Getting to “Flow”

You begin and lose track of time. You blink, and one hour has gone by. When was the last time you were “in the zone”? This intense feeling is energizing and happy. Most of us have experienced it through activities that we are good at and that challenge us in just the right way. The happiest people find it in everyday life through focus and determination.

Mihaly Czikszentmihaly coined the term “flow” to describe the state of being fully immersed in an activity with focus (“Flow” in Wikipedia, accessed July 24, 2018). His positive psychology continues to be influential, and his TED talk from 2004 is worth watching.

Mental state in terms of challenge level and skill level according to Czikszentmihalyi. From Wikipedia “Flow”

I experience flow at times, mostly when swimming or singing and sometimes when exploring ideas through reading, discussion or writing.  I’ve realized that this past year of work, which was difficult, just didn’t have enough flow. You know how it is, you go along with the emails and the meetings and the phone calls, and you try to climb the mountain of “Things To Do”. I would go home at the end of multiple days of just that, and wonder, is my work meaningful?

After listening to Czikszentmihalyi’s talk and his description of people finding flow in everyday work, I’m inspired to think more deeply about how I can change. It can’t be up to anyone but me.  In the diagram above, you see various mental stages related to the combination of skill and challenge. If I feel boredom, apathy, worry or anxiety, then the challenge of a situation does not match my skill. When I scroll through the activities that make up a typical day, I can see exactly where this happens.

For instance, I had some tricky and important meetings this past year. I often felt anxiety beforehand which leads me to think that my skills weren’t quite up to handling these sessions. (Or at least I believed they weren’t.)  Now I want to get to flow in these kinds of situations!  I’ll need to reflect on exactly what skills are needed to be successful and then evaluate where I need to improve. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I know already.

I feel energized by this – maybe I’m already experiencing more flow!