“If you want to be happy at work, find flow.” You’ve probably heard this advice before. But, what is flow? Let’s go to the source.
In this book note, I summarize the key elements of flow as described in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He and his colleagues have conducted numerous studies over a dozen years with several thousand respondents in various countries doing all sorts of activities–from rock climbers, musicians, athletes to surgeons, young mothers, and assembly-line workers. As with all of my book notes, I am giving you the key-takeaways, so you don’t have to read the book…unless of course you want to. (I know how busy you are, so my aim is to take things off of your to-do list, not to add to it.)
Here are the 8 elements of flow, or “optimal experience”:
- It occurs when we confront tasks that are both challenging but also within reach, activities that require skill.
- The activity requires complete concentration and you are compelled to give it your focus because you find it enjoyable.
- The task has clear goals…either because they are inherent to the activity or because you set them for yourself.
- The task provides immediate feedback that is relevant and important to you.
- You are able to temporarily forget worries and frustrations of everyday life.
- You gain a sense of control:
What people enjoy is not the sense of being in control, but the sense of exercising control in difficult situations.
- Concern for self disappears, while at the same time, your sense of self is stronger after the flow experience:
Preoccupation with self consumes psychic energy because in everyday life we feel threatened… But in flow, there is no room for self-scrutiny. Because enjoyable activities have clear goals, stable rules, and challenges well matched to skills, there is little opportunity for the self to be threatened.
- Your sense of time alters:
Hours pass by in minutes and minutes can stretch out to seek like hours.
Each person’s optimal experience is different from that of another. Finding it requires understanding what activity gives you enjoyment. More specifically,
It refers to a self-contained activity one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because doing itself is the reward.
So, what are you waiting for? Be happy at work, find flow!
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