Have you heard about the state of Flow? If you take the internet’s word for it, you might believe that flow is a semi-mystical state in which productivity is just magically supercharged. Surprisingly, that’s not entirely wrong. Over the past few years, the term flow has gained a lot of popularity and has been touted by people trying to sell life improvement through behavior modification. Originally coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the term flow is a descriptor of optimal experience. This week, I want to talk about how flow can supercharge your writing.
A lot of people who talk about flow do so in an almost reverent, holy sort of way, but the reality is that flow is something that all of us experience, to varying degrees, depending on how intentional we are about our experiences. There are some people who have only experienced flow a few times in their life. For someone in that situation, those memories of those flow experiences are probably some of their favorite. On the other hand, there are people who experience high-flow lifestyles, thus living in that state of optimal experience the majority of the time.
The question is, how do we become like those people? First we have to know what flow is.
Flow is this state where time seems to get all wibbly-wobbly. It either stretches out, vanishing until you can’t feel it anymore, making you feel like the world is passing you by in slow motion, or it constricts, and a few hours might pass in a flash. During flow, a person’s attention tends to be entirely occupied by whatever it is they’re doing. Things like creativity and learning become much easier.
Today, I want to talk about what’s really important. How do you even activate flow? Where and when does flow appear?
For a writer, flow often appears when you’re deep in the middle of your creative work, when you’re working on your manuscript, whether it’s writing or editing, when you’re so involved in the process that nothing else exists in the world. But getting into that state requires finding the right trigger for flow, which can often feel random, like a roll of the dice. Some days you sit down and you start work, and it just comes. Other days, you sit down to start work, and you’re nothing but distracted. You feel like you can’t get anything done, leading to incredible frustration.
So why is it that sometimes we enter flow and sometimes we don’t? Really, flow comes down to three distinct things.
The first is clarity of goals. If we want to enter a flow state, we have to know exactly what it is that we’re trying to achieve. If you don’t know, or if your goals are not properly aligned with what it is you’re doing, then entering flow becomes impossible, because in the back of your mind, you know that you’re not going to be able to achieve what you were setting out to achieve. And that blocks flow.
The second important piece of flow is what I like to call the skills-difficulty balance. That is to say, your skill level has to be matched appropriately with the level of challenge of whatever it is you’re doing. If you’re trying to complete a task that is too difficult for your skill level, then you’re never going to be able to enter flow because it’s going to be too frustrating as you’re trying to complete it. On the other hand, if the thing you’re trying to do is too easy, you’ll actually get bored and it will be impossible for that task to hold your attention, making it impossible for you to enter flow.
The final thing that you need for flow is immediate feedback. You need to be able to understand whether what you are doing is getting you closer to your goal or sending you further away. If you don’t have this immediate feedback, it becomes very difficult to create flow.
If triggering flow is hard and complicated, why would we want to be in flow as a writer? Well, it’s because flow is where you are most creative, most productive, and have the highest level of enjoyment. There’s a lot of research on this, most of it recorded in a book called Flow that I highly recommend by Csikszentmihalyi, the man who discovered all of this. As a note, the audiobook is a little bit more accessible than the physical book because it’s actually a series of lectures he gave around flow. It covers a lot of the material that’s in the book, but the book is a little bit more rigorous and explains his research more fully. Depending on what kind of reader you are, you might like the audiobook or you might like the physical book. Both are fantastic, and I highly recommend them.
If you’re looking to improve your ability to write and to improve the quality of your writing sessions, this is absolutely the place to start. The application of flow to your writing can be a huge boost, both in reducing stress and in increasing your ability to write well.
YouTube Video Link: https://youtu.be/cUqm0uMUX8Y
Thanks for reading and watching.
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