Do you enjoy what you do at work? I have been reading FLOW by pioneer of positive psychology Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi and I just read about his study of “Pleasure and Enjoyment”. There are some key take away’s that we can learn about why we “enjoy” things and I have tied in ways we can incorporate them more into our work.
First we need to understand the difference between “pleasure” and “enjoyment”. Pleasure is simply when physiological or psychology expectations have been met. If you are extremely hungry, eating fulfills our physiological need of food which is a sense of pleasure or if you have a social expectation that everyone loves to go to paradise and you travel to Hawaii, this is pleasurable.
“Enjoyment” is characterized by forward movement by a sense of novelty, of accomplishment. When expectations are met, then exceeded which stretches the consciousness of what is thought of as attainable.
Csikszentmihalyi says, “Without enjoyment life can be endured, and it can even be pleasant. But it can be so only precariously, depending on luck and the cooperation of the external environment. To gain personal control over the quality of experience, however, one needs to learn how to build enjoyment into what happens day in, day out.”
Here are some key elements of enjoyment and my thoughts on how to incorporate them more in work:
1. Confront tasks we have a chance of completing
Everyone knows the feeling when they are participating in something they completely suck at, we hate doing it. Whether it is designing a webpage, playing in a tennis match, or reading a book, all experiences desire some set of skill. For an individual to “enjoy” an experience they need to have some skill relevant to the experience presented to them. We need the feeling of some type of challenge that we have the potential to complete and in participating, grow from our experience. When confronted with a task that is unattainable due to our lack of skill, the challenge is so overbearing that it simply becomes meaningless.
How to relate this to work: Finding out your teams strengths is key to not only enjoyment, but success. If you know the skills your team has, delegate challenging tasks that align with their skills and this will allow them to continuously grow with the work given to them.
2. Full investment of attention
One of the most crucial elements to enjoyment is the ability to be completely absorbed by the activity. We need to divulged all energies into completing the task in front of us that we have no excess energy to process any other information. An example for me is when I am playing basketball I almost feel as if nothing else is going on except the game I am in. A fire could be in the gym and I wouldn’t recognize it because I am so focused on the game I am playing. Some people call it being “in the zone.”
How to relate this to work: Create positive environments that allow individuals to fully be engaged in their work with no distractions. Block off hour and a half times where you can be guaranteed no distractions. If you have to setup a fake meeting on your calendar, do it. I hear it works for lots of executives so they can get work done. My boss actually declared “Work from home Fridays” just so he could have the office to himself one day a week.
3. Clear goals & Immediate feedback
Without a great framework of why you are doing something and how you are progressing, you can’t enjoy an experience. If it is something like rock climbing, the goals and feedback are extremely easy; Goal: Get to the top of this rock wall. Feedback: Every positive step up the wall without falling is your realtime feedback. It becomes a little more tricky with experiences not so clear cut, but still can be incorporated.
How to relate this to work: To truly enjoy your daily work activities, either ask someone higher than you or self create very distinct goals ( i.e. From 8:00am-8:30am clear out email inbox, finish designs for new features by 6pm, etc.) Some may be harder to get immediate feedback, but having strong goals will allow you to mentally see how you are progressing in compared to all your goals. Being consistent with goal setting is a necessity to work enjoyment. As a leader, employees would love quick feedback on any/all projects they are working on.
4. Paradox of control
There have been multiple studies that show everyone from dancers and how they feel when performing on big stages to the “adrenaline junkies” of extreme sports to see why they enjoy what they do. This idea of the ability to control their actions comes up across the board. Csikszentmihalyi says, “what people enjoy is not the sense of being in control, but the sense of exercising control in difficult situations.” A dare devil doesn’t enjoy risking his life consistently because he needs to control every aspect of his life, but because he can focus his energies on minimizing the danger at specific moments. He exercises control and focus in the worlds most difficult and life threatening situations.
How to relate this to work: For a team to feel enjoyment from ownership, the piece they have control over needs to be showcased in difficult situations. From a leaders stand point you have to continuously provide challenging situations that relates to your teams strengths. From an employees perspective, similar to the “clear goals and immediate feedback” element, we need to actively pursue this throughout our work day. Most of the time in a startup, these things won’t be laid out for you, so set challenges in your work realm that you know are difficult to attain.
5. Loss of self-consciousness
When you divulge full attention to your experiences one thing disappears and that is self consciousness. Have you ever been in a situation where you are “in the zone” and your actions seem to happen automatically? Whether you are painting a picture or sailing a boat, when you find that state of “flow” your actions and awareness seem to merge in one. You don’t think about anything else that is going on in the world but that moment. If you have ever experienced this, it may be the epitome of enjoyment.
From personal experience, there could be many bad things going on in my life that would constantly give me pain mentally and physically, but when I would enter in a state of flow, I would forget every bad thing going on and solely focus all my energies on this current experience. I lost all self-consciousness.
How to relate this to work: In the business world, self-consciousness can horribly ruin what we do. For example, if your job is to call customers and survey feedback about your business but all you can think about is, “how long is this call going to take?” or “I hope other people in the office don’t think I sound stupid” you obviously aren’t going to enjoy making those phone calls. One thing you could do is challenge yourself to focus your all energy on making that one phone call the best possible interaction that day for your customer. Listen to every detail your customer is saying, write down the best feedback, be creative in developing new strategies for the company with your customer, try to make as personal of a connection as possible. I mean, if you attacked this experience with that intensity, you wouldn’t have energy to think about all the other external things going on.
Enjoying your work is crucial for sustainability and success. Be creative in ways to add enjoyment not only to your work day but to those who work around you.