Thank God It's Monday
How many of us can't wait for the weekend? When we can finally be freed from the shackles so we can do what we really want? Relax, go out, enjoy hobbies. Work is something unpleasant we have to do before we have fun, right?
Maybe not. Finding Flow by renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi questions that paradigm and offers strategies for turning that around. This book is a guide to finding joy through complete engagement with whatever we're doing.
What is Flow?
Csikszentmihalyi coined the term "flow" as a result of his research on optimal experience. It describes the feeling of being fully alive, completely immersed in what we're doing. Athletes call it "being in the zone." Flow can happen while we're dancing, reading a good book, playing a sport, or at work.
The Paradox of Work
Work is something most of us are glad to avoid if we can. We've been taught that work is something (usually unpleasant) we all have to do. Yet Csikszentmihalyi's research found that:
"the moments when a person is in a high-challenge, high-skill situation, accompanied by feelings of concentration, creativity, and satisfaction, were reported more often at work..."
Work is where flow is likeliest to occur. He cites a study that found 77% of American women and 84% of men say they would continue to work even if they inherited enough money to make work unnecessary. At work we have clear aims and rules. It gives us immediate feedback through a job well done. Yet we've been trained to not enjoy it.
Strategies for More Flow at Work
You have more potential for feeling fully alive at work. How can you increase that potential? Based on Csikszentmihalyi's concepts, here are three ways to increase flow at work:
- Get clear on what success means to you. For me, this means setting lots of small and big goals. For example, I set goals before going to networking events: have 2-3 meaningful conversations. If I make those connections, the event was a success. The bonus is that having meaningful conversations is also a flow experience for me.
- Get relevant feedback. If you work for yourself, this can be especially challenging. Without coworkers, how do you process ideas with someone who can give you constructive feedback? We are social animals; we need and thrive on interactions with others. I've been fortunate to have an accountability buddy for the past 7 months. We talk by phone each Thursday for 30 minutes about anything and everything. We offer each other support, tough love, and a nonjudgmental place to test out wild ideas. Each Thursday is TGIT because I get to give and receive with someone who understands me and inspires me to do my best.
- Take on challenges that stretch your skills just a tad. "Flow tends to occur when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable." This means picking a challenge that is doable but not so easy that you get bored. Or too hard that you give up. A few years ago I took a graphic design class. I already knew a few concepts, so had enough basics to not feel totally lost. But the class was interesting enough that I found it fresh and exciting.
We might not achieve flow experiences 100% of the time, but if there are more of them than not, we have a better chance of enjoying work every day.
Check out Finding Flow and see if it changes your relationship to work. Want strategies for creating a more meaningful work life? Get in touch today. We spend too much time working not to take control of that experience, don't you think?