Why it’s great to get lost in your work

Getting lost in activities you love is a great happiness strategy

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is one of the world’s leading positive psychologists. His theory of “flow” is an incredibly important one. Csikszentmihalyi talked to painters, who became completely lost in their work. So focused on their art were they that they forgot all about anything else. As he said in his book The Evolving Self: “They forgot hunger, social obligations, time, and fatigue so that they could keep moving it along.”

Csikszentmihalyi went on to see that the mental state of flow was achieved by others, and maybe you’ve been fortunate enough to experience it yourself?

Two key factors define flow: the activity you’re undertaking needs to involve a high level of skill, and it also has to present you with significant challenges.

This makes it rather different from hyperfocus – the state often demonstrated by kids playing the type of videogame which doesn’t really require much skill or present many challenges. Note: this doesn’t mean videogames are a bad thing at all. Playing something undemanding can be a great way to relax, particularly if it’s for a reasonably defined time. And of course many games really do present challenges and demand high levels of skill.

Being in a state of flow can play a big part in building your emotional wellbeing, so there’s good value in identifying the activities which enable you to achieve it.

Three of mine are: (1) Computer programming. I don’t do a lot but generally get completely lost in the work when I do. (2) Graphic design. Generally I only stop because I have some kind of deadline to stick to. (3) Making stuff with paper and glue. This is probably why making the WellBee cards is so much fun.

So, seriously, what are yours? And even more seriously, what could you do to increase the number of times you’re able to lose yourself in them in the next week?

But do please promise me that you won’t get so carried away that you forget to eat, drink or go to bed.

5 thoughts on “Why it’s great to get lost in your work

  1. Csikszentmihalyi? Easy for you to say! I ‘get lost’ sewing or crocheting which I have only learned in the last few years…sometimes they are complicated patterns (well for me anyway!). And all of a sudden I realise I haven’t done any housework or it’s time to make dinner! It works if the item to be made is for someone special and I think of what their reaction might be!
    Unfortunately I have lost the plot at the moment. My dear Mum died last month and I haven’t got the heart for anything, let alone something more complicated than getting out of bed and doing the mundane housework. I need to get back to swimming, crocheting and sewing..cos all of those activities help my health and well-being!

  2. Ken Robinson(Sir) describes flow as being in your element- when skills and passions converge. I can recommend his books ‘The Element’ and ‘Finding your Element’ which describe some famous case studies and ways for us ordinary folk to realise happiness through being in your element or flow state.

    For me, my top 3 – 1) I enjoy writing whether its a piece for work, journalling, fiction or poetry; 2)swimming and generally being in water 3) singing- which I’ve not done for a while – so note to self to get myself organised!

    Interestingly Sir Ken and his family now live in Los Angeles so California seems to be the place to be for creative people?

  3. making and updating wiki entries!

    but I do find the lack of follow through research supporting Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory, after his initial ‘finding’, interesting; it’s a lovely idea, but is it really true?

  4. “to involve a high level of skill”
    “to present you with significant challenges”

    not so sure about that…

    I’m no real painter (> skill?)
    and though I can loose myself in spreading paint on the canvas (> challenge?)

    …never quite knowing when to stop/to be finsished

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