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Flow

Have you ever experienced a moment while working or exercising or engaged in a hobby when you really hit your groove? We mean really, really hit your groove. You’re not distracted. You’re totally focused. You’re incredibly productive. You’re completely in the moment. 

 

There’s a term for this state of being: Flow. It was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-born pioneer in the scientific study of happiness. He wrote about Flow in a seminal 1990 book called: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Though the book is more than 25 years old, flow is gaining increasing traction today — especially in business. That’s because now, more than ever, the business world is obsessed with the intersection of happiness and productivity. 

 

Csikszentmihalyi believes that nobody has a fixed level of happiness. We can increase our happiness by increasing the amount of time we spend in a flow state. Flow doesn’t necessarily happen automatically. It requires the presence of certain circumstances, notably: 

A task that is challenging, but undertaken voluntarily 

A task that is focused on a consciously chosen goal 

The right environment 

 

That last one is key. It’s nearly impossible to achieve flow in the wrong environment. If you’re a runner, you’re unlikely to achieve flow while dodging cars on a highway. If you’re a writer, you’re unlikely to achieve flow while phones are ringing, people are chattering around you, and the room you’re in is uncomfortably cold. 

 

Once you’re in a state of flow, you might be able to persist through extraordinary distractions and even some unpleasant environmental elements, but you’re unlikely to ever reach a state of flow in the first place under those circumstances. 

 

What’s the lesson here? 

 

  • More flow = more happiness. 
  • More time spent on challenging tasks in conducive environments = more flow. 

 

So ask yourself: When you’re taking on challenging tasks, what environment do you choose? Is your gym, office, or hobby/leisure space conducive to flow? If not, can you change it? Your happiness might just depend on it.