Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is well known for his theory of flow.
The idea is that we can enter a state of focus in which time flies by without us consciously being aware of it. Think in your own life; there likely have been situations where you were so focused or into doing something, that time just flew by.
This is what he calls a state of flow. This is opposed to when you’re doing something and you’re not so into it and time just kind of drags.
Flow is when you’re gardening and you spend 2 hours outside without being aware of it. Or when you’re painting, and you’re so focused on the brushstrokes that you forget everything else you have to do.
Flow is caused by you facing a challenge and being able to deal with it. It’s a state of heightened focus that is meaningful.
The question becomes, how do you get more of it in your life? To get into flow, you have to have a situation that is hard enough and that you have the right amount of skill for it.
It’s a balance between how hard something is, and your skill in doing that thing.
Take flipping burgers. The first time you do it, you don’t have so much skill. Even though it is arguably not such a hard task, you may be focused in on it and experience flow for a short while.
Yet if you are flipping burgers after a year of experience, your skill is now higher. There isn’t enough of a challenge, so you are not so likely to experience flow.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi argues that we have to engineer our lives to create flow. This is because of how positive flow is to experience and how helpful it is in promoting productivity.
To do so, he suggests making even routine and boring things into a challenge. He talks about a factory worker who has had a fairly repetitive job for many years. The worker, however, is highly productive and seems to be happy. How can he remain positive after so long?
To do so, he makes his work into a challenge. He sets goals and challenges for how much work he can do, trying to beat himself or meet hard metrics. This makes the otherwise dull work engaging.
In our own lives, we all likely have things to do which are fun, and things that are not so fun. By thinking in terms of how we can create more flow, we can make life better.