Flow is described as the state in which you are so involved in an activity that you forget everything around it, time seems to stand still and your energy flows effortlessly. Is flow something that happens to you or can you create this? Read below what you can do to experience more flow.
Too much and too little challenge in your work
We feel ‘neutral’ at most moments in our lives; we type a report, we do the shopping or watch television. We do not feel particularly happy or unhappy with this; we do our thing half way on autopilot. These ordinary actions are characterized on the one hand by a certain degree of control and manageability and on the other by factors outside our control.
However, some moments we seem to be in complete control. The concentration is optimal, we feel completely in control of the situation and are totally absorbed in what we do. Consider, for example, giving an important presentation to a large group of people, or concentrating on the brilliant idea that you have. We call this kind of experience an optimal experience or a ‘flow experience’.
Csikszentmihalyi (1990) discovered that flow is created in an area that is between too much and too little challenge. A position with too much challenge will result in fear (you have the feeling that you cannot meet the set requirements) and one with too little challenge results in boredom. The most enjoyable moments in your work will occur when your activities are in the bandwidth between them.
Flow at work or in free time
Csikszentmihalyi investigated whether flow is more common at work or in leisure time. Hundreds of men and women were equipped with a beeper for this purpose, which went off at random times eight times a day. They were asked to indicate how much challenge they saw at the time and how many skills they used. For those who were pimped up while they were (actually) working, 54% were found to be in flow. However, when they were involved in things like watching television and reading, only 18% turned out to be in flow. The question was also asked whether they would rather do something else at that time. This question was answered positively more often during work than in leisure time. Despite the fact that more flow was experienced at work than in leisure time, people regularly indicated that they wanted to do something other than work.
Conclusions about flow
Csikszentmihalyi drew a number of conclusions from this part of his research.
- Flow at work is pleasant, but few people are able to keep up with major challenges, they want to relax at home by spending part of their free time passively.
- When people at work have the idea of paying little time and attention to personal goals, there is a feeling of wasting energy.
- If one is able to coordinate personal goals with business goals and to ensure sufficient challenge and variation at work, one can increase the quality of life.
- Leisure activities in which one can feel active, happy and strong (sports, movement, dance) or meditative moments (breathing exercises, consciously looking at the environment, listening to music) can ensure flow.
- Flow when dealing with family and friends is created by devoting time and attention to choosing common goals and activities.
Conditions for flow
Work becomes a flow experience when we are able to consciously exploit the possibilities that the work offers and so that we can grow as a person. It is important that the mental energy that we put into the work is experienced as the result of a free choice and that the work offers sufficient variation, suitable and flexible challenges, clear goals and direct feedback. These are conditions for experiencing flow. Favorable external options alone do not guarantee flow. We may be dissatisfied with a job that offers fantastic opportunities or we may be satisfied with a job that does not seem great at first sight.
The 8 characteristics of Flow
Csikszentmihalyi describes 8 characteristics of flow:
- There is full concentration on the task
- There is clarity about the goals and rewards and immediate feedback
- There is different perception of time (speeding up/slowing down)
- The experience is intrinsically worth it
- The task is effortless and easy
- There is a balance between challenge and skills
- The actions and self-awareness are combined
- There is a sense of control over the task
Break through robbery and unhealthy stress
Because our (work) environment is getting busier and more and more seems to be demanding of us, there is a risk that flow will turn into robbery and unhealthy stress. Initial challenges turn into threats. Attempting to cope with this requires a great deal of energy, which means that we need more and more time to recover and are more likely to opt for passive forms of leisure activities. Since this is at the expense of active leisure activities, which generate flow and generate new energy, we end up in a downward spiral. By turning both our work and our leisure activities into flow, we can break this downward spiral.
Assignment: to experience more flow in your work
Answer the following questions to experience more flow in your work.
- How many “flow” moments do you experience in the work compared to the “non-flow” moments?
- Do you recognize something in common in the “flow” moments?
- Describe an activity or task in which you can completely immerse yourself, where you completely lose the sense of time. What makes this activity so special for you?
- What are the important elements for you, in other words what do you need to experience “workflow”?
- Which favorable conditions can you optimize in your work so that you can experience more flow?