A Technique That Will Help You Feel Fulfilled at Work

Sep 24, 2013 -

It’s hardly groundbreaking news that Americans hate going to work. Especially when you see stories like the guy who outsourced his own job to China to watch cat videos in his cube all day.

But the idea that 70 percent of US employees feel disengaged and bored at work is astonishing. Are these frustrated workers simply underpaid and underappreciated? Perhaps. But maybe it boils down to something far more basic: Millions of Americans are toiling away at jobs that fail to inspire them.

If you’re searching for a more fulfilling career — or you simply want to make the most out of your workday — here’s step one: Find your flow state. (Click here to Tweet!)

What is flow state?

Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi first proposed the concept of flow over four decades ago. The idea can be paraphrased as total immersion in an activity.

Think of a writer who goes into a typing frenzy and drafts 30 pages of a novel in a sleepless night, or an Olympic sprinter who blocks out 100,000 screaming fans to break the tape at the finish line.

Flow refers to these “in the zone” moments when a person’s at peak performance, completely focused and using positive energy to reach a goal. Hours feel like minutes, and all self-consciousness recedes into the background.

Maybe you enter this frame of mind while playing the piano, wiring remote control robots, solving math problems or cooking dinner. Since you’re not limited to just one, perhaps all of these activities trigger your flow state.

Finding your flow

Lounging in a lawn chair by the pool may be relaxing, but you’re more likely to experience flow when faced with a challenge.

To put these concepts into a common example, imagine a game of chess. The players live in a self-contained world with black-and-white rules and a clear objective: to seize the opposing king. Each participant knows how and when to behave to reach this end goal, and although a single game can take hours to complete, the players are absorbed from start to finish.

These types of activities are all around you, and you likely participate in many of them regularly. But to identify flow and incorporate it into your daily routine — including your job — you need to understand its key characteristics:

  1. You have a clear objective.
  2. You’re properly motivated; the task is within your capabilities, yet not too simple.
  3. You’re completely focused and engaged.
  4. You have a direct influence on the outcome.
  5. You find the task rewarding or completing the task is a reward in and of itself.

How flow impacts your career

We generally associate office life with pitchers of coffee and people who type too loudly — not a mind-melting state of euphoria. But if flow manifests itself in your workplace, you’re more likely to develop your skills, improve at your job and find fulfillment in what you do.

Compare your work responsibilities to the activities that truly engage you. Ideally, your everyday tasks — writing, programming, managing projects, serving food to customers — put you in flow. At the very least, your job should involve your best skills, like problem-solving or decision-making.

If your workday and flow are at odds, it may be time to search the job boards. We tend to judge career satisfaction based on money and stress levels instead of how our work simply makes us feel. A boring job can leave you feeling empty, unfulfilled and unsure of your career path.

But you’ll be eager to punch into work if your job inspires you. In fact, you won’t even look at your schedule in terms of “punching in”; your work and life will blend together, and your job will become an extension of you rather than an eight-hour chore.

After all, the world’s most successful people are great at their jobs not because they’re forced to work, but because they love what they do.

There’s no guarantee that finding your flow state will lead to complete clarity and a high-paying job. It might not correlate to any job whatsoever. (Perhaps there’s not much demand for a gardener who plays guitar.) But being in tune with your flow will help you become more confident, competent and productive — in the workplace and outside of it.

Rocco Brown-Morris is the content team manager for www.livecareer.com, America’s # 1 resume builder. Check them out at www.facebook.com/livecareer or on Google+ for advice and tips on all things career- and resume-related.