Monday blues: How do we enjoy work?
It’s Monday morning and you can’t wait for the week to be over. For some people, ‘Monday blues’ start on Sundays itself – the sinking feeling of going back to work or a slight anxiety of all the things that have to be done the next day. Yes, you make jokes about it with friends, you decide to live weekend to weekend, holiday to holiday and block out the days in between, but you also wonder, “How did I get here?” or “Is this what life is about – week after week – doing joyless work?”
Yes, it seems hopeless. I’ve heard people say they work because they need to earn. There’s no way out. That’s the reality of life and that’s that. Hoping to enjoy ‘work’ is asking for a bit too much, say the more practical ones. Sure if one was a singer or an artist, they’d love their work. But most of us say we don’t have any such talent or passion we know of. So we ‘Ordinary Joes’ can’t really enjoy the ‘work’ we do. Or can we?
Take a look at some of the things you truly enjoy doing – could be anything from football to baking. We all know what that feels like – psychologists call it ‘flow’ – the state that accompanies highly engaging activities. At such times, your complete attention is focused on what you are doing, such that you lose track of time, you even forget yourself! During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity and a total involvement with what they are doing. Experiencing flow contributes to our feelings of well being.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could experience flow at work as well and beat those ‘Monday blues’?
Research suggests that we can experience flow during work as well as play! Flow occurs when challenges match our skills. Not challenging enough and we first relax and then begin to get bored; challenging beyond our skills and we get anxious.
Where do you fall currently?
Do you currently feel bored or anxious at work? Experiencing boredom or anxiety act as signals. Signals to adjust levels of skill or challenge so as to re-enter flow. Here’s the interesting part, it’s not the actual challenges or skills but your perception of the challenges and skills that affects the quality of your experience. So if you’re anxious at work, it could be that you see the demands on you as more challenging than they actually are or that you underestimate your ability or skills to manage them.
A key aspect of being in flow is attention i.e. we experience flow when there is focused attention on what we are doing. When we’re bored, attention drifts from the task. When we’re anxious, attention could shift from the task to our self and shortcomings. What kind of situations absorb our full concentration on the task itself?
It’s the high-challenge, high-skill situations. We also tend to enjoy these the most! And guess where we find such situations in majority? At work! It’s true, for most people, the work week offers more opportunities for high-challenge, high-skill situations as compared to a weekend where more time is often spent in low-challenge, low-skill apathy situations such as long hours of TV watching. Not everyone however spends their free time in passive activities though. High-challenge, high-skill situations on the weekend could include playing a sport, taking a music lesson, baking, painting, doing a crossword, gardening, having a stimulating conversation with a friend, playing with a child and so on.
How do we create flow at work?
The flow principle recommends that we choose our goals to match our skills. We create flow experiences by selecting tasks that are controllable yet challenging, that require considerable skill, complete concentration and are intrinsically motivating to us. All these factors are unique to us and we would need to work out for ourselves what constitutes the right match of our skills and challenges of a task, such that it completely absorbs our attention. So just as a singer becomes the song and the dancer becomes the dance, we become one with the work that we do. Focusing on the task rather than on ourselves and then gradually increasing difficulty levels could lead to flow. Tasks that have clear goals and immediate feedback lend themselves to flow experiences.
Apart from a lack of flow, another reason for our work blues could be a prejudice against the idea of work that many of us might unknowingly carry. Where we see ‘work’ as what we have to do versus ‘leisure’ as what we choose to do. It’s this prejudice which could make us overlook the benefits of an active work day spent in stimulating our minds, applying ourselves, getting to know ourselves better, interacting with others among other possible opportunities for flow.
Happier people use flow principles both at work and on weekends – by structuring their work to ensure a match between their skills and challenges and by choosing to engage in high-challenge, high-skill activities on weekends as well. If you would like to explore ways to enjoy more flow in your life, be it at work or home, you could talk it over with a counsellor.
Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfillment. New York,
NY: McGraw Hill.
Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). The concept of flow. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez
(Eds.), The handbook of positive psychology (pp. 89-102). New York, NY: Oxford
Carr, A. (2004). Positive psychology: The science of happiness and human strengths. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.