The key components of flow include a task that is challenging and requires skill (is attainable, but requires stretching and using all of one’s skills), concentration, clear goals, immediate feedback, effortless involvement, and a sense of control. When all this happens, the sense of self vanishes, and time seems to stop. Rather than being separate from everything and everyone else, you are involved, and are able to flow through life.
One can create the structure necessary for flow in work and physical activities by setting continually higher goals, delegating items that are outside your area of expertise and receiving feedback. The rest of life, however, is messier. Someone has to do the dishes, pay the bills and pick up the dry cleaning.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, “by taking a the whole context of the activity into account, and understanding the impact on one’s action on the whole, a trivial job can turn into a memorable performance that leaves the world in a better place than it was before.” For these everyday tasks, a few tactics can increase the probability of attaining flow. They include placing the activity in the context of a larger goal, creating periodic goals, and exercising control over when and how the task is to be completed.
While doing laundry is still not my favorite activity, it is more pleasant when while folding clothes; I picture my children wearing them. Creating periodic goals include trying to clean the house or cut the yard at a faster pace that the time before, or improving the process of bill paying. Anything that removes your focus from the task itself to improving or shortening the task is helpful.
A friend recently told me that she irons while watching Oprah. This allows her to enjoy watching the show while accomplishing a required, but not well-loved, task. Other people combine two disliked tasks to complete them in 1/2 the time.
While reframing daily tasks into flow events is helpful, higher-level flow attainment requires effort, skill and accepting the risk of failure. This is the flow that one feels when closing a deal, hitting a home run, or finishing a complex home project.
One is able to accomplish one’s goal by putting skills into action, and overcoming the risk of failure. The task is given complete focus, and success is achieved. At that specific moment of time, one is fully engrossed in living life. Over time, higher levels of skill can be developed, higher goals set and more flow created.
Remember, if your goal is to enjoy life, try to flow a bit more, in the big and little areas of life.