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Finding your flow

The key to creative happiness

“Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”. — Aristotle

All the things we do, even the goals we seek out, we do because we believe this is linked to or contributes to our happiness. Do you know what makes you happy?

It’s easy to know what actually makes you happy, by noting exactly what makes you UNHAPPY.

For some, the greatest unhappiness/anxiety is when they believe their time is not being used wisely or that it has been wasted. This is the most uncomfortable feeling you can get. It sucks.

Regret now and later. To avoid this, ensure that the things chosen to do or not do today will NOT result in regret tomorrow or in the future. True happiness, is in the now, it’s not a destination. It’s a choice. And you can be happy and start your day over at any point. It can be achieved in every waking moment. Things done today can contribute to happiness now and in the future.

That’s easier said than done. To do this, don’t waste the time you have right now. This means if someone asks for help, don’t ignore it. Action must be taken. When it comes to work, work on projects that are worthwhile and challenging. Projects which help master previous and new skills. Projects with impact which actually make life better for others. (Which is not always the direction of business, but you can still put your own spin on it, to make it help others). As long as you keep learning new things, and using this new knowledge there is no waste of time. Most importantly, spending time with those who matter in life. As the greatest gift, especially to a child from a parent is the time you spend with them. As Bruce Lee says

If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of”

Sometimes, especially for mothers, it can be a juggling act to maintain your flow. You can reach levels of burn out and boredom. At times believing you’re in perfect flow, but working day and night and neglecting everything else in life. Not eating, sleeping, only working.

It can take some getting used to, to work and enjoy the work while not becoming so consumed by it that it creeps into time spent on other things. As the difficulty with really loving what you do, is that you want to do this, only this, and nothing else. You want it to be perfect. You believe this is your purpose. You enjoy it, and you want to work on it every day. Time no longer matters when you’re doing this, and you feel you’re only alive when you’re busy with this task. Nothing else matters. Your entire life just becomes this task or goal. I call it

Obsessive Creative Disorder

Just like overplaying your favourite song, If you become consumed with what you love, you will eventually grow to resent it. Balance is key.

US psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi linked happiness and creativity . He’s famous for his research on “flow”. He found that flow/happiness occurs when these 5 things are present, when we are:

intensely focused on an activity

of our own choosing, that is

neither under-challenging or over-challenging

has a clear objective

that receives immediate feedback

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow model” is very helpful to evaluate, realign both thinking and flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of “Flow” — from “The Decision Book Fifty models for strategic thinking” by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tshåppeler

Balance is the key to avoiding burnout and boredom.

You may find that sometimes you have more to contribute, but that those skills are not required within a team. You can quickly gauge your flow by asking yourself

What are you feeling? Are you bored, burnt out or apathetic?

Asking yourself if you’re happy, is much harder if you attach specifics to your happiness. So rather ask, Bored? Burnt out? Apathetic?

Burnt out? Yes …Skills? No

If yes, then ask, is it because you lack the skills to complete the work? If yes, then the solution is simple. Work on those skills. Or if you’re on the verge of a break down, then just work on tasks which require only your current skill set. Until y0u feel strong enough to pursue more.

Burnt out? Yes …Skills? Yes

If you feel you have the necessary skills, then ask, then why are you burnt out? Did you take on too much and it’s time that I’m running out of? If you perceive that time is running out, and you’re burnt out because of this, then the solution is to improve your time management process and prioritise. Just so you can gain a sense of control again.

Then re-look at what actually needs to be delivered vs what is just your OCD way of doing things. Give them what they want first, and if there is more time left after that, then give them what you know is best.

Ability low / Challenge high

Other times you may lack the abilities, and the challenge will be greater, but if you start, you will eventually be capable, the transition back to flow will be a beautiful state. As the challenge will then become less as your ability increases. The point here is to not give up. And to keep increasing challenges. The more you take on the more you’ll be able to do. Think of it this way:

What’s difficult today, becomes a warm up for tomorrow. It’s not about getting over it, it’s just a matter of going through it. — unknown

Ability high/Challenge low

There will be times when learning to say ‘no’ to others is the answer. It doesn’t matter if you are capable and can do it. Obviously we all want to be helpful but being your best doesn’t mean letting everyone walk over you, just because you are capable of doing what they require.

