Get Into the Flow Like A Craftsman

A Craftsman's Legacy is a TV show on PBS and a fantastic book by host Eric Gorges. After a health crisis caused Eric to reevaluate his life, he quit his corporate job and became a metal shaping apprentice. Now a professional metal shaper and owner operator of the popular Voodoo Choppers motorcycle shop in Detroit, Michigan, Eric wrote a book that draws a picture of how how we can bring a craftsmen's approach to our work. The book takes us on a multi-sensory trip through the studios of American craft men and women from glass blowers to chocolate makers. He encourages us to slow down, enjoy the process, know when to stop and know when to push through. He describes the artisan's state of flow for creative fulfillment. This kind of flow is one path to happiness that's open to us all.

What is Flow?

“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalvi

Psychology Today magazine calls flow "a cognitive state where one is completely immersed in an activity—from painting and writing to prayer and surfboarding. It involves intense focus, creative engagement, and the loss of awareness of the self." Flow was discovered and coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist who observed subjects like artists, dancers and chess players and found that they achieved a state where they would persist at their work without fatigue or hunger. He also noted that the individuals lost interest in their works after completing them and determined that their process seemed to be more important than their end result.

Creative fulfillment is not something to achieve and keep, like a college degree or an Olympic medal. It resides in the process of making the table, not the satisfaction of sitting at it. Peter Korn, furniture maker

How to Get Into Flow and What It Does For You

I completed some of my most pivotal work assignments over the years by getting creative and entering a flow state. In return, I felt productive, fulfilled and accomplished. Even if I didn't love my particular job, or the task at hand, I felt like the flow itself made the task rewarding. I enjoyed stretching within achievable limits with a laser focus that ensured success. Even when performing tasks you dislike, or working at jobs you hope to move on from, getting intensely focused and creative about your approach to what you need to do refuels your tank for that moment and infuses that work with meaning. The work you produce will be better for it. Flow is a vehicle for delivering more thoughtful and comprehensive work. The kind of work that produces reward and personal fulfillment.

"First, an optimal flow state was created when people tackled challenges that they perceived to be at just the right level of ‘stretch’ for their skill sets. In other words, neither too tough nor too easy as to be boring."

Psychology Today gives the following key characteristics for flow:

  • Immediate feedback to one’s actions (this is part of the payoff or reward)

  • A balance between challenges and skills (requires a stretch that's achievable)

  • No agony over failure (you enjoy the process and don't worry about the result as much)

  • A disappearance of self-consciousness and distractions (you're not self-conscious because you know you're engaging your best)

  • A sense of timelessness or distorted time

  • The process is what’s enjoyable, not the result

Flow Replaces Anxiety with Intense Focus

I love going to the movie theater to experience 2.5 hours of total focus. I'm in something like a state of flow watching. My mind follows the filmmaker's twists and turns and tries to determine how the story will end. When it's over, I realize that I haven't thought about anything else the entire time. When I entered the theater, I decided to sit down and give the film my full, undivided attention. This same intense focus can be brought to work. When you're in a state of flow, you're absorbed by your work, bringing your undivided effort, creativity and attention to it, nearly oblivious to time and the outside world.

How to Get In the Flow at Work In 4 Easy Steps

  1. Instead of fretting about a particular work assignment, or procrastinating, schedule the work that needs to be done. Don't allow yourself to be distracted with anxiety or negativity. Change your attitude about the task.

  2. Block off meeting time on your calendar so there will be no interruptions. Don't allow yourself to check phone or email.

  3. Sink into your singular task. Contemplate the best, most creative and thorough way to complete the assignment.

  4. Concentrate, focus, and allow your focus to turn into flow.

You should first acknowledge that the work before you doesn't have to be monumental for it to deserve focus. The work deserves focus simply because it's a reflection of you and because it's important to someone within the organization, regardless of how you might truly feel about it. Try making a dull assignment more interesting by challenging yourself to accept it as interesting. Think about how you can grow from the experience or add additional skills to your professional toolkit. Add color, and give it your best shot.

What Does Flow Have to Do with Happiness At Work?

We're happier at work when we feel like we're respected and appreciated for our contributions. Of course, we have to deliver valuable work to truly be respected and appreciated. When you focus long enough to get into the flow state, you'll produce a better work product (and be prepared for that meeting or presentation). Anxiety will go down and confidence will shoot up. Getting into the state of flow - just like craftsmen - allows us to enjoy the process and positions us to deliver our best each time. Try settling into flow this week. You just might achieve a little more happiness at work.

Read more about flow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's work here. Harvard Business Review's Steven Kotler also covered the topic: Create a Work Environment That Fosters Flow. Have a great week!


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© 2021 by Shai Littlejohn