The joys of being in flow
Do you recognise this feeling?
You get so deeply into something that you lose track of time. You feel focused, energised and immersed in the activity. You feel engaged and challenged, without being overwhelmed, and when you’ve finished you feel relaxed and have a profound sense of satisfaction.
This psychological state is known as being “in flow”. Depending on what gets you into flow, you may experience it in different ways. You might be curious, wanting to follow the path to the end of the process. You might be intent on solving a problem. You might be challenging yourself to achieve a new personal best, or seeking connection with something greater than yourself.
My best creative moments come from this state. Some days nothing seems to be coming together and even my favourite projects are a struggle. But when I’m in flow, I emerge with ink on my fingers, scraps of paper and fabric everywhere, and a smile on my face. And my work is usually better for it.
Why is it good for us?
Being in flow has a number of long term benefits. People who spend more time in flow generally have greater happiness and self-esteem. They tend to be more successful in work and relationships. Their concentration and levels of engagement improve. People in flow are better at creativity and problem solving. It’s a state of peak performance, which can improve productivity as well as make you feel better in general.
So, I guess it would be a good idea to figure out how to be in that state more often.
How do you get in flow?
Here’s the bad news: the first step to flow is usually a struggle. Flow requires a certain level of challenge – if it didn’t, it wouldn’t engage our interest and we wouldn’t be able to focus on the activity so deeply. So a little perseverance is required before the flow state kicks in.
You also have to find what kind of activity works for you. For some people it’s something physical; yoga, running, skiing, dance or athletics. For others it might be the thrill of being on stage. Others prefer more solitary, cerebral activities – computer programming, writing or painting. And some like to be in tune with their surroundings; out in nature, or in an art gallery. There’s probably more than one thing that works for you; try out some activities and find what makes you flow.
One important thing is to allow yourself the time and space for your flow activity. Remove distractions; clear yourself a space, put a “Do not disturb” sign on the door and stop feeling guilty about taking the time to do something for yourself and not doing the things you have to do for a while! In fact, lose the idea of “I have to…” altogether. The wonderful thing about doing art as a hobby is that you can play. You don’t have to work to a brief. It doesn’t matter if anyone else likes it. Even professional artists I have talked to are clear that the creative practice they do for themselves is a necessary and separate thing from their work. Without it, their art becomes stale. They start to lose whatever spark, whatever quirk or charm attracted clients to them in the first place. If you use art and creativity to get into flow, remember – it’s about the process, not the product. Flow activities have intrinsic motivation; they are rewarding for their own sake.
That’s not to say you can’t get into flow working to a brief. Restrictions can be fuel for creativity, and problem-solving can certainly get you into flow. But it’s the process of solving the problem that is engaging, not the thought of the problem being solved, or the brief being met. As ever, balance in all things. It’s not possible or desirable to be in flow all the time. It’s an active process, and sometimes you need to rest!
If you want to know more about flow and how to attain it, check out the websites below.
Photo credit: Featured image adapted from a photo by Fabian Reitmeier from Pexels