When trying to please everyone and taking on more work, you find that your life starts losing balance. And time spent on all the really important things in your life starts being pushed aside to accommodate for only this one area.

In this case you need to use the Eisenhower matrix to help work more efficiently. So that you know you aren’t wasting time on the wrong things.

Eisenhower Matrix — from “The Decision Book Fifty models for strategic thinking” by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tshåppeler

Urgent and important are the tasks which you action first. Not important and not urgent just do later. Urgent but not important — delegate.

Always remember that the items which are important but not urgent are for your strategic decisions. Think long term. These will usually be items which need maintenance and planning but aren’t broken or don’t need fixing yet. Eg, your health, your business, your family, your personal development.

Schedule it in or decide when you’ll deal with it.

The point is allocate time for each item. And then just do it.

Scheduling breaks are just as important as the work itself. Just as with art, the spaces in between are just as important as the details themselves.

Try start by planning on paper using this method, then structuring this plan using Trello and scheduling using Google Calendar. Categorise them as goals, events and daily tasks. You can take it even further and divide your lists into: to do, to be maintained, to stop and to start. So you can see exactly where your plan is not working due to lack of effort/time on your part.

Then the only challenge left is to stick to your schedule to achieve those goals.

Apathetic? Yes

If you no longer care to do the work, then you’re at a dangerous level. Apathy is a very difficult state to be in. Because once you get there, it’s harder to dig yourself out of. As all motivation to remedy the situation will be infected with this state. If you reach this level, then ask yourself, what is the level of the challenge and what is my skill level? Working on feelings when apathetic is pointless, as all things will become pointless and feelings may be numbed/non existent.

You’re going to have to seriously think yourself out of this one. You will need more of a challenge in this case. Create more challenges. Design in a new application, learn something new. Do something different. Sometimes it isn’t the challenge which isn’t great enough, but the task itself which you don’t value. It might lack purpose or value and not align to your personal principles. In this case, changing your environment might be the answer but is left as a last resort.

The solution to boredom

Kierkegaard’s Either/Or describes the rotation method, a method used to avoid boredom. To use this method, you need to constantly change what you are doing in order to maximize the enjoyment/pleasure derived from each activity. As monotony and routine kills motivation, which ultimately kills creativity.

Michelangelo said

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it

To ensure you never reach boredom or burn out, rather break up the time spent on various tasks and keep rotating.

No matter what, there’s never a reason to get apathetic and want to quit. Quitting is never the right option. There is always something which can be improved. Each result we get in life is because of 3 variables. A subject, a trigger and an environment. And if your environment cannot be changed, then look to changing your process, yourself, your behaviour or thinking, change your tasks. Instead challenge yourself to find new avenues to fix and improve to ensure you don’t fall into the trap of boredom.

Insights : Just because you love what you do, doesn’t mean that you should let it consume every part of your life. Learn to be structured. You’ll get more done, and you’ll enjoy your work more. Eat when you need to eat, sleep when you need to sleep, work when you need to work. Read when you need to read. Paint when you need to paint. Walk, watch the ocean, have alone time, have family time. Look after your health — physically, mentally, spiritually. Because no one else will do it for you. If you don’t look after your physical well being, your creative well being will suffer.

Challenging yourself daily doesn’t mean you should just keep helping everyone in order to see just how far you can push. If it isn’t of value, or in line with your goals, don’t waste time on it. Don’t worry about saying no to others, they’ll get over it. Stick with your purpose forget the rest.

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Chesway Theway

Chesway Theway


Dreamer | Thinker | Thing-maker (Futurist & Sci-Fi reader…Fascinated by perception/process/products/principles)