To Be Insanely Creative, you Need to Find your FLOW

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit

Perhaps the best definition of water was given by the eternal Bruce Lee.

So What does Bruce Lee mean here?

What is it to “be water”?

When water is flowing, like in a stream or a river, it’s difficult to stop. You can try and push it back but it will slip around you and continue on its way. Like all currents, it finds the path of least resistance automatically and follows it without effort or hesitation. If there is even the slightest crack or weakness it will find its way through and keep going.

In more simple Terms, Go with the flow.

And we have all experienced this in our lives.

We start cooking our favorite dish and before we know it, several hours have passed. We spend an afternoon with a book and forget about the world going by until we notice the sunset and realize we haven’t eaten dinner. We go surfing and don’t realize how many hours we have spent in the water until the next day when our muscles ache.

We’ve all felt our sense of time vanish when we lose ourselves in an activity we enjoy.

This is the key to be insanely creative. Once we find our flow in any task, we are bound to get creative in it. Simple as that!

The Concept of Flow

This “complete” unconditional immersion in what we are doing was the heart of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research in his famous book “Flow”

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness called Flow. In this state, they are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities.

During this “optimal experience” they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.”

In the footsteps of Maslow, Csikszentmihalyi insists that happiness does not simply happen. It must be prepared for and cultivated by each person, by setting challenges that are neither too demanding nor too simple for one’s abilities.

Through much research, he began to understand that people were most creative, productive, and often, happiest when they are in this state of flow. He interviewed athletes, musicians, artists, etc. because he wanted to know when they experienced the most optimal performance levels.

He aimed to discover what piqued creativity, especially in the workplace, and how creativity leads to more productivity. He also determined that flow is not only essential to a productive employee but it is imperative for a contented one as well. In his own words, flow is:

“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
– Csikszentmihalyi, 1990

How to Get into the Flow

It’s important to note that one can’t experience flow if other distractions disrupt the experience (Nakamura et al., 2009). Thus, to experience this state, one has to stay away from the attention-robbers in our modern fast-paced life.

According to researcher Owen Schaffer of DePaul University, there are 7 conditions which are mandatorily required to achieve flow.

· Knowing what to do

· Knowing how to do it

· Knowing how well you are doing

· Knowing where to go (where navigation is involved)

· Perceiving significant challenges

· Perceiving significant skills

· Being free from distractions

Schaffer proposes the following strategies for experiencing flow.

Choose a difficult task (but not too difficult!)

Schaffer’s model encourages us to take on tasks that we have a chance of completing but that are slightly outside our comfort zone. Every task, sport, or job has a set of rules, and we need a set of skills to follow them.

If the rules for completing a task or achieving a purpose are too basic relative to our skill set, we will likely get bored. Activities that are too easy lead to apathy.

If on the other hand, we assign ourselves a task that is too difficult, we won’t have the skills to complete it and will almost certainly give up — and feel frustrated and give up. The ideal is to find a middle path, something aligned with our abilities but just a bit of a stretch, so we experience it as a challenge.

Have a clear, concrete goal.

According to a study by Boston Consulting Group, when asked about their bosses, the number one complaint of employees at multinational corporations is that they don’t “communicate the team’s mission clearly,” and that, as a result, the employees don’t know what their objectives are.

What often happens, especially in big companies, is that the executives get lost in the details of obsessive planning with no final “goal” ; out-of-sight out-of-mind..

Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, encourages us to use the principle of “compass over maps” as a tool to navigate our world of uncertainty. In the book Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future, he and Jeff Howe write.

“In an increasingly unpredictable world moving ever more quickly, a detailed map may lead you deep into the woods at an unnecessarily high cost. A good compass, though, will always take you where you need to go.”

What Joi essentially means here is it’s important to reflect on what we hope to achieve before starting to work, study, or make something. While the path to achieve the same might not be clear or straightforward initially, it helps if you have the end objective in mind before you start to reach that objective more creatively and efficiently.

Concentrate on a single task.

To maintain that focus, it is necessary to concentrate completely on the present moment, as in self-hypnosis or meditation. Any concern for failing and looking bad — or succeeding and looking good — will break the concentration.

Great tennis players often become totally lost in the heat of the game, intent only on making the ball go precisely where they want it to go. ‘’Their focus is on making a good shot, not on the fear of losing the match,’’ says Csikszentmihalyi.

By contrast, a climber who thinks too much about getting to the top may lose concentration and make mistakes. Instead of thinking about the summit, no matter how high and beautiful it may be, he must think about the steps he has to climb to get him there.

Concentrating on one thing at a time may be the single most important factor in achieving flow.

‘’You must subordinate the outcome to the immediacy of the moment, But, as the moment takes over, it needs to be sustained by feedback — you have to have a sense of how you’re doing to continue to meet the challenge. Was the shot good? The color on the canvas right? Friendly competition can help give you something to measure yourself against.”
Csikszentmihalyi says

And Lastly Don’t Flow ALONE…..

Researchers from St. Bonaventure University asked students to participate in activities that would induce flow either in a team or by themselves.

Students rated flow to be more enjoyable when in a team rather than when they were alone. Students also found it more joyful if the team members were able to talk to one another. This finding was replicated even when skill level and challenge were equal.

A final study found that being in an interdependent group whilst in flow is more enjoyable than one that is not. So, if you want to get more enjoyment out of an experience of flow, try engaging in activities together.

This beautifully echoes Christopher Peterson’s conclusion that creativity can be summed up in three words.

“Other people matter “.


· Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, & Isabella Selega (1988). Optimal Experience: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness. Cambridge, United Kingdom

· Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

· Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

· Hector Garcia, Francesc Miralles — Ikigai-The Japanese secret to a long and happy life.

About the author-:
Ravi Rajan is a global IT program manager based out of Mumbai, India. He is also an avid blogger, Haiku poetry writer, archaeology enthusiast and history maniac.
Connect with Ravi on LinkedIn, Medium,and Twitter.

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