Are you in the flow at work? Do you spend more time feeling like you're nailing it than mailing it? If not, perhaps the problem is a mismatch between your skills and the challenges – or lack thereof – at work.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is in the flow like never before coming into the Super Bowl following a statistically historic season.
Broncos head coach John Fox says he is amazed by Manning. Fox told the Houston Chronicle earlier in the season, "You hear about his preparation. You hear about his work ethic. You hear about his leadership skills in the locker room. But until you see it firsthand … it's pretty remarkable. The guy might be the best time-management person I've ever been around, and not just in football. He's a tireless worker in every stage of preparation...I don't know that I've ever seen anybody quite like him."
Of course most of us don't possess the physical - or even mental - tools the legend-in-the-making has.
But mere mortals do have an opportunity to determine our happiness and satisfaction in the workplace.
We all have the opportunity to determine our happiness and satisfaction in the workplace.
I recently began to re-read some of the books Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written around this concept of “Flow.” You know, that place where you are so engaged in what you are doing that time and the outside world seem to disappear.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times," says the author. "The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Here are the elements involved in finding flow according to Csikszentmihalyi:
- There are clear goals every step of the way.
- There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.
- There is a balance between challenges and skills.
- Action and awareness are merged.
- Distractions are excluded from consciousness.
- There is no worry of failure.
- Self-consciousness disappears.
- The sense of time becomes distorted.
- The activity becomes an end in itself.
At the end, Csikszentmihalyi asks, what, among human talents, is the most precious one?
“The ability to discern opportunities around oneself, when others do not. The individual who is truly engaged with the world — interested, curious, excited — is never at a loss for opportunities to experience flow.”
"The individual who is truly engaged with the world — interested, curious, excited — is never at a loss for opportunities to experience flow.”
Ancient Greek philosophers said to be happy for life, you must first know yourself.
Learning, discovering and thinking about your strengths and weaknesses makes it possible to find that match between skills and challenges that creates alignment. And where there is alignment, comes the opportunity for flow.
Csikszentmihalyi contends a happy life is much more than just a series of enjoyable experiences though.
“It must also have a meaningful pattern, a trajectory of growth that results in the development of increasing emotional, cognitive and social complexity.”
A couple of years ago a friend of mine happened to meet billionaire Richard Branson at a conference in Europe. He remarked how "happy" and engaged Branson seemed, and marveled at his passion for work and a stream of new and seemingly endless entrepreneurial endeavors.
We might look at that and say, of course, who wouldn’t be happy with billions of dollars and jets and yachts and beautiful houses all over the world. Easy.
However, Csikszentmihalyi contends that people such as Branson don’t find joy from their money per se, but rather because they are “actively seeking new challenges and developing new skills,” and unfolding their beings along increasingly complex lines.
Does this describe you? If not, maybe it’s time for a change.
And when you're watching the Super Bowl this weekend, pay particular attention to Peyton Manning, and how he is constantly auditing and monitoring the changing demands of his workplace, and figuring out what he needs to do to find flow.