Engagement (E in PERMA) and Its Role in Longevity

Continuing our exploration of the PERMA model of well-being, we now turn to Engagement, the ‘E’ in PERMA. Engagement is crucial for a fulfilling life and is linked to both longevity and well-being.

The “Flow Guy”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, known as “the flow guy,” studied how highly skilled painters could become so absorbed in their work that they ignored hunger, fatigue, and discomfort. This state of complete absorption, which he called “flow,” involves being fully present in the moment, losing track of time, and experiencing intrinsic rewards.

What is Flow?
Flow happens when the challenge of an activity matches our skill level. When this balance is achieved, we enter a state of flow, where we feel:
– Completely absorbed in the activity.
– Less aware of ourselves as social actors.
– A sense of altered time, where it either flies by or slows down.
– Immediate feedback from the activity, helping us stay engaged.

In the figure to the left, we can plot increasing skills against increasing challenge.

The Importance of Attention
Attention is key to achieving flow. Csikszentmihalyi pointed out that our experiences are shaped by what we focus on. By directing our attention to engaging activities, we create strong mental pathways that enhance our well-being.

To stay in flow, we need:
– Uninterrupted concentration.
– Immediate feedback.
– Genuine interest in the activity.

Integrating Cal Newport’s Concept of Deep Work
To enhance our ability to achieve flow, we can draw on Cal Newport’s concept of “deep work.” Deep work is the practice of focusing without distraction on cognitively demanding tasks. This concept aligns closely with Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, as both require a high level of concentration and engagement.

Athletes and Flow State
Michael Jordon, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, NBA Hall of Famers, share one thing in common that goes beyond their multiple championship rings. They worked with sports psychologists and meditation teachers to help slow down. Athletes often refer to being “in the zone” when they experience flow.

Facilitating Flow and Deep Work
Schedule uninterrupted time: Dedicate specific periods in your day to focus solely on deep work.
Eliminate distractions: Turn off notifications, close unnecessary tabs, and create a quiet work environment.
Set clear goals: Define what you aim to achieve during your deep work sessions.
Practice regularly: The more you practice deep work, the better you become at maintaining focus and entering flow.

By integrating deep work into your routine, you can enhance your ability to achieve flow, leading to higher productivity and greater satisfaction in your work.

Benefits of Flow and Deep Work
Flow and deep work both contribute to psychological growth, reduced anxiety, and improved overall well-being. High school students who engage in flow activities report higher well-being and lower anxiety levels. Adolescents facing challenges who engage in flow activities are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior. Companies like Nissan, Volvo, and Montessori have used flow principles to boost productivity and well-being.

Engagement and Longevity
Engagement through flow and deep work has a significant impact on longevity. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest studies of adult life, shows that life engagement is more important for longevity than genetics. Being deeply involved in meaningful activities builds resilience, enhances emotional health, and contributes to a longer, healthier life.

How to Find Flow and Practice Deep Work
To incorporate flow and deep work into your life, look for activities that challenge you just enough to keep you engaged without being overwhelming.

Pursuing flow and deep work not only improves engagement but also builds the psychological strength needed for a long, fulfilling life. Flow and passion often go hand in hand, creating a positive cycle of engagement and well-being.

In summary, Engagement, as part of the PERMA model, offers great benefits for our health and longevity. By seeking out and cultivating flow experiences and practicing deep work, we can enhance our well-being and lead richer, more meaningful lives.

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