Getting into the flow (creativity exercise)

csikszentmihalyi-mihaly

Probably you can recall that there were moments in your life when time seemed to stop, everything around you just froze and you were riding this wave of creativity where everything was possible; you felt like you can accomplish anything, you were so immersed in what you were doing that all of your senses were focused and sharpened on that one particular activity, and your body excluded everything else? Fun and exciting in the same time, right?

And today it might seem harder to achieve that creative bliss we are all looking for, since we are so distracted and interrupted with everything going on around us. In this TED talk Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, explains that our nervous system is incapable of processing more than 110 bits of information per second. If you’re listening to someone talking, you need to process about 60 bits of information per second in order to understand what they’re saying.

He further points out that when you are doing something with high focus, your mind don’t have enough room to process other information concerning how you feel, bodily functions or other needs. Creative people often call this as the entering the state of flow and like nothing else except what they are creating exists.

chart-state-of-flow-300x233

“The flow” graph.

So how can you enter the ‘flow’? Can it be practiced? How can we use it to improve our creative skills?

As you can see on the above graph, the state of flow is dependable on the level of skills you use and the level of challenge you pursue. The higher the challenge and the more skills we need to engage, the better chance we have for entering the sate of flow.

During his research dr Dr. Csikszentmihalyi  and his team have evaluated many people on this topic and they managed to derive  few crucial points that describe how it feels to enter the state of flow:

  1. There is complete focus and determination;
  2. There is an overwhelming joy and excitement;
  3. There is an inner knowing that task can be delivered;
  4. All worrisome thoughts disappear and they are replaced with clarity and motivation on what needs to be done;
  5. The self-awareness is concentrated on the present moment.

It’s interesting to note that this research was performed on the topic of happiness and what makes people happy. Simple answer came out to be: being creative and enjoying it as much as possible.

So how can we use these key findings and apply them to our writing? How can we practice entering the state of flow?

Here are few suggestions:

  1. Pick an enjoyable, yet challenging activity with clearly defined goal.

Since we are talking about writing you can chose to write a poem that has certain amount of words, poetic form that is new to you, story on the topic you need to do further research and inquiries – something that goes beyond your ordinary writing practice. Remember that here you need to be fully engaged and use your skills. The challenge you pick can also help you enhance your capabilities, so don’t be afraid to go overboard of your usual writing. Play with words and dictionaries, learn foreign phrases – all that helps you become more creative and inventive in writing.

  1. Remove distractions as much as you can.

Once you enter that creative flow, if something interrupts you, the harder is to go back in and continue. So clear your desk, turn off your phone and concentrate on the task at hand.

  1. Let go of any past experiences that might influence your expectations and results of the activity.

Mastering that flow mindset takes time and practice so be gentle towards yourself and monitor your emotional response. You are in control of your attitudes so if you get too excited (angry, anxious, worried), calm down and try to regain your steady levels of energy: being sluggish and bored is also a sign that you fell of the ‘flow wagon’.

  1. To spice things up – give your self a time frame:

to work on a poem, a story, a chapter, an article in a continual interval – for example 30 minutes, and give all you’ve got. Focus on your writing and you’ll see how time will past in split second.

  1. Make it a regular habit.

Getting into the flow and enjoying the activity that brings desired results takes practice, so make it a part of your daily routine. Schedule your ‘ time flow’ every day and commit to it. Not only are you working on your creativity and skills, but you are improving your mood and bringing more happiness into your life. After all, isn’t that what we all are looking for? It’s worth a try.

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