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Picture these two scenarios; it’s a Friday afternoon, you’re overwhelmed, you’re tired, the beginning of the week tasks are still sitting on your ‘to do’ list. You’re irritated, scratchy, and you can’t see the wood for the trees from all the disruptions. All-in-all, your week has ended on a dreary and tiresome note...
Or visualise this, your weekly tasks and goals are completed, you have a vested interest in the outcome for future endeavours, you’re ready, equipped, you’re energetic, and rearing to go! You’re happy with the results and have achieved excellence in the tasks that have been set out for you to do.
Now out of these two situations presented to you, I’m pretty sure I know which one you’d rather choose. Recent research has shown how we can achieve it. Read on!
The second scenario is a person (the obvious choice) who has achieved a state of “Flow”. To be in this state of flow, is to be fully in command and aware of what we do; doing the task effortlessly and performing tasks at our best. Initially proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, it is described as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the proof of activity. This positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields. The University of Chicago conducted a survey that asked a wide range of people in various fields what they believed flow’s best features were for them, they said in one sentence, “It feels great”.
Csikszentmihalyi claims that with increased experiences of flow in the workplace, people will experience “growth towards complexity”, in which people will flourish as their achievements grow and with that comes development of increasing “emotional, cognitive, and social complexity.”
Mykro Thum describes flow as arguably the most perfect state to work from. It is a state where your awareness of time almost disappears and you are one with what you do. Although this perfect harmony usually feels effortless, flow is the mental state where we produce our greatest results. Consequently, ‘flow’ could be described as a state in which our peak performance occurs.
Daniel Goleman author of FOCUS: The Hidden Drive of Excellence, describes the three main pathways to achieve the state of flow and describes how to apply this to your working practices:
Pathway One: Skill Set A task must be set to match that person’s ability. The more that we as humans apply ourselves and are challenged, the more we will deploy our best skills. Be the master of your job, if we’re under-challenged during a task, the more likely we will be disengaged. If the task is too easy and boredom sets in, our performance is more likely to suffer. So try and focus with all your intensity on that task; Thum describes intensity as a deep connection and understanding of your task by grasping a full awareness and understanding of it.
Pathway Two: Love what you do Find work that you love. Doing something we’re passionate about, that engages us will act as a catalyst to increase flow state. In Goleman’s article, he mentions that good work will put us in a frame of mind where flow can arise spontaneously.
Good work involves the intertwining of three features: excellence, engagement, and ethics. Good work is technically excellence - people know what they're doing. It’s personally engaging and meaningful - they want to do it, they looking forward to going to work, they don't dread it, and good work is carried out in an ethical way.
It would be remiss of me to say that as humans we don’t have ‘off’ days, but making sure there are more ‘on’ days is what counts long-term to achieve a state of flow.
On a separate note, I recently read Arianna Huffingtons book Thrive, where she describes the state of meditation as switching off from the world to meditate to reconnect again with yourself and your being. Huffington says in her chapter on Meditation; “meditation, yoga, mindfulness, napping, and deep breathing once upon a time might have been thought of as New Agey, alternative, and part of a counterculture. But in the past few years we’ve reached a tipping point as more and more people realise that stress-reduction and mindfulness aren’t only about harmonic convergence and universal love – they’re also about increased well-being and better performance.” So if we sense withdrawal and a disconnection from our role (for whatever which reason), by meditating and becoming consciously aware of ourselves again can bring as back to that positive place, where in turn we will be more engaged and love what we do and be able to create that state of flow.
Pathway Three: Concentration
To deepen your concentration and ensure you’re focused on what you’re doing, create an environment where there is no interruption. Set up your working environment so this stability will put you in a state of flow. The stronger the concentration that we have on a task, the more likely we will delve into flow more deeply. The previous two paths were more external, whilst this pathway is an internal focus that you must adhere too, switching off from external elements which may interfere with your flow state.
When we achieve a state of flow this will help us connect further with ourselves and our awareness of how we operate externally and internally, this is an integral step to any human development; in our personal and our working lives. Be present, be focused and strive to achieve that full attention that your mind deserves.