Have you ever felt fully focused, entirely immersed, and lost track of time doing something you’re good at?
If you do, then you’ve been in flow.
Coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975, the flow state is defined as the “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best'.”
And it is crucial to creativity.
Do what you love, or learn to love doing
The funny thing about being in flow is that what you do doesn’t really matter.
People have experienced flow washing dishes, doing homework, and taking walks. In a world where we emphasise doing what is meaningful and purposeful, where we (try to) account for each and every minute we spend, this seems like poor advice.
So what is going on?
In essence, learning “to flow” is learning to control your consciousness. The flow state demands our immediate and undivided attention on the task in front of us.
What we experience is an intense intimacy with our actions, a (transformative) clarity of purpose at each and every moment. We lose ourselves in an activity of our own choosing.
With enough time, the “flow state” breeds a love for what we do. It is addictive to perform at the peak of our powers.
The secret to creating things
So how do we go about creating things?
There is nothing wrong or shameful in effort or failure. In fact, it may be the only way to create anything truly worthwhile.
Being in flow matters here.
Being in flow matters because failure in flow does not feel like failure. And failure is more feeling, more perception than, anything else.
Imagine a stream encountering a large rock. It does not dwell on the fact that an obstacle exists, nor does it bemoan or despair over its failure to flow through. It goes around the rock, for its flow compels it to do so.
So the next time you are unsure of what to do, aim for the flow state: commit to actions fully, in the moment, rather than drawing up plans and aiming for goals.
In other words, treat creativity as an end, not a means, and see where the flow takes you.
To a new vocabulary
Just as the river has its bed, its bends, and its ecosystem that dictates its flow, we humans have our environment, language, and habits which mould the things that we create.
In the next post, we will turn to the question of what to create.