Episode 062: Flow – The State of Optimal Experience

Have you ever done something where you lost all track of time?  You thought it was an hour and it was really 4?  The words, the drawing, the programming, or whatever, just seemed to flow?  And it was fun?  That’s flow at work.  On this episode, we talk together about how you can experience flow and why you want to.

(c) AdobeStock Photo

(c) AdobeStock Photo

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On This Episode

Rhythm of Life – A Day in the Life of a Not-So DIYer
Random Riffs – Mad Libs With A Song
Feature Segment – Flow, Flow, Flow Your Boat

Rhythm of Life – A Day in the Life of a Not-so DIYer

Today was a typical day in my house of the NSDIYers (not-so do-it-yourself).  It all began so innocently.  I had a big list of stuff to do, the first of which was to edit my next podcast episode.  I figured 30 minutes tops.

Well, that’s not what happened.  My laptop wouldn’t boot up properly.  Listen to hear what it’s like when you don’t really know how to fix things, and yet somehow need to get your work done.

When things don’t go your way.  When you feel as though DIY stands for DON’T DO IT YOURSELF, remember this:

  1. YouTube is your friend. But it can’t work miracles.
  2. Persist until you find a way.

And it doesn’t hurt to have a sense of humor.

Random Riffs – Mad Libs with a Song

What is life?  It’s a big question, isn’t it?  Well, I used to open up my stress mastery talks with this question:  Fill in the blank – Life is a  _____________.

I got all kinds of answers.  And the answers were a pretty good gauge of how the person was feeling at the time.

Before you read on, why don’t you think of your own word to fill in the blank?  –ok.  Got it?

Imagine their surprise when I then asked them to sing Row, Row, Row, Your Boat, and insert their word at the end?!?!

It’s amazing how singing about life in such a fun way can change the mood, even when it’s a bit gloomy. ‘Cause after all, this moment is all we have.

Feature Segment – Flow, Flow, Flow Your Boat

Flow:  The deep sense of enjoyment that comes from doing an activity that stretches your capacity and involves novelty and discovery.  Even though the activity might be painful, risky, or difficult, when the person is fully engrossed it feels almost effortless.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi researched this phenomenon in his book called Flow.  He developed a theory of what he calls optimal experience – where people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.  They are caught up in the experience and lose track of time.

In Episode 061 we talked about what it takes to be an Original.  One of the key requirements is, “Do lots of work”.  That requires both effort and time.  And the best way to find and stay in that sweet spot is to be in a state of flow.

Mihaly reminds us that we each have a limited amount of attention.  It’s important to allocate that attention by focusing on what’s important to us.  Greg McKeown speaks to this in his book Essentialism.  He calls Essentialism “the disciplined pursuit of less but better”.  We explored that topic more deeply in Episodes 018 and 019.  Check them out for more information.  Both Greg and Mihaly confirm that how we choose to allocate our limited attention will either make our lives rich…or miserable.  Effective….or not.  Original….or plastic replicas.

What does flow look like?

  1. Optimal Experience – improve performance
  2. Enjoyable Experience – 9 characteristics

It’s not easy to maintain flow.  We can do it when our skills and the challenge closely align.  When they don’t, we get either bored or anxious.

Two ways to practice getting in a state of Flow:

  1. Seeing
  2. Music

What about work?  That’s where the stakes are higher.  Where it’s most important to experience flow.  Before the Industrial Revolution, people’s lives and work were intertwined.  Researchers found farmers in small villages who still lived that way.  They set their own schedules.  Took breaks when they needed it.  Wove family life in with their work.

Most of us don’t live that way today.  But there are things we can do to make work more flow-inducing.

  1. Redesign work so our function is more like weaving, or surgery. Think of the 9 characteristics of an enjoyable activity.  Redesign our work so it looks like that.
  2. Train people to take opportunities for action, hone their skills, and set reachable goals. It isn’t necessarily about advancement in the ranks.  It’s about learning how to purposely challenge yourself.  And at the same time, make the goal something you can hit with practice.  After all, you don’t want to be anxious all the time.

It may be difficult to make an activity flow-like unless we believe it matters.  This is part of the story we tell ourselves, isn’t it?  Think back to Episode 059, where we talked about our story and goals.    Knowing your work matters is critical when it gets hard.  When the challenge is greater than your skills.  When you hit roadblocks and have to re-route.

Wanna try it?  Here are some things you can do to experiment:

  1. Listen to music. Notice what you experience.
  2. Take a picture on your phone or preferably a tablet. Experiment with the different filter views to change the color.
  3. Take my free 14-day Find Beauty in EVERYday Challenge.

What are you going to try?  You may try one my suggestions, or have ideas of your own.  Leave a comment below or on my Facebook page.