This week we will be breaking down Chapters 6 and 7 of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. If you haven’t read the breakdown for week 2 yet, go do so before continuing on with week 3.
What is this weeks reading about?
This weeks reading talks about how we can experience flow in the following two areas of our lives:
- Our thoughts
- Our work
In this weeks breakdown I want to focus the most on the idea of finding flow in our work.
Finding Flow in Your Work
It is really common in our society to buy into the belief that work is a necessary evil, and that given the choice we should all choose to spend as little time working, and a much time in leisure, as possible.
Have you ever found yourself feeling this way?
Well, according to the book, this idea is exactly the opposite of what we should be thinking.
Wait a second… you mean the common belief is wrong?
That’s exactly what this book suggests! Shocking, right?
According to the author, “there is ample evidence that work can be enjoyable, and that indeed, it is often the most enjoyable part of life.”
Why is that?
If you remember the formula for experiencing flow that was discusses earlier in the book there are 4 parts of the flow model:
- You have to have a goal
- Your task has to be challenging
- You have to possess, or be able to learn, the skills needed to complete the task
- You must be able to receive feedback on how you are doing
Now think about your work, as well as the things that you do in your free time. Most likely you will notice that your work fulfills each of these 4 areas. You will probably also notice that the things you enjoy most in your free time also have these four traits.
However, most of the things that we do for leisure don’t possess any of these.
In the book the author gives an example of a study that was conducted, where people were asked to record their happiness when an alarm went off multiple times throughout the day.
The study resulted in a “paradoxical situation”. The book says, “On the job people feel skillful and challenged, and therefore feel more happy, strong, creative, and satisfied. In their free time people feel that there is generally not much to do and their skills are not being used, and therefore they tend to feel more sad, weak, dull, and dissatisfied. Yet they would like to work less and spend more time in leisure.”
Are you the same way? Do you find yourself wishing for more time relaxing on the couch watching tv rather than time spent working?
Why is that?
The author says that there are a number of different reasons, but it basically comes down to the fact that we tend to be bad at assessing our true happiness. We tend to believe the things culture tells us, and that leads us to believe that we can’t possibly be happy while working.
What is the point of this?
Happiness – or flow – is not what most people think it is. It does not come from being “relaxed”. It comes from making progress and being engaged in meaningful activity.
I am not trying to say that we should cut out all of our free time by spending every waking minute working. What I am saying, and what the book is saying, is that work can be one of the most powerful things in our life for finding happiness and flow. It is important to enjoy the work you do.
Next time you find yourself wishing you didn’t have to go to work, challenge your feelings to look at work in a different light. Instead of looking at it as something you have to do, look at it as something you get to do.
If you don’t love your job, maybe it’s because it isn’t the right job for you. Or maybe it is because you have bought into the belief that work can’t be enjoyable.
If you want to find flow, your job is one of the best places to look. Learn to look for opportunities. Learn new skills that will help you do your job better. Set some goal and go after them. If you do these things you are well on your way to turning that j.o.b in to something that is so much more. After all, the author says, “Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback, rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it.”
My Favorite Quotes
- Among the many intellectual pursuits available, reading is currently perhaps the most often mentioned flow activity around the world.
- Athletes know well that to improve performance beyond a certain point they must learn to discipline their minds.
- To enjoy a mental activity, one must meet the same conditions that make physical activities enjoyable.
- There must be skill in a symbolic domain; there have to be rules, a goal, and a way of obtaining feedback.
- All forms of mental flow depend on memory, either directly or indirectly.
- Without the capacity to provide its own information, the mind drifts into randomness.
- Talking well enriches every interaction, and it is a skill that can be learned by everyone.
- Reading from a book of poems each night is to the mind as working out on a Nautilus is to the body—a way for staying in shape.
- The kind of material we write in diaries and letters does not exist before it is written down. It is the slow, organically growing process of thought involved in writing that lets the ideas emerge in the first place.
- Ideally, the end of extrinsically applied education should be the start of an education that is motivated intrinsically.
- It is true that if one finds flow in work, and in relations with other people, one is well on the way toward improving the quality of life as a whole.
- But there is ample evidence that work can be enjoyable, and that indeed, it is often the most enjoyable part of life.
- The old woman who farms in the Alps, the welder in South Chicago, and the mythical cook from ancient China have this in common: their work is hard and unglamorous, and most people would find it boring, repetitive, and meaningless. Yet these individuals transformed the jobs they had to do into complex activities. They did this by recognizing opportunities for action where others did not, by developing skills, by focusing on the activity at hand, and allowing themselves to be lost in the interaction so that their selves could emerge stronger afterward.
- The more a job inherently resembles a game—with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals, and immediate feedback—the more enjoyable it will be regardless of the worker’s level of development.
- In theory, any job could be changed so as to make it more enjoyable by following the prescriptions of the flow model.
- People who were more often in flow were especially likely to feel “strong,” “active,” “creative,” “concentrated,” and “motivated.”
- The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere.
- Unless a person takes charge of them, both work and free time are likely to be disappointing.
- “The future,” wrote C. K. Brightbill, “will belong not only to the educated man, but to the man who is educated to use his leisure wisely.”
It’s Action Time
- Challenge yourself at work. One of the main themes of this book so far has been that challenging ourselves to work towards goals is one one of the keys to happiness. Take 10 minutes to brainstorm any and all “opportunities” you have at work. Once you have a list, pick one of them and make it a goal to achieve. Make sure that you can receive feedback along the way, and that you have – or can obtain – the skills necessary to achieve your goal. Make sure you write your goal down and put it somewhere where you look at it every day. An easy way to do this is to make it into a background for your computer or phone. You can use a free tool like Canva to make the image.
Coming Up Next…
We will breaking down chapters 8-10 next week. In the mean time, take the action steps above and jump into the Facebook group to help encourage others!