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Unlocking the flow state for well-being

Imagine you’re at work, finally tackling that daunting task you’ve been avoiding for days (weeks? months?). As you dive into it, you realise it wasn’t as bad as you feared and that you’re actually quite enjoying it. You glance at the clock and suddenly realise it’s much later than you thought because you’ve been so absorbed in the task at hand. You’ve been fully engaged - the second facet Seligman identified as essential for your well-being.

Engagement is all about being in the moment, actively participating in your own life (or the task at hand), rather than just watching it passively happen around you. It’s like time just flies by because you’re so engrossed with what you’re doing.

Some call it flow, or being ‘in the zone’.

To get into that magical flow state, a few conditions need to be met. It doesn’t happen when we are too relaxed, or when the task doesn’t require much concentration. It’s hard to find your flow if you’re worried about someone peeking over your shoulder, watching your every move. And having a clear goal in mind, like finishing the task, is crucial. You’ve got to be faced with a challenging (but not impossible) task which requires intense focus and which is ‘intrinsically motivating’. In other words, it’s not just about enjoying doing the task, it’s about conquering it without needing a zillion breaks or getting sidetracked by other stuff. Like completing the chapter of a book, or finishing a painting. A sense of control in knowing what you’re doing, and how you’re going to do it, also plays a big role. So, if you’ve mastered your craft and have confidence in your abilities to tackle the challenge, you’re more likely to achieve a state of flow.

This state of engagement, or flow, happens when you strike the perfect balance between challenge and your own skills and strengths. You’re more likely to experience this state of flow when you tap into your core character strengths. Studies on engagement show that intentionally using your strengths in new ways each day for a week leads to increased happiness and lower rates of depression six months later.

But remember, engagement isn’t just about happiness - though that’s a great bonus! It includes a whole bunch more benefits, like less stress, a more optimistic and hopeful outlook, improved performance and increased innovation, motivation and creativity.

To enhance engagement, consider the following strategies:

  • Engage in activities that you are genuinely passionate about, those that make time fly by.

  • Practice mindfulness during everyday activities, even mundane tasks.

  • Spend time in nature, observing and immersing yourself in the natural world whenever possible.

  • Identify and nurture your character strengths, and engage in activities where you can apply and excel in them.

Identifying your own character strengths is the exercise we’re going to undertake in the next post.

Funded by the State Government of Victoria, Business Victoria, Mental Wellbeing of Businesses Grant Round 2.

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