Flow is a phenomenon defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, that happens when you are working on something you love:
“Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity… The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described… as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.”
That is, flow happens when you are actively creating something. It does not happen by watching TV, or even listening to music or reading a book. These activities may give you pleasure, but it is a very different feeling from the rush you get when you are doing something creative with your mind. You can experience flow when cooking a delicious recipe, when writing, drawing, thinking, creating.
Flow is a deeply individual state, but it can also happen in collaboration. When brainstorming with someone, for instance, you may sit with your partner staring at the ceiling and nothing comes out for hours. This is the inverse of flow. It is a stubbornly empty feeling of wasting time. But once an idea is floated and creativity is engaged (once you are all open to give and receive ideas no matter how bizarre or seemingly stupid), you may find you and your teammates suddenly riding on the crest of a wave, “on a roll” , as we say. Everybody’s brain cells are on fire and ideas emerge, they dance, they multiply and crystalize.
Best feeling in the world.
After flow, comes the hard work of shaping and retooling and polishing and editing. There can be flow there as well.
Whether you create by yourself or collaborate with others, you should be aware of:
The Optimal Conditions For Flow
• Have a clear, attainable goal: write a script, start a drawing, practice music, attempt a recipe. It’s very nice of you to want to change the world, but that kind of a goal is bound to leave you more frustrated than elated. Start with something doable.
• Do something challenging that fits your skills. If you are not a rocket scientist, it may not be the best idea to try to build a rocket. But if you are a dancer and you want to create a choreography, you already have many of the skills. Go for it!
• What are you really good at? Are you strong on draftsmanship or use of color, are you great at composition or better at texture? Take full advantage of what you are good at and then challenge yourself to improve the rest.
• Then do it everyday. The more you exercise your creative muscle, the better you become; the more chances for flow to happen.
One thing about flow, you cannot really force it. Flow will happen by itself when you are engaged, focused and your imagination is on fire. However, you can summon it by making it easier for it to come by: allot yourself the time and space to create in the conditions that work best for you.
One last tip: flow is bound to come when you approach your work with delight and anticipation, not as a terrible chore that makes you anxious. Even if you have doubts, embrace the challenge and don’t beat yourself up too much over how hard it is. Here is a graph of how flow works:
Even if it is one sentence, or a brushstroke, you will feel like you reached the top of Mount Everest when you nail it. May you find flow in everything you do. Best feeling in the world.