Most people have miserable work lives. Most of the work that people do is boring. This leads them to being unhappy at work.
But, what is happiness? It is easy to mistake happiness for pleasure, especially in today's social-media driven world. Everybody thinks that the influencer partying in Goa over the weekend is the epitome of happiness. Reality is far from that.
Anyway, the definition of happiness can differ from person to person. I am trying to explain how one can attain happiness in one's work.
The key to happiness is to achieve a state of flow.
What is Flow?
Flow, as an idea, has been around for a long time. Many musicians, artists, athletes, and programmers experience it. Even Taoism, an ancient branch of Chinese philosophy, mentions ideas similar to flow.
The concept of Flow was popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly(pronounced: me-high, chick-sent-me-high), in his 1990 book: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
Flow is a genuinely satisfying state of consciousness. It is a state of optimal experience. It is a state where your skill and challenge level are in a state of harmony.
The flow state is also described by some athletes as "being in the zone". When Virat Kohli is playing a game of cricket, he isn't thinking about what's next for his career, he isn't thinking about what's going on in the world. His focus is solely on the game. His focus is on the now.
This state of unwavering focus is the state of flow. It is a period of hyper consciousness where nothing else matters but the task at hand. I am sure most of us have experienced this state a few times when we are doing something we really love.
The state of flow can be experienced in different situations. Ever noticed how time flies by when you are with a loved one, or when you are working on a project you are very interested in?
Congrats, you have experienced flow.
How to achieve Flow?
The state of flow can be achieved when you strike the balance between challenge and skill.
Notice how flow exists as a linear channel that strikes a balance between the challenge and the skill level.
If it is too much of a challenge for your skill, you experience anxiety.
If it is too little a challenge for your skill, you experience boredom.
It is in the middle that you achieve flow.
Enough theory, as always, YC THE MAN believes in actionable steps. Here are some points to keep in mind to achieve this state, and consequently enjoy work.
1. Make the task intrinsically rewarding
The task must reward you, that too internally. You must feel an internal sense of satisfaction when you do the task. It is best if you love what you do. But, even when doing the things you love, you need to do some things you don't really enjoy.
So how do you achieve internal satisfaction? By thinking about the greater purpose your work is serving.
For example, I can look at writing this blog post as a tedious task that involves thinking and typing, or I can look at it as a task that serves a greater purpose of helping thousands of people.
2. Set clear goals
Without a goal, you can't score.
You need to know what you are working towards. With a particular work session, you need to think about what it is that you aim to achieve. Seems obvious, but most people don't do it.
I've spoken about goal setting in a previous blog post.
3. Get immediate feedback
This ties in with the first point. Get feedback for your task, preferably immediate. This is a primary reason why it is easier for athletes to achieve a state of flow.
They get instantly rewarded for their actions by the scoreboard.
You can keep a personal scoreboard. This can be number of ticks on a to-do list, number of lines of code written, number of words written in a blog-post, depends on the nature of your work.
Give yourself a way to assess how far you have come since you began.
4. Match challenge and skill
Have a look at the diagram above once again.
You should not take up tasks that are too difficult for you, neither should you take up tasks that are too easy.
From personal experience, choose tasks that are slightly above your current skill level. This keeps the task interesting enough, it helps you to learn new things and it also does not make the task too boring.
“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act.” _Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
5. Minimize distractions
The state of flow cannot be achieved when you have your phone buzzing around you. The flow state is a state of unwavering focus. Modern technology does the best it can to prevent this. You must keep your phone at bay when you are trying to achieve flow.
Phones distract you from your purpose because they make you anxious about things that don't affect you at all. Uninstall social media, or keep it's usage at an absolute minimum.
When chasing the state of flow, you must focus on the task at hand. No exceptions.
Other benefits of Flow
Apart from achieving happiness and fulfillment in your work, flow will also help you make your actions second nature. It helps you achieve expertise as you progressively improve at the challenges you face. This is why athletes who are in the zone don't have to think about their next move. It just happens.
“When the opponent expand, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And, when there is an opportunity, I do not hit - it hits all by itself.” _Bruce Lee
Also, I do not think you can force yourself into flow. I think it is a deep, meditative state that one achieves when one is deeply immersed in what he is doing.
You can, although, rig your environment in your favor. You can choose to work on things that you like, attach a deeper purpose to your tasks, and avoid distraction to make it easier for yourself to get in the flow state.
That's flow for you. I hope you learnt something new. More importantly, I hope you took something that you would apply in your daily work life, and I really hope it makes you happy at work. Let me know!
If you found this helpful, help someone else by sharing it. Or upload a screenshot of your favorite part on Instagram.
If you liked reading this and would like to get such articles in your inbox, consider subscribing to my newsletter by clicking here.