Finding Flow: Intense work but without the struggle.

There’s so much reported angst in today’s workplaces. People are working hard, running hard and balancing increasing loads on their work-life plate. But does hard or ‘intense’ work have to equate with struggle? Absatively not! Before we get too far ahead in this blogging journey I wanted to set one thing straight: A TGIM work-life is not about making work easy per se – but it is about having more ‘ease’ in doing your work….ease as in ‘the wind is at your back…..working with you and not against you.” Most people — particularly leaders (of all levels), high performers and high potentials – want to be challenged, tested, stretched so that they learn, grow and shine at work! That’s part of what makes work meaningful for many people.

Sure – there are a lot of work-life issues that contribute to wear and tear on us and that sense of ‘struggle’. I’ll be dealing with them – you can count on that. But for today, I want to focus on just one question: What does hard work look like without struggle?

Think of those times when you worked hard – really hard — and yet at the end, felt a sense of achievement, energy and even inspiration. Those are what we call “Flow” experiences. Flow, according to experts, is an essential ingredient to an engaged life and work experience. Without it, you’d be bored, uninspired, flat. I call that ‘Fizzle” (an Eileenism:)

Renouned psychologist and author of “Finding Flow“, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick sent me high”) says ‘flow’ is essential if we are to be engaged in life and at work.

The problem, however, is that we tend to walk through our lives not paying attention to our internal states (emotions). We are attached to our ‘busy-ness” and float between two extremes: during the work day we live filled with anxiety and pressure of work and competing obligations. Then during leisure we tend to live in passive boredom. The key is to be more mindful of what activities engage us and to participate to the point of flow.

Flow activitie are best experienced when the activitiy has the following ingredients, according to Csikszentmihalyi:

  • Has our full attention
  • Challenges us and requires skill
  • Has clear goals
  • Provides immediate feedback
  • Might be hard work but feels like deep, effortless involvement
  • Gives sense of control

So going back to your examples of those moments you came up with (hard work but energized and inspired after), can you see how this criteria played out?

Now think about your current work-life. Do you engage in enough activities that…

  • Challenge you and call upon use of actual skills — or are they ‘mindless’ activities?
  • Engage your full attention?
  • Have specific goals attached and if not, can you create some for yourself?
  • Provide immediate feedback (e.g. a sales call) — and if not, can you create a criteria for feedback that you can look for?

Now if you are sitting there and say: “nah….my work has none of that,” I encourage you to stop pressing that snooze button and wake up! Get creative and see if you can make small changes in your work on your own to try to incorporate more flow. You don’t necessarily need a whole new job. You just need to pay attention to what inspires you; what skills you want to incorporate; and a few other things. It’s worth the effort.

To help you with that, here’s an article I wrote that goes into a bit more detail and offers more tips.

I’ve got a ton more to say about “hard work without the struggle” and will be writing much more about this. But for now, I would love to hear from you on anything related to that theme. Please write, ask, comment, share…’s all good.

Wishing you FLOW as you start your work-week tomorrow (It’s Monday!)


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8 Responses to “Finding Flow: Intense work but without the struggle.”

  1. Darlene Russell Says:

    To me it looks like a week long canoe trip in the wilderness. Long days of paddlling, mosquitos and black flies, portages that go a kilometer or more straight up hill. Heaven.

  2. Eileen Chadnick Says:

    Darlene, I love this! Your comment speaks to the effortless side of flow….not always the challenging/focused activities that Csikszenthihalyi speaks of……but the gentler side of ‘flow’…….just ‘being’ and noticing when we have that wind (or lovely breeze at our backs).

    Lovely – except I could do without the mosquitos:) lol…..


  3. Susan Dunn, EQ Coach Says:

    To me, flow is when you’re neither thinking nor feeling, and it’s a wonderful, timeless place to be. Artists talk about it a lot, not just athletes. Also theoretical scientists – – when you disappear into the lab for hours on end, and “forget” to eat. Emotions can be “disturbing” — whether we label them “good” or “bad.” They signal change.

    That’s one of the reasons its good to study emotions and emotional intelligence. You don’t have to express or repress them; you can “confess” them. Use their energy … get the information but not necessarily act on it (anger is a good way of knowing what you want, but not for getting what you want).

    I’m an emotional intelligence coach. Isn’t coaching the GREATEST?

    Love your blog,
    Susan Dunn,

  4. Eileen Chadnick Says:

    Susan – couldn’t agree more! Thank you for this lovely insight….and yes, coaching and EQ are great. I’m an EQ coach as well (EQ-i) certified….and find it fascinating work to explore the ‘inner game’ of our life to make the most of our outer game.


  5. If you are new to my blog … « TGIM Work-Life! Says:

    […] Finding flow: Intense Work but without the Struggle […]

  6. Jacqueline Ryl Says:

    Riding the rapids is a great way for me to visualize last week’s events (sudden and massive change), and enter this week’s ‘river’ (life/work/earning one’s keep). I’m using the ideas of flow to harness the energy of the river’s rapids (challenges) as it varies from calm quite waters before or after the more intense and chaotic sections of the river. Recognizing that what I find to be a tough part of the river isn’t what others might experience is important, and recognizing that sometimes tough parts of the river are there to be survived and to move on with the river. Sometimes getting to the side and catching my breath is OK, even if it means taking an adjusted route or path that is manageable.

    Moving forward: Pining to be a better canoist or to have a better canoe isn’t going to get me further down stream, but feels like sinking or going backwards. This is where flow continues, even if water isn’t there making it seemless.

    Team work: Knowing or sensing when others need calmer or rougher currents is important to making the flow experience a positive one for everyone. Sometimes I need to help others ride the rough spots, sometimes I need to provide the calm waters so they can catch their breath. Sometimes I need to listen to the silence of flow. Flow is good, quiet or intense, and I need both to feel that the day was a satisfying one.


  7. what is the best washer and dryer Says:

    I enjoy reading through an article that can make people think.

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  8. Focus + Flow: Hard Work But Without the Struggle | Big Cheese Coaching Says:

    […] written in January 2007 and was one of the first posts in that brand new blog. You can read the original version here if you like. A slightly revised version follows below.  P.S Who knew back then that I”d […]

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