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Finding Flow – The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life

“Finding Flow”, By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

“If we really want to live, we’d better start at once to try; If we don’t, it doesn’t matter, but we’d better start to die” W.H. Auden

Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced: Chick-sent-me-high-ee) introduces his book, Finding Flow, with these lines from Auden. They:

…compress precisely what this book is about. The choice is simple: between now and the inevitable end of our days, we can choose either to live or die…..

So what does “to live” mean in this context? It must mean to live in fullness, without waste of time and potential, expressing one’s uniqueness, yet participating intimately in the complexity of the cosmos.

Csikszentmihalyi attempts to answer “What is life like” and more practically, “How can each person create an excellent life?” Mihalyi Csíkszentmihályi has spent a lifetime studying “flow” – that state of effortless concentration and enjoyment, moments of intense living.

Everyone is familiar with the metaphor of “flow.” We say we’re “in the zone” or “in the groove” to describe this sense of effortless action. Csíkszentmihályi’s work combines wisdom and knowledge from the past, with modern psychological research. He proposes that:

It is the full involvement of flow, rather than happiness, that makes for excellence in life. We can be happy experiencing passive pleasure of a rested body, warm sunshine, or the contentment of a serene relationship, but this kind of happiness is dependent on favourable external circumstances. The happiness that follows flow is of our own making, and it leads to increasing complexity and growth in consciousness.

But what exactly is “flow” and what conditions can help create it?

Csíkszentmihályi suggests that we’re more likely to achieve peak performance, and be happiest, when we’re absorbed in activities that balance challenging tasks with appropriate skill levels. These can be either leisure or work related but analysing the latter gives some important indicators for managing workplace happiness.

Would you say your work puts you “in the zone”? Csíkszentmihályi states that finding flow is achieved when the work you’re doing:

  • Has clear goals requiring appropriate responses.
  • Provides immediate feedback (i.e. it’s clear how well you are doing the activity).
  • Requires skills which are fully involved in overcoming challenges that are just manageable (high challenge matched with high skills).

Getting the Most From “Finding Flow”.

Finding flow in our own lives is important. As managers though, it’s perhaps equally important that we help our colleagues to benefit from this state. What if some of your best moments could happen at work?

There are several articles on this site which may help you think about “flow” in your work, although four in particular are worth reading here. The first, Career Goal Setting Tip, reminds us that nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. The second, Happiness Goal Setting Tip, asks you to think about what you really enjoy doing and encourages you to find ways to do what you love.

Finally, What Makes a Happy Company and Value of a Good Manager, both illustrate the importance of strength based management. This is an important concept, clearly related to finding flow, and essential reading for anyone serious about becoming a better manager.

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