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Being in FLOW at work


Developing FLOW at work

The idea of FLOW has been extensively researched over the last 30 years.  Csikszentmihalyi and others conducted this research using an experiential sampling technique.  People taking part in the study would be ‘buzzed” randomly throughout the day and they would then note how they were feeling (how happy, energised etc)
Csikszentmihalyi and many other researchers have found that we often enjoy heightened levels of wellbeing when are pushing ourselves (slightly).  We are often in this state when we push ourselves to learn something new, visit a new place, try something in a different way etc.  And the opposite is true. When we are doing routine things for which we use autopilot thinking we tend to be less happy, engaged and energised. (Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 1988) (2 Ceja & Navarro 2012)

The Csikszentmihalyi research suggests that if we want to optimise our wellbeing it’s useful to monitor whether we are setting ourselves new goals and challenges (even if these are very small) and adjust our behavior appropriately. That means setting our goals and workload at a level where the challenge slightly exceeds our experience.  In this FLOW state we may be in the zone, challenged but not stressed.  This perfect state has some amazing properties.  We feel time zips past.  We feel energised and buzzing.

But this FLOW state requires that we support each others FLOW.  We need to observe what are the things that put us into that FLOW state i.e. do we feel a senses of competence, autonomy and positive relationships with the people around us.  We also need to be aware of when we may be pushing ourselves a little too much.  To stay in the FLOW channel we need to be able to trust our colleagues and ourselves.  When we feel the challenge is just a little too far above our current skill set we need to have the confidence to put our hand up and ask for help (in the expectation that we will receive adequate training).

Creating a growth mindset by staying open

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi

In order to create new neural synaptic connections its useful to try new things and get into the habit of creating new habits.  (Remember that for the average person it takes 66 days of repletion to create a new habit ! - How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world - Phillippa Lally*, Cornelia H. M. van Jaarsveld, Henry W. W. Potts and Jane Wardle European Journal of Social Psychology ). 

Creating new neural pathways not only optimises our wellbeing but also facilitates the development of a growth mindset ie we become more flexible and open in our views.  We also need to be aware that we can experience a FLOW state even when doing jobs that we have done a thousand times before - it simply depends upon how mindful we are of the task ahead of us.  We can always look at an old challenge with fresh eyes and new ideas.  As Csikszentmihalyi says:

"The quality of experience of people who play with and transform the opportunities in their surroundings is more developed and more enjoyable than that of people who resign themselves to live within the constraints of the barren reality they feel they can not alter."

The dangers of flow
FLOW is  a precious experience.  It is a hugely enjoyable experience and we need to be aware of promoting each other’s FLOW state and only interrupting it when really necessary.  FLOW can be intoxicating for the individual but we need to find a way to balance individual with team FLOW.  In a FLOW state we may be less aware of the “big picture” and overly focus on our “to do list”.  We may also find it more difficult to pick up emotional information from other people (because we are paying attention to our own task) and we may be unaware of our own basic needs (eating, drinking, taking breaks etc)
At Breathe we recommend: 

  • taking breaks every 90 minutes
  • being aware of having a cut off (such as a short walk or deep, relaxed breathing) between tasks
  • taking your attention to the next task - for example when you have a client meeting coming up focus your attention on a positive aspect of your relationship with the client and what her needs may be.  In this way you will switch away from your own FLOW state and re focus your attention on her.  As you walk into the meeting room you will be feeling positive and ready for the meeting and she will pick up on that 

I hope you found this useful
Best wishes

Our next Mindfulness courses in Sydney and Queensland are now online www.breathe-australia.com/sessions