Stress, Flow, and Meaning

August 13, 2015 by John Andrew Williams

These last few weeks, John Andrew Williams has been discussing some of his daily insights on his personal blog. Here are two big takeaways from the last few weeks:

How can you reduce stress in your life?

The first major theme that John discussed comes from Robert M. Sapolsky’s book, Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers. While stress was originally a good thing that helped keep our ancestors alive, modern day stressors can be extremely detrimental to our overall well-being. Sapolsky identifies four clinically proven ways to reduce stress:

  1. Find an outlet for frustration: Having something to look forward to can help manage your ability to deal with stress and limit the impact of stressful situations. 
  2. Have social support: Relationships are an essential part of dealing with stress; it is difficult to manage alone.
  3. Make your life more predictable: Thinking in systems and predictable patterns helps manage daily stressors at work and daily life. 
  4. Take control of your life: Hope Theory and Growth Mindset tell us that if you think you can accomplish something if you put in the work, setbacks will not be as stressful.

It’s all about Flow

Experiencing flow can positively influence so many parts of your life. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow has shifted the way that people think about their work and lives in general. Flow is a balance between our skill level and the challenge level of a task. Designing your work around this idea can lead to great productivity and satisfaction.

When you are in a state of flow, nothing else seems to matter. You are simply experiencing the present moment, and not concerned about other tasks you need to accomplish or how much time you have left. It is almost as if you become one with your surroundings or your work.

What influences our ability to experience flow?

  • Meaning: When we find a greater meaning in our lives, flow naturally follows
  • Stamina: Being in flow can improve our mental stamina, but our stamina can also help us maintain the feeling of flow.
  • Achievement: Accomplishing challenging tasks can increase our ability to maintain a feeling of flow.

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