Flow, the model of performance introduced to Positive Psychology by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is big news both in the workplace and outside of it. But what is it? Think of a time when you’ve been completely immersed in a task, when distractions were minimized and you lost sense of time and space. Got it? Well that’s flow. If you can answer ‘Yes’ to the following questions whilst undertaking a task, you’ve probably found yourself in flow;
- You’re doing it because you’re motivated
- You’re completely focused on the task
- You lose sense of time, hours feel like minutes
- You’re not worrying
- You have a sense of control
- You forget yourself
- You feel inspired
- You don’t really notice your surroundings
- You’re enjoying it and feel good as you get on with the task, you’re on a roll!
- You feel as though you’re achieving something
Csikszentmihalyi narrows it down to two characteristics that must be present for flow to occur:
- We should know what to do moment by moment whilst participating in the activity or task and utilise feedback instantly
- The abilities of the person undertaking the task match the opportunities for action
Put more simply, he describes it as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from your previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost”
Or, as Lyubmirsky describes it, “being involved in life” rather than being on autopilot.
Surprisingly, adults often report experiencing more flow in the workplace than in their personal life outside of work. This might have something to do with the parameters and guidelines around work, which you’ll see below, are a necessary part of creating more flow in life. But rest easy, flow is an essential element of happiness whether you’re at work or not and can be applied to friendships, relationships, projects, hobbies and sports.
Why does it matter?
Research suggests that people who feel flow experience greater levels of wellbeing. This doesn’t mean that each time you participate in a task you’ll feel euphoric and instant happiness (if only). Instead, studies suggest that after the task has been completed, people feel a sense of accomplishment, a greater subjective sense of wellbeing along with purpose and meaning. All ingredients of happiness and flourishing according to Martin Seligman, the ‘father’ of Positive Psychology. Csikszentmihalyi says it’s one of the secrets to finding happiness in life. In our book that makes creating flow worth a go.
To introduce more flow experiences into your day to day activities, Csikszentmihalyi recommends the following in his book, ‘Finding Flow”.
- Seek out situations where you’re fully involved in the challenge. It’s not too easy for you and there is some ‘stretch’ involved in the task for you, you’re pushing yourself outside of a comfortable level of performance.
- The activity has a set of goals and requires certain actions. The rules help you get into flow because you’re not wondering how to do something. It’s clear.
- Learn to focus your attention. Train yourself to focus on moment to moment awareness so you’re able to concentrate fully. Try practicing mindfulness to hone this skill.
- Apply flow to routine tasks. Lyubmirsky suggests ‘microflow’ experiences created by applying goals and rules to everyday tasks. See how you can apply these to something you do every day, for example, creating a personal best time for completing your administrative tasks or seeing if you can bring your full attention to a conversation.
- Aim for superflow. This is when you’re in maximum flow with the volume turned up. You’ll get there with practice, from small microflow projects, to practicing your moment-to-moment awareness on a regular basis. That’s you rewiring your brain and honing your skills until you’re able to move into superflow with ease.
With a little bit of practice and effort, flow is something that, when cultivated will pay dividends in your wellbeing and happiness. Want to find out more about flow? Here’s the man himself at TedX Monterey, California https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?language=en
We love to talk about all things positive psychology at Positive Change Guru. Check out our forthcoming events or get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke positive psychology training for your organisation.