Defining and using our strengths more is such low-hanging fruit for improving our lives in so many ways. Work gets more fun and enjoyable, you have more energy and become more productive, and rather than constantly trying to fix what isn’t great, you can focus your energy on what is, which gives you an edge.
5 habits for increasing engagement & get into a state of flow
Mystics, Philosophers, and Psychologists have known for a long time that human suffering comes from thinking about the past or future. We worry about things that haven’t happened yet and remember that stupid thing we said at a party.
What Buddha realized while sitting under his tree was that you will be a happier person by spending time in the present and simply appreciating what is.
Of course, the problem is that it’s seriously hard not to think, reminisce, or worry.
One way of getting better at being in the present is to meditate. And maybe you have tried to meditate but it didn’t click with you.
Well, there is another way to enter this state of worry-free existence; being really engaged in a task or activity. When we are fully engaged in doing something we enter a state of flow.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was the first to identify and research flow in the 1970s. Here’s a quote from his research:
When we are in flow, we do not usually feel happy – for the simple reason that in flow we feel only what is relevant to the activity. Happiness is a distraction. Only after we get out of flow, at the end of a session, or in moments of distraction within it, we might indulge in feeling happy. And then there is the rush of well-being, of satisfaction that comes when the work is completed.
Hearing people explaining the state of flow sounds quite similar to how Zen masters talk about their experiences. Here's what a rock climber says about being in flow:
You are so involved in what you are doing, you aren't thinking about yourself as separate from the immediate activity. You are no longer a participant-observer, only a participant. You are moving in harmony with something else you are a part of
There is quite a bit of research out there on the topic of engagement and flow, and its impact on overall well-being and happiness. Bottom line is, the more time we spend in flow, the happier we will be. So how can you build habits to support you to enter flow more often?
5 habits to build to experience more engagement and flow
Find the right balance between skill & challenge
If you are working on a task that is too easy, you get bored. If it’s too hard, you get anxious and stressed. This is what Mihaly realized in his research. To enter flow, do things you have a good level of skill at and that challenge you, but aren’t so challenging that you get frustrated.
Use your strengths
When we use our strengths, everything gets more enjoyable and as a result, we get more engaged. If you don’t know your strengths already, get clarity about them and make sure to use them as much as possible in your life, and your chances of entering flow increase drastically. In The 1-Month Habit Experiment, one of the first things participants do is to explore and define their strengths as it’s the greatest resource we have to be successful in life.
Work on one task at the time
Multitasking has for a long time been promoted as a path to getting more work done. However, research shows that frequent switching between tasks costs us on average as much as 40% of our productivity. Stop switching between tasks. Focus on one thing at a time.
Use the Pomodoro technique
Rather than working for 3 hours straight, when using the Pomodoro technique you work in 25 min stints, take a 5 min break, and once you have done four rounds, have a longer break. As I’m writing this I’m using this technique, and it helps me to stay focused because it gives me a simple framework with a mix of focused work and small rewards. Once 25min is over I get a 5 min break where I can stretch or check what’s going on in the world. It helps people to stay focused for longer periods of time and makes work more enjoyable which makes us more engaged. I use a simple desktop app suitably called Flow for this.
Put your phone in a different room
Your smartphone is your greatest enemy to entering flow.
Professor Adrian Ward conducted experiments with nearly 800 smartphone users to measure how well people can complete tasks when they have their smartphones nearby, even when they’re not using them. The results? Participants with their phones in another room significantly outperformed those with their phones on the desk, and they also slightly outperformed those participants who had kept their phones in a pocket or bag. The surprising thing with this study was that it wasn’t necessarily the notifications that distracted them, but the mere presence of their phone.
Doing these things allows me to enter flow a lot more often. Most really impactful habits are hard to build and take time, but implementing this was fairly easy for me since it has such powerful rewards. I get more done, work gets more enjoyable and I spend less time worrying. Few things have had such an impact on me in the past years. Try it for an hour or two and see for yourself.
If you need extra support building new habits, feel free to join the next 1-Month Habit Experiment. During the month you will learn powerful tools and techniques for changing habits, explore your values, strengths, and needs so you can build habits to support them, and be part of a group that supports you and holds you accountable. And since we are experimenting, you can’t really fail, only learn.