Seinfeld Reruns or Brain Surgery?
Csikszentmihalyi's model for flow is helpful because it's both high science and research, and hammer and nails practical.
Here's a fun exercise. Time-track an entire day and drop every activity into one of the areas on the flow chart. It's revealing.
On Watching Seinfeld
Flow happens when skills and challenges align. But flow occurs during meaningless activities, as well as important ones.
My skill for watching Seinfeld reruns is equal to the challenge. But, how meaningful are Seinfeld reruns? (Okay, if Seinfeld reruns are being analyzed for comedic content, social themes, or story arch - that could be meaningful. But, you see the point.) Activities like watching television typically fall into the lower left quadrant, which Csikszentmihalyi labels "apathy".
The goal is to spend more time in the upper right. Flow. That is, meaningful work where skills and challenge levels aligns.
Anxious or Bored?
Again - do a quick time-track of your day in your head. What do you spend the majority of your time doing? If you don't know, try actually tracking your time. I find this to be a worthwhile exercise to do on occasion anyway. (And sombering in its revelations.)
Now take another internal poll. What was your state of mind during those activities? Were you in a place of anxiety or boredom? Knowing your own mindset while doing these tasks tells you where you need to focus to get into a place of flow.
If you spend a large part of your day browsing through social media and chatting with colleagues about the latest shenanigans in Washington, you may be bored. Your challenge level is low.
Ask yourself: Are you doing meaningful work? How can you move from where you are into something more challenging? Should you be thinking about a side hustle? Should you consider another career that will inspire and stretch? Boredom is not where we want to live our lives.
On the other hand, if your day was spent in anxiety and procrastination, you may need to up your skill level. If any of us were asked to do emergency brain surgery or to defuse a bomb, anxiety levels would skyrocket. Reality doesn't put the vast majority of us into those situations. But, how many are anxious about spreadsheets to the point they are either avoided or approached with fear and trepidation? Or, a simple Photoshop correction puts some on edge. These issues can be solved with a 3-hour Udemy course in Excel or a Lynda.com course on Photoshop.
Learning new skills (or sharpening skills} might involve something more - like a finishing a degree or learning a craft.
People skills, technical skills, emotional intelligence and self-awareness, communication ability, even executive skills - these are learnable activities that can make you better, and relieve anxiety.
In the end, life is too short to spend our days comatose in front of the social media gods or in a bundle of nerves because of the lack of a learnable skill set.
Figure out your meaning.
Take on the challenge.
Learn the skills you need to get there.
In the simplest of terms, that's the way of flow.