills!
The first “secret” to flow is this one: flow happens when there is balance between how challenging we perceive the task is, and how skillful and confident we feel in the face of that task (like on the chart to the right).
That is, the most conducive activities for flow are the ones that we perceive as challenging and difficult, yet we are fairly confident it is possible for us to succeed in them.
If we perceive the challenge as too high (or our skills as too low), we get in a state that’s closer to stress – the exact flavor might be alert, worry, anxiety…
Yet if the challenge slides too low, we will get in a state that is relaxation, perhaps boredom, or a sense that we are in control. Not that anything is wrong with alertness (as long as it doesn’t take too long), or with relaxation – yet overall our life is much richer in satisfaction and sense of meaning if we keep spending more time in flow than in these states.
Now, perhaps you have heard of this “subtle balance” before.
The important thing, though, is what are you doing about it? How are you putting it into practice?
Take a moment to reflect: in my life, where do I feel more often: on the boredom side, on the stress side, or in the flow corner?
How about right now? These days, where am I?
Think about different aspects of your life: at work, in hobbies and sports, in relationships, in which area of the chart are you?
What does that mean in practice? In which specific areas would you like to add more meaningful challenges, and in which areas do you perhaps need to slow down (work on your skills, recharge, relax)?
Do put it into practice!
The second “secret” to flow - setting goals!
The second “secret” to flow is setting goals that are meaningful, that are challenging, specific, and motivating.
For flow and engagement to happen, we need two “sizes” of goals:
big goals – visionary, ambitions, something that feels challenging and huge – these goals contribute to our sense of purpose
clear immediate goals – related to our clear next step, helping us keep the focus on our next action, related to what it is that we are trying to create today, right now – without them, we lose the connection between our immediate actions and the big goals
For a goal to be motivating, there is one more crucial element: knowing if our current specific actions are bringing us forward and closer to that goal. For that last element, one needs a clear metric of how we are doing on our way towards the goal.
Metrics could be an objective way of measuring our progress, and in some cases it also might be feedback from others or self-feedback and self-observation.
What is important, though, is that we can in some quality way “judge” and assess whether we are progressing towards our goal.
Moment of reflection:
How clear are you on your goals these days?
Do you keep an eye on the “big goals” of what you are looking to create, and do you draw motivation from them?
And how about clear goals for this day or week – do you keep these in focus and measure how you are advancing towards them?
Third “secret” to flow - focus!
Focus is a must for engagement – and one of the things that are most often “broken” in our “modern” world full of distractions. Without focus and without protecting our time and space from distractions, it is impossible to get into the state of “full immersion” and “optimal experience”.
You can practice focus by:
aim to do one thing at a time, with full focus (try pomodoro as a way of working)
practice daily meditation, even if for just 5 minutes per day (if you lack ideas how just google “5 min breathing meditation” or check out Headspace)
when engaged in a conversation, try to listen to the other person fully, without thinking about anything else – focus to truly understand not just their words, but also their body language and emotions
manage your energy by leveraging (healthy) food, sleep, water, and movement – the brain cannot keep focus if the body is not on board
ask yourself often throughout the day “What is most important for me to (re)focus on right now?” – write an answer to post it and don’t leave that action until you finish it
protect your space from notifications and interruption (at least for a couple of hours per day)
When transitioning between activities and tasks, take just a moment for a nice deep breathing and setting your intention – “With which intention do I wish to enter this next situation, conversation or a task?”
Remember, to be able to keep more focused, the key is to practice focus in small everyday moments!
Moment of reflection:
What is one small step (new habit, or a small action) that you will be doing today to create just a bit more focus? (regardless if you are doing it great already, or if that is your weak point)
What are your ways of practicing your focus? How could you do that even better?
Flow for teams and organizations
And what about teams and organizations?
How can we build more flow and sense of focus and engagement in teams?
Here are some quick tips:
talk about flow – educate people about it, why it matters and how to get more of it, and share appreciation for the benefits of that state
share with the team the importance of skill vs. challenge ratio, clear goals and feedback, and focus
motivation, positive emotion, and focus are often contagious – demonstrate them all by example, and acknowledge and appreciate individuals who demonstrate them
be respectful of everyone’s focus – support them to protect blocks of their time from distractions
nurture goal-oriented mindset – ask, what goals are you working on instead of what activity/task are you currently working on
pay attention to energy management – support healthy food habits, movement, breaks, mini-meditation and enable and encourage individuals to manage their own energy levels
communicate that as a leader you value team satisfaction and wellbeing
….and many more
Moment of reflection:
Which of these tips are you using already?
Which ones would you like to use more?
What other tips would you add to this list?