A complete guide to getting into a FLOW State (Part 2).
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Next, we'll be using a goal orientation framework to shortlist your final set of Flow activities you can start working on. Immediately!
I'm assuming you're here after reading Part 1. If not, do go back and read it first!
Alright, I hope you've got your big fat list of possible Flow activities ready. How many did you end up with?
When it comes to working on your Flow, research has consistently shown that how long you can sustain interest or make progress in your goals depend a lot on WHY you want to engage in the activity in the first place.
Below are four goal orientations or goal motivations that we often consciously or unconsciously use when we approach activities.
We'll be assigning a score to each of the Flow activities that we've brainstormed up, to help us prioritise which Flow activities are the ones that we truly want to work on.
Next to your list of goals, draw up four columns.
At the top of each column, write down the four following titles. You don't have to write the words in brackets:
Intrinsic (vs. Extrinsic Motivation)
True Self (vs Public Self)
Approach (vs. Avoidance)
Flexible (vs. Constraints)
Now, let's briefly go through the concepts.
1. Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
To put it simply, intrinsic motivation comes from within you, while extrinsic motivation comes from expecting some future external reward or avoiding a punishment.
Extrinsic Motivation is very much like how we work to get paid money, or try and read a pretentious book about the life and history of Goh Chock Tong so we look like a smart Alex in front of our other pretentious friends.
Instead, when we are intrinsically motivated to do something, we pursue it for it's own sake.
It's not tied to some future external reward at all. We enjoy the process of doing the activity, the journey of progression, and feel rewarded by none other than our own growth or the pursuit of the activity itself.
This is more likely to bring us to Flow as well.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, "The key to flow is to pursue an activity for its own sake, not for the rewards it brings".
Not to mention, research has also consistently shown, in both young and the old, that when we are intrinsically motivated, we are more likely to sustain long-term interest in the activity as well.
This makes sense doesn't it.
When we pursue a Flow activity for the sake of some stupid goal like getting filthy rich in the future, we are less likely to enjoy the actual work we have to put in now.
Sooner or later, if the money doesn't show up, you're going to lost interest.
Think about your Flow activities, and if you want to pursue them for intrinsic or extrinsic reasons.
For example, when I did this exercise, "I want to start day trading stocks" was more of an extrinsic get-rich-quick kind of goal for me, versus "I want to start writing a psychology blog" was something that I intrinsically wanted to do.
2. True self vs Public self
If you looked deeply within yourself, you might find that there are two sides of you.
One is a Public self, which is the image that you show to other people.
The other is your True self, the person that you really are deep inside of you.
Often, the True self is one that we reserve only to ourselves or to a certain select few only.
We all build up a Public Self from a young age. There are a many reasons for this, such as increasing our social desirability, or to hide away the vulnerabilities that we don't want to show to the world.
Sometimes it can be difficult to separate the two selves.
When we mistake the Public self as the real version of ourselves, it starts to dictate our lives and where we put our efforts on.
Things can go very wrong.
In fact, if you're interested, the entire Acceptance and Commitment Therapy framework (ACT) I share in other articles is about liberating your True Self from your Public Self.
For the purpose of this though, ask yourself if engaging in the activity is something you really really want to do, that adds to who you are deep down, or if it is something to further buffer your Public self?
For example, if you're planning to learn something, is it because you are genuinely interested in the subject, or because you want to look like a smarty pants to your friends?
This matters, because research studies have shown that choosing activities in line with the values of your True Self are more likely the ones you'll keep working on (Reference 1).
3. Approach vs Avoidance Orientation
Having an Approach orientation to an activity means that you are engaging in it to move toward a desired outcome.
For example, let's say you got offered a job in Japan.
You might want to learn to speak Japanese because you like the culture and want to be able to converse with the locals to know more about them and make many new friends.
On the other hand, having an Avoidance orientation means you want to move away from an undesired outcome.
In the same example, an avoidance orientation might be that you want to learn Japanese so that you don't get treated like an outsider or get laughed at as a Baka Gaijin (stupid foreigner). You don't really want to learn Japanese, but you're forcing yourself to!
Other examples of Avoidance orientation are studying for exams so that you don't fail, or sludging through work so you don't get fired.
Because the orientation is one of avoidance, we don't enjoy the process while doing it!
Most goals and activities can be framed in both ways, so it's important to think about whether you are engaging in the activity truly from an Approach or Avoidance orientation.
Why does this matter?
Research studies have found that engaging in activities with an Avoidance orientation often leads to less satisfaction and more negative emotions with progress, lower self-esteem, and feeling less competent in other goal pursuits (Reference 2).
4. Flexible vs Constrained
This final one is not so much a goal orientation/motivation, but more of a common sense checkpoint.
Ideally, we want our final list to comprise of activities that we can start on right away, and are ones that are not limited by things like requiring more money, or joining a course that only starts in three months time.
So simply put, by flexible, are your activities ones that you can engage in right now?
Are they also suitable for you given your current circumstances? Your lifestyle? Finances?
For example, I wanted to start an intro to programming course to teach to people who were interested a while ago.
This idea circled round and round in my mind until I finally decided to put it away since it would require quitting my job and not having stable income.
Now it's your turn to go through your list, and put a tick for each activity for each of the four checkpoints.
Hopefully you've ended up with something like below. Now you can see it in plain sight, the ones with the most ticks win.
You might find that some of your activities conflict with each other.
For example, unless you're some language savant or genius, it'll be pretty challenging to learn both Korean and Japanese at the same time.
This is even if you've given both of them four ticks. In those cases, it comes down to a matter of choice regarding which one really means more to you.
Now that you've got your best Flow activities in front of you. Let's move on to the final step and start making plans for them to fit in with our lives.
This is probably the most important step. You're nearly there, so don't skip it!
We'll take the time to plan and build our chosen flow activities into our schedules. We'll also set goals so we can keep ourselves motivated!
Thanks for reading Kaya Toast for the Soul! I hope you've enjoyed the process of learning about the concept of Flow. Do check out my many other psychology and wellbeing related articles on this blog. Thanks!
References for the academic nutcase:
1. Stavrova et al. (2018) Choosing goals that express the true self: A novel mechanism of the effect of self-control on goal attainment. European journal of Social psychology 49(6)
2. Elliot, A. J. & Friedman, R. (2007). Approach-avoidance: A central characteristic of personal goals. Personal project pursuit: Goals, actions, and human flourishing (pp. 97-118).