woman with long read hair standing in front of graphic background with the appearance of a squiggly line entering the left of his head and two gently wavy arrows emerging from the right hand side

The flow state is linked to enhanced personal growth because it requires an appropriate balance of challenge and skill. Have a read of the quote below and see if it sounds familiar to you:

“My mind isn’t wandering. I am totally involved in what I am doing and I am not thinking of anything else. My body feels good… the world seems to be cut off from me… I am less aware of myself and my problems”

This is a description of a high-performance state called “flow,” more commonly known as “the zone.” When we’re in flow, we’re totally absorbed in what we’re doing – mind and body are in perfect harmony and we’re acting without conscious effort.

Experiences of flow at work can lead to greater productivity, engagement and employee development, so it’s worth taking some time to encourage it in your organisation. Research has found three key conditions to achieving flow:

  1. Clear goals: employees need to know what their responsibilities are, and how these fit into the larger plans of the organisation.
  2. Feedback: employees need feedback on their performance to remove any uncertainty about whether they are doing a good job.
  3. Appropriate Challenge: a balance between the challenge of the task and the skill level of the employee.

“When what [workers] must do exceeds their capabilities, the result is anxiety. When what they must do falls short of their capabilities, the result is boredom. But when the match is just right, the results can be glorious. This is the essence of flow.” – Daniel Pink

The Impact of Interruption

But putting these conditions in place isn’t enough by itself, because of the impact of interruptions. Emails, phone calls, and colleagues pull our attention from the task at hand. Studies show that at work we get interrupted every 12 minutes1 on average! What’s really interesting is that 44% of the time we’re interrupting ourselves; that is, switching tasks rather than staying focused on one thing.

Studies estimate that it can take 1 to 23 minutes to regain our full focus after an interruption, and on average people do two other things before getting back to the original task. But in a workplace culture ever-more characterised by collaboration and multi-tasking, many of these interruptions are essential. So instead of finding ways to avoid them, we need ways of returning to flow more quickly.

Mindfulness as a Path to Flow

Mindfulness can fill this role. Although mindfulness is not the same thing as flow, both states have significant overlap because they each require the attention to be focused on the present moment. So mindfulness training should increase employees’ ability to get into the flow state – and to regain their focus after an interruption.

Research bears this out. One study of 182 people found that “[more] mindful individuals have a higher chance of mental skill adoption and also tend to experience elements of flow more often”2. Another study found that athletes who attended a mindfulness training program found it easier to get into flow.3

Another potential benefit of flow is increased engagement. Decades of research has shown that absorption with work is a key component of employee engagement. If mindfulness increases flow, it should therefore also increase engagement. One interesting study published in the journal Human Relations supports this. The researchers found a negative relationship between mindfulness and employees’ turnover intentions – that is more mindful employees were less likely to want to leave the company.When they dug deeper into the data, they found that this connection was due to higher engagement in those employees.4

Mindfulness is not merely a pathway to the flow state. It also decreases stress, anxiety and depression, and increases wellbeing, cognitive function and immune response! If you want to see these benefits in your organisation, call us or email us or call us on 07392 220 784 and we’ll get back to you.


References:

[1] Robison, J. (2006). Too Many Interruptions at Work? Gallup Business Journal.

[1] Kee, Y. H. & John Wang, C. K. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness, flow dispositions and mental skills adoption: A cluster analytic approach. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 9(4), 393-411.

[2] Aherne, C., Moran, A. P. & Lonsdale, C. (2011). The effect of mindfulness training on athletes’ flow: an initial investigation. Sport Psychologist, 25(2), 177-189.

[3] Dane, E. & Brummel, B. J. (2014). Examining workplace mindfulness and its relations to job performance and turnover intention. Human Relations. 67(1), 105-128.