The Paradox of Flow State in Work and Leisure

“Flow” is described as complete engagement in an activity.  It is the state where people feel 100% focused, present in their task at hand, they feel the need to devote every fiber of their concentration to the methodology of process in front of them. In these experiences, people feel deep enjoyment, purpose, challenge and an ultimate connection with life. 

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi spent years researching and studying the science and parameters around flow. In part of his research he sought out to answer this question: 

Do people report more instances of flow in work or in leisure ?

From his research he found a paradoxical situation: When people are working they generally feel skillful, challneged 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. 

So, what does this mean? 

“The findings suggest that people disregard the quality of immediate experience and base their motivation instead on the strongly rooted cultural stereotype of what work is supposed to be like. They think of it as an imposition, a constraint, an infringement of their freedom, and therefore something to be avoided as much as possible.” 

Much of the problem arises with this paradoxical situation NOT because we are physically or mentally exhausted all of the time but because the modern worker may not understand his relation to his job and the way he perceives his goals to it. 

This doesn’t mean that we all need fun and interesting jobs all the time to find satisfaction, it was actually some of the people who had seemingly mundane jobs that experienced flow states more often because they were able to rationalize their actions as part of their overall goals AND they had very purposeful leisure time that was integrated as a way of life for them. 

“ Variety and challenge, are in one sense inherent characteristics of jobs but hey also depend on how one perceives opportunities. Some of the people who experience the greatest flow sat most people would find dull and meaningless. Whether a job has variety or not ultiatmely depends more on a person’s approach to it than the actual working conditions.” 

So, why is it that more people find flow in work states? 

Flow has built in feedback, goals and challenges. Most leisure activities are not designed to challenge us , make us strong OR happy. Passive consumption is meant to make money for someone else while we “suck out the bone marrow of our lives.” People who learn not to wast their free time end up feeling that their lives as a whole are much more worthwhile.” However, if the passive consumptoin 

“The future will belong to not those who are educated, but those who use his leisure wisely. “ - C. K. Brightbill 

Unless a person does not take control of both his work and free time, he is likely to feel unsatissfied.  Work stress and leisure stress are important in order to overall improve the quality of one’s life. However, one must mobilize their energy to stay on task with the things that are important to them and they must personally forge their goals. 

I  hope that this blog gave you some insight into how you can find clarity in both your work and personal life in order to find overall more satissfaction. Remember, FLOW is not about pure enjoyment, it is about pure engagement and and creative play in any activity. Be purposeful, with your time folks. Stay committed to the values, activities and systems that make sense to you. 

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