When were you last so absorbed in doing something that you lost track of time? Maybe you forgot to eat or (gasp) to check your phone or email. You were totally focused and clear and confident. You recognised a challenge and knew you were up for it. You were ‘in the zone’. Congratulations, you’ve found your ‘flow.’
As a career changer finding your flow can help you to figure out what meaningful work looks like for you. Adding insights from inside the flow zone to all the other intel you gather can pin down the things you love to do and where you’d be content to do them.
A brief history of flow
Kudos for coming up with the concept in 1975 belongs to a Hungarian born psychologist called Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His name is pronounced ‘Me high Cheeks send me high’ which seems apt for someone whose research is dedicated to uncovering ‘the roots of happiness.’ His TED talk on how he discovered flow is both moving and funny.
Flow happens when we’re stretched, but not too much. Hitting the sweet spot where we’re not over or underwhelmed by a challenging activity is the key. Csikszentmihalyi nails it here,
“the best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Csikszentmihalyi worked extensively with musicians, artists, and athletes who regularly found themselves ‘in the zone’. Their experiences helped him identify the eight elements of flow.
However, flow is not confined to athletic, creative or recreational activities. Any flexibly minded person intent on mastering anything can feel it.
7 ways to know you’re in flow
If you’re keen for some career change flow checking, you’d best know what you’re looking for. When you’re using your skills for work or play, these seven signs are a giveaway. You’re probably in the flow zone if you’re:
totally and timelessly immersed in what you’re are doing
feeling ‘beside yourself’ but in a good way - just one step removed from day to day reality
crystal clear about what you need to do and how well you’re doing it
confident that your skills are up to the task and that it’s doable
peaceful, or even serene, no ego-driven worries, no distractions
absolutely in the present, hours seem like minutes
intrinsically motivated, doing the task is its own reward
Flow states are powerful but transient, and it is easy to overlook them once they’re over. So if you’re currently kindling your career change, by noting the things and people and topics that spark your interest, try adding a flow monitor.
Capture and list your flow activities. Then ask yourself, “What triggers my flow? How do I feel during and afterwards? What are the results?”
Here are some of mine:
Hiking in the bush or on a beach
Singing with a choir
Playing the piano
During a fascinating career change conversation with a client
Reading career change books and thinking about how to incorporate my new knowledge into client sessions
Updating and editing my website, or writing a PowerPoint for a workshop
Find your career change flow
Separate skills you love to use and are keen to grow from the ones that burn you out. Do this regardless of how competent you are at deploying the deadening ones. Because flow isn’t necessarily linked to doing things you’re good at.
For example, using your well-honed report writing skills might feel like wading through treacle. You’re good at this but it’s work that drains you. You put it off until you can’t, and then it seems to take forever. It puts you in a state of ‘anti-flow’.
Conversely, presenting your report findings to a group takes you straight to effortless, energising flow.
Remind yourself that skills are transferable. If your flow zone is outside your current career zone and you’re thinking ‘no experience, no chance’ read this!
Grow your flow
The way we enter and exit the flow zone can feel mysterious and beyond our control. Suddenly we’re there, and then we’re not. If you’re keen to spend more time building your strength and expertise in flow state activities, try creating the right conditions:
Get rid of distractions – turn off your phone, shut down email alerts, hang out your ‘do not disturb’ sign. You know what you need to do.
Balance your challenge – choose an activity that’s close to the limit of your current skill but is one you feel you’re equipped to do. If the stretch is too great, you’ll be stressed and disheartened. If the stretch is too short, you’ll be bored and distracted. Finding this delicate balance is crucial to inducing and sustaining flow
Set a clear goal – something like this one. I’ll write a blog about the flow state for career changers. I’ll know that it’s worked if I’ve clearly described how flow happens, how to achieve it and how it supports career change.
Check out Michael Bungay Stanier’s ‘Do More Great Work’ in these 5 refreshing reads for career changers. Stanier’s guide to doing more meaningful work also offers lots of tips for increasing career flow. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ‘good work’ happens when you ‘enjoy doing your best while at the same time contributing to something beyond yourself. ‘
A cautionary note
If you’ve listed ‘hours spent Googling career change’ as a flow activity, I get why it’s there. Losing yourself in cyberspace is absorbing and easy. But ask yourself how you feel afterwards. Flow states leave you feeling energised and satisfied with whatever you’ve achieved. If you emerge dazed and confused from a long online career search, you probably weren’t in the flow zone. Here’s how to get there.
Losing career change momentum? Let’s find your flow.
By Jo Green, Career Change Coach
I know that when you find what you love, heart and soul, your life changes. I work every day with people who are reshaping their current careers, starting new enterprises or searching for a new direction. Basically I help people who don’t like their job to figure out what to do instead!
As a Careershifters and Firework Advanced Certified Coach and experienced career changer myself, I can help you figure out what fulfilling work looks like for you.