Seven ways to enhance your experience of flow and enjoyment at work
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced CHICK-sent-me-high-ee) coined the concept of flow experience defining flow as a state of optimal experience – which he described in his books: ‘Flow – the Psychology of Optimal Experience” and the sequel ‘The Evolving Self’. He asserts that life is shaped as much by the future as by the past and the best moments of experience occur when a person’s mind and body are stretched in a voluntary directed effort to achieve something difficult or challenging. Optimal flow experience is something that we can consciously make happen – we can control how our personalities can be applied to achieve rewarding and enjoyable performance. This idea of flow therefore shares many ideas with self-regulation.
Csikszentmihalyi suggested ways of enhancing your experience of flow for example by picking an enjoyable activity that is at or slightly above your skill level and continuously extending the challenge as your performance improves. In this regard he agrees with other psychological theories for the development of expert performance that tells us always to have an element of challenge in what we do – like constantly striving to improve that golf swing and not just satisficing and accepted something that is good enough. By these means we extend performance towards that of an expert and not just a good amateur. He goes on to say that to enhance our performance as well as concentrating on the specific context of the problem we should screen out distractions from the outside world as much as possible and focus on the emotional and sensory qualities of the activity as well as looking for regular feedback on how we are doing.
Seven ways to achieve FLOW
- Set clear and challenging goals that although they should be attainable should always extend the current level of performance – raise the bar as your performance improves.
- Focus on the task in hand with directed thought – define the area of work and go deeply into it.
- Lose your self awareness and self-consciousness, and merge action and awareness to become absorbed. We have all been told to ignore those looking on whilst we perform something – the performance is for us not them.
- When we experience flow, time is unimportant and our subjective experience of time is altered – time flows quickly. Let the task dictate the time it needs you to take.
- Seek feedback from the performance of the task and from others – regulate your work based on feedback and take corrective actions.
- Take personal control and authority over a situation or activity.
- Look for the intrinsic rewards of the action, the new learning, the sense of achievement or the acknowledgement of peers – this is where true enjoyment is found.
So do you experience flow and enjoyment at work?
Take a simple test and find out.
Based on our work on flow experience in teaching I have created a simple flow experience survey that you can take and find out if you experience flow in your work. We found when we worked with over a thousand teachers and other professional groups that the experience of peak experience and flow was a common characteristic of professional performance.
To take the test go to our survey site here: Flow Experience Survey
When we have enough respondents we will change the test to include the norms we derived earlier so you can compare with your peer groups.