You will need candles, scented oil, a yoga mat, and – while not mandatory – a shaman, acupuncturist, or dowser is highly recommended. Maybe that’s the problem; we think we can’t have flow experiences because we don’t have a shaman handy. The truth is that flow experiences aren’t mystical; they’re attainable states of mind. You do not, in fact, need candles but you can set the mood for more of these transformative experiences.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, architect of the flow concept, saw these experiences as moments when you are so absorbed with what you are doing, nothing else matters. It is pure enjoyment, pure engagement because it is so guileless. It is “self-forgetfulness” as Csikszentmihalyi says. Flow experiences do not have to be had in solitude; they need not occur only when you’re enjoying a hobby. In fact, they’re much more likely to happen at work. And you can employ some tricks and tips to allow yourself to have more of them.
- Avoid multi-tasking. You know the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none”? That’s what you’re doing when you’re multi-tasking. You’re giving pieces of your attention to many different jobs. Not only is this inefficient (despite the strong protestations of multi-taskers), it just doesn’t invite absorption and engagement. Don’t check your email every two minutes; limit distractions; focus on one task. There are times when you must multi-task, and when you must check in with social media; just be aware that flow experiences come with concentration.
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- Be the change you’re looking for. If you don’t like an aspect of your job, change it. Think about your character strengths, and figure out how you can put them to use. Maybe a dreaded task becomes enjoyable when you simply move to a different area (a new spot in the office, under the sun, on a comfy couch). Maybe it becomes less painful when you develop a new method of tackling it. Maybe you can pass it off to someone else in exchange for a different, more enjoyable task! Try new activities, develop new skills, focus on your top character strengths, and put your skills to use in different situations and settings. Maybe you cannot change your job; you can change your perspective and approach to it. Sometimes, just shaking things up is all you need to feel refreshed and refocused.
- Find the challenge balance. Flow experiences happen at the intersection of boredom and anxiety. A task cannot be too mundane that you do it mindlessly; nor can it be so difficult that it becomes overwhelming and frustrating. You’ll know because as you start, you’ll get feedback from your skills. It’s like working out with a trainer. He’ll see what you’re doing and decide how many weights to add to the machine. You’ll do a set, he’ll add or remove weight depending on your performance. When you find the right combination, the right level of challenge, you’ll hit your flow.
The key is to be open to the experiences that can result in a state of flow – because you never really know what they will be. Csikszentmihalyi wrote, “There are literally millions of potentially interesting things in the world to see, to do, to learn about. But they don’t become actually interesting until we devote attention to them.” You know, some of those things are probably waiting for you at work right now. No “probably” about it. They are. Go find them!