Creating ‘flow’ in your daily, weekly and monthly work and results

  • “I reach the end of the day and I feel dissatisfied with what I have done”
  • “Some days are joyful but they are rare”
  • “I had a great, anxious and challenging year and now I am bored”
  • “Is it possible to create fulfilling days even when I am challenged or bored?”
  • “I am mostly anxious or stressed”

How can we resolve some of these challenges?

I reference the work of Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Mee-Hai Cheek-sent-me-hai) who studied positive psychology for more than 40 years. Positive Psychology is the branch of psychology that uses scientific understanding and effective intervention to aid in the achievement of a satisfactory life.

There are two particular distinctions that I want to present;

  1. The Not So Mysterious Autotelic experience
  2. Challenge and Skill levels

Pursuing something for Intrinsic Reward

The autotelic personality is a person who pursues something for its intrinsic reward rather than to achieve extrinsic goals. People in this state can learn to enjoy something even if it is boring or challenging.  There are three aspects to this state

  1. Curiosity
  2. Humbleness
  3. Persistence

What is the benefit of this crazy sounding distinction or set of practices?

Well in my experience, it breaks up the monotony of the current urban human experience of seeking things that only put money in your pocket. We forget about satisfaction and joy and the fulfillment of something else – it is the reason that we (you and I) as human beings tend to get tunnel minded in pursuing things that ‘make sense’.  We view the autotelic experience as idyllic or unrealistic but we neglect the beauty and power of taking on a discipline (persistence) and we stop listening to other points of view (no curiosity and no humbleness).

I spend a part of my time drawing art (for art’s sake), day dreaming (for day dreaming’s sake) and working for making a difference (partly because it helps people and partly because ‘what they heck – why not!’). What is the benefit to me?

I did not see it coming when I decided to do art – but more interesting clientele who found the art compelling and for the first time began to see things about how their brain workings related to their business leadership.  But more so than this, I find my days less stressful and more creative – even with the ‘tough’ days.  I don’t think I am different from you – I get upset and stressed like others but it’s just that my brain is practiced in different distinctions from most others – and I don’t stay in the stress and upset as long as most other people do.

The proof is in the eating of the pudding – not in the opinion of it. If you don’t believe me, try it out rigorously – try taking on a hobby, something you love for a while – stick with it and observe what it does for your brain and mind workings.

Why you are bored and why you are anxious

Dr. Mihaly also talks about challenge levels and skill levels. If your skill level is low in a particular domain (e.g. heart surgery) and your challenge level is very high (someone just collapsed in front of you of a heart condition and there is no other medical help around for hundreds of miles), you will be stressed out.  Conversely, if your skill level is high (e.g. you have a PhD in molecular science) and your challenge level is low (e.g. you work in a 7-11 store), you will be bored.

The ideal would be to have your challenge and skill levels more or less on par; leading to the flow state.

Solutions

What I try to get my clients to every day is to have moments for the autotelic parts of them to come out and to manage their challenge and skill – to get them into ‘flow’.

Of course, like I say all the time, humanity comprises embracing the complex – the points I make in these articles require frequent customization to your circumstances and are hence simplifications or oversimplifications – but they will help move you forward at least a little bit.

Practices – where the rubber meets nuance and complexity

  1. Schedule as much blank space in your schedule – unscheduled time to do things that you enjoy. Even if it is 30 minutes a day to start with or 15 minutes a week, start it. What is the point of training yourself to deprive yourself of enjoyment? Did you take on being a business person, entrepreneur or professional to suffer or be enslaved?
  2. Select four primary projects maximum to focus on daily (e.g. marketing, e.g. sales e.g. financial management); start with a low challenge level and then build up until you are slightly anxious. g. on Day one start with something very unchallenging. Then on Day 2, increase the challenge a little bit more. Keep doing this daily until you hit your challenge level.  This is the point where you will discover what skills you need to increase.  (If you have an attentive coach, he will be able to distinguish this for and with you.)  This builds a healthy way to assess your strengths and where to increase them sensibly.

In service and enjoyment,

Sunil Bhaskaran

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