According to a 2014 Gallup poll, more than two-thirds of adults said they were not engaged at work, many of which where “actively disengaged.” When surveyed globally, only Canada had lower numbers of “not engaged” and “actively disengaged” workers than the United State.
 
Worldwide, only 13 percent of adults call themselves “engaged” at work.
 
Contrast thoughts of disengagement with this flow experience from a rock climber: 
 
“It’s exhilarating to come closer and closer to self-discipline. You make your body go and everything hurts; then you look back in awe at the self, at what you’ve done, it just blows your mind. It leads to ecstasy, to self-fulfillment. If you win these battles enough, that battle against yourself, at least for a moment, it becomes easier to win the battles in the world.”
 
What if I told you that we could make these types of experiences a regular part of our lives? 
 
Previously, we spoke about the cost of socialization and our loss of self. After a quick analysis of why we’re so unhappy at work, we’re going to look at how we can create flow experiences to return enjoyment and engagement to our daily lives.
 
Again, Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly has defined flow as the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. 

Work Dissatisfaction

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly provides us with three main reasons for dissatisfaction in our jobs:
  1. Our jobs lack variety and challenges, especially in low-level positions and occupations.
  2. Conflicts with others, especially our bosses.
  3. Burnout, which is the culmination of too much pressure and stress without adequate time for us to think or spend quality time with others.
None of those reasons should be surprising as one of the leading causes for depression and learned helplessness is a perceived lack of control over circumstance.

Components of Enjoyment (and Flow) 

In researching enjoyment and flow, Csikszentmihaly identified eight common characteristics.
  1. We confront tasks that are challenging, but within our capabilities to complete.
  2. We can concentrate and focus our attention on what we’re doing.
  3. Our task has clear goals.
  4. Our task provides immediate feedback.
  5. We are so deeply engaged in our task that our awareness of everyday tasks vanish.
  6. We have a sense of control over our actions.
  7. Concern for self disappears during the task, but returns with a stronger sense of self afterwards.
  8. Our sense of time is altered; an hour can feel like minutes and a few minutes can seem like hours.
“When a person invests all her psychic energy into an interaction—whether it is with another person, a boat, a mountain, or a piece of music—she in effect becomes part of a system of action greater than what the individual self had been before.”
The point where we get the most enjoyment is very specific; once the tasks are equal to our abilities.
 
Video games are an ideal example of flow experiences. Each level is appropriately challenging, but just within our capability to complete with increases in difficulty as our skills improve. 
 
 
Games provide clear goals and immediate feedback — did you win or lose? Could you have performed better? We have total control over whether we are successful or not. Lastly, they are made to be totally engrossing. The outside world disappears. Time moves differently. 
 
A caveat with flow experiences — they can become addictive. Video games again make a great example as people become captive to those experiences at the expense of other life obligations where they may not experience the same level of control leading to a lower sense of satisfaction.
 
In a similar vein, leisure that uses external resources often require less attention than intrinsic accomplishments. Therefore, they are often less memorable or rewarding than we often expect.

Everyday Application

To apply flow to our jobs, we need to figure out how to make work more like a game.
  • Where can we add variety to our roles? Are there additional things that we can accomplish?
  • Find appropriate and flexible challenges; if you’re not being challenged, figure out how you might re-align your work to learn something new.
  • Similarly, if you’re tasking employees with projects, keep in mind that they should be challenging, yet not overwhelming. To bridge that gap, you can always add additional supports such as coaching or other additional scaffolds.
  • Identify clear, specific goals that are defined enough to be able to attain frequent feedback on your progress.
Interestingly, flow is usually more easily achieved at work due to it’s structure and built-in goals. When trying to achieve flow in your free time, you need to exert more effort to more clearly define your time and goals.
 
In order to achieve a flow state more easily, develop habits. 
 
Like a superstitious athlete or a surgeon that eats the same breakfast, wears the same outfit, and takes the same route to work prior to surgery, if we can automate tasks it frees our attention to focus on our most challenging tasks.
 
Another situation where we can find enjoyment and flow is developing relationships. In order to be enjoyable, relationships need to evolve over time and become more complex. That requires regular investments in discovering someone else’s thoughts, feelings, and dreams as well as your own. 
 
As we each change through our own experiences, relationship development is a never-ending process.

Conclusion

“The mystique of rock climbing is climbing; you get to the top of a rock glad it’s over but really wish it would go on forever. The justification of climbing is climbing, like the justification of poetry is writing; you don’t conquer anything except things in yourself…. The act of writing justifies poetry. Climbing is the same: recognizing that you are a flow. The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow.”
It is impossible to achieve flow indefinitely; however, any bit of time spent in a flow state will have a significantly positive impact towards improving your mood and life satisfaction.
 
Personally, I often struggle finding flow in my work. Work cycles have helped me to clarify goals, increase my concentration, and attain frequent feedback. It’s tough to implement in a standard 9-5, though, and requires conscious effort to shape your work environment.
 
Where I have had a lot of success is through running and hiking; similar to the climber, I feel and wish that I could go on forever, conquering mind and body for the sheer sake of doing it.
flow of a long run
First time I ever ran 100 miles in a race en route to a 314 mile finish. Picture taken by Dusty Hardman.
What times can you recall getting lost in the moment, totally engrossed in an enjoyable experience?
 
Are there any specific triggers or activities where achieving flow is easier for you?
 
What can you do to more frequently experience flow?
 
To read more about how you can create flow experiences, read my next post discussing Cal Newport’s Theory of Deep Work.
 

As always, thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts! Connect with me via Twitter or email!
 
As previously mentioned, this is part of my #100Days100Deliverables going with #The100DayProject.
 
Day: 3
Time: 2:25
Words: 1155 (just beyond daily upper limit)

About Scott

Writer. Teacher. Learner. Keen on process and individual improvement. And running really, really far.

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