Play the Game

Chapter 73 of the book Self-Help Stuff That Works

by Adam Khan:

YOUR JOB IS NOT a game. But when you approach it like a game, you'll enjoy it more and you're more likely to be successful at it.

Research at the University of Chicago shows that games produce a condition called flow, characterized by absorption in the activity (a lack of thoughts about anything else), a feeling of control, and enjoyment. And one of the most common characteristics of flow is that time seems to fly.

According to the principle researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the reasons games produce flow is that the outcome of the game is not important. We may really get into a game and the outcome may seem very important at the time, but we know nothing is really at stake. We won't lose the mortgage, nobody will die, the college scholarship for our kids won't be jeopardized.

But at work, there is something at stake. That means when we're working, we tend to pay attention to where the work is getting us. What this means is that work becomes a means to an end and that means the end of flow because a requirement of the experience of flow is an involvement in the activity itself - a lack of thoughts about anything else. When a person is looking at the clock or thinking about her position or promotion in the company, it's enough of a distraction to prevent flow. Even wondering if you're enjoying yourself is a distraction. Absorption produces flow.

Of course, when most people are working, they are working for money. So the work is done as a means to an end. Does that mean we can't experience flow at work? Luckily, no. Even when you do something as a means to an end, you can learn to become absorbed in the work and forget about where it is getting you while you're doing it.


If you want to experience more flow on the job, then, simply learn to become more engrossed in your work. Learn to "get into it."

If your job is stressful or boring, however, becoming absorbed is difficult. If what you've got is stress, that means the challenge of your job, either physically or psychologically, is greater than your skills. The answer is to find out what skill you need to improve and work on that. Increase your skill. That's the answer to stress.

At the other end of the spectrum is boredom. If your job is boring, you'll have to find a way to make the work more challenging, interesting, or creative. It may take you a lot of thinking to figure out how to do that, but keep at it and you can find a way.

For example, during his research, Csikszentmihalyi found a man working on an assembly line, doing the same thing over and over every day, who had found a way to experience flow in a potentially boring job. He approached the task like an Olympic athlete, carefully working out ways to trim the time it took him to complete each task. By timing himself and shaving off seconds, he had become the most competent man on the line, but more important for our discussion here, he enjoyed his work more than anyone on the line. And he wasn't focusing on trying to get a raise or gaining the approval of his supervisor. He was engrossed in beating his personal best.

Find a way to become absorbed. You'll enjoy your work more. Get so engrossed in your work that you forget about everything else, like where it's getting you. It'll get you a lot further that way.

Get so engrossed in your work that you forget about everything else.

This is a simple technique to allow you to get more done
without relying on time-management or willpower.
Forbidden Fruits


Here is a way to turn your daily life into a fulfilling, peace-inducing meditation.
Life is a Meditation

A good principle of human relations is don't brag,
but if you internalize this too thoroughly, it can make
you feel that your efforts are futile.
Taking Credit

Aggressiveness is the cause of a lot of trouble in the world,
but it is also the source of much good.
Make it Happen

We all fall victim to our circumstances and our biology
and our upbringing now and then. But it doesn't have
to be that way as often.
You Create Yourself

next: Self-Help

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, October 29). Play the Game, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: March 31, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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