By Maria Micallef, Health Writer, Programmer and Director of Hear Me Raw (Consumer Health and Corporate Health Solutions)
Have you ever walked into a room with a purpose and completely forgot what that purpose is? Perhaps you started to recount an experience in court or in a client meeting, only to find you couldn’t remember the point of what you were saying?
It’s easy to be inattentive and distracted, especially with technologies providing more opportunities for distraction. This is where mindfulness is an essential tool.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental state of openness, awareness and focus. It provides a state of concentration on the task at hand to the exclusion of other distractions. We are naturally mindful in extreme situations which require intense focus e.g. being chased by an aggressive dog. However, distraction and inattention are more common states and in fact are usually the norm. We have all had experiences of missing a segment of a conversation as we were “thinking of something else” or reading something five times over before it sank in because again our mind wandered off. This is pretty typical of the human mind.
We can, however, strengthen our focus through mindfulness, which in turn can optimise productivity and competence at work. An essential element of mindfulness is “Flow”. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “Flow” for those states of minds when consciousness is harmoniously ordered. Flow, a state of mindfulness, occurs when one is fully present and completely focused on the task at hand.
In a work situation, it leads to states such as one described by in the book The Art of Happiness at Work: “I had been working for over 5 hours and yet it was as if no time had passed and it was completely effortless. Not only wasn’t I tired but I was filled with energy…. when I reviewed my notes I had made tremendous progress on what was a very difficult problem”.
Flow arises when engaged in an activity that is important to us, meaningful to us and worth doing. Flow is more likely to occur when:
- There are clear goals to the activity.
- We receive some kind of immediate feedback about our progress as the activity unfolds.
- The task challenges our skills just enough that the goal is achievable, even though we are “stretched” to achieve it.
Typically the mindful flow state is intermittent and not a permanent state. Once in the state of flow, you are completely in the present moment, not thinking about the past or future and therefore completely mindful of the task at hand without distraction. While in flow, we engage in the activity for its own sake (i.e. the challenge of it) rather than any external rewards.
When you’re in a state of flow:
- You feel at one with the world.
- You let go of your sense of an individual and any worries and problems.
- You’re completely focused.
- You feel very satisfied with what you’re doing.
- You’re happy, although you don’t really notice it at the time because you’re so engrossed in whatever you’re doing.
How can you be more mindful at work to induce a “flow like” state and improve productivity? Ensure you are challenged by some aspect of your work that pushes your skill set to its boundary.
- Find a quiet time to get “in the zone”. Try a ritual to help get you into this state– e.g. going over your materials for the task at hand or going over how its objectives fit with the corporation’s objectives.
- Keep distractions to a minimum. Allow uninterrupted blocks of time so that you can get into a flow state.
- Ensure immediate feedback is available so we can gauge our progress.
- The task must have clear goals.
Tapping into your “Flow”
Everyone’s had flow experiences which typically relate to being “in the zone”. By knowing when you’ve been in flow, you can encourage more opportunities to experience it in the future. Here are some typical activities that people often find themselves flowing in. You may even find something here to try yourself:
- Reading or writing – When you’re fully engaged in a good book full of a challenging storyline, you’re in flow. You forget about everything else and time flies by. When writing in flow, words simply pop into your head and onto your page with effortless ease. You stop criticising what you’re creating, and enjoy seeing the report or book pouring out of you.
- Art or hobbies – Most artistic endeavours involve flow. You’re directly connected with your senses and people often describe themselves as being ‘at one with the music’. If you’re doing a particular hobby because you’re forced to, it may or may not be a flow experience as the intrinsic motivation isn’t there.
- Exercise – Some people love exercise so much that they get addicted to it. The rush of adrenaline, the full focus in the present moment, and the feeling of exhilaration makes for a flow experience.
- Work – Perhaps surprisingly, you can be in flow at work. Research has found that people are happier at work than they are in their leisure time. Work encourages you to do something with a focused attention, and often involves interaction with others. You need to give something of yourself. This can set the stage for flow. In contrast, watching TV at home can drain your energy.
- Anything done mindfully – Remember, anything that you do with a mindful awareness is going to generate a flow state of mind, by immersing yourself in that project.
By looking for opportunities for action constantly, developing our skills to meet bigger challenges, focusing on the activity at hand, and allowing ourselves to be lost in the interaction we become stronger after each flow experience.
To hear more of Maria’s health and mindfulness wisdom (stressed out attorneys: you know you need it!), head over to Hear Me Raw.