In my quest to live a more creative and authentic life I wanted to know what makes people so creative and how I could tap into my own creativity. So I started to investigate what makes some authors so creative and how I could find my creativity.
And everywhere I looked I came to the same conclusion: ‘be in the flow mode’. Even sports athletes say they get into the flow state to perform at their best. I wanted to know how I too could get into this state of ‘peak performance.’
But what does it mean to be ‘in flow’?
Essentially, being ‘in flow’, means you step out of your own way and allow your real self to come through.
In terms of being a writer, when in flow, you allow the words to move through you, without an inner critic stopping you. Your words just seem to pour out of you and time seems to stand still I.e you are no longer aware of the time passing by. You are totally absorbed in the task. Have you ever experienced this?
Looking back I think I can say that I have experienced these states of flow a few times, but not very often. Every now and again I will pound out thousands of words in a short time frame. And this is what I noticed when I’m in a ‘flow’ state:
- I feel relaxed
- I am clear on what I want to achieve
- I’m not thinking, instead, I’m doing
- I don’t feel a sense of pressure
- My mind feels clear and calm
- I feel confident within myself
- I have set aside dedicated time to allow myself to write
The last point is actually crucial.
When you set time aside specially to write, you don’t feel like you need to be someplace else. This allows you to be where you are, wholly present, where you can relax, and be in the moment.
How many times have you felt stressed out because you are physically in one location, yet your mind is literally someplace else? As a result you cannot be in the moment. Neither can you be where your mind or body is because they are pulled apart. And your energy is also diluted in this way. Your brain does not know where to focus.
As a result of this observation I started to incorporate more dedicated ‘time blocks’ for writing.
This would be my sacred space where I didn’t have any distractions and I allowed myself to be in the moment with my writing. I allowed whatever wanted to come out onto the page, with no judgement or expectations. As a result I noticed I was able to get into the flow state with more ease.
So, what is the secret to achieving a flow state?
The wonderful secret is that there is no secret. The flow state is available to everyone at anytime. The only rule is this: dedicate a specific and protected time for the activity you want to achieve a flow state in.
And this essentially comes down to habits.
You just need to create the habit of scheduling in a specific amount of time on a consistent basis to do the activity.
By allowing yourself to be entirely focused on this one task, your brain, all parts of it become totally absorbed in the task at hand and this allows you to do deep work. Cal Newport talks about this extensively in his book, Deep Work, and says that it is only in these states that you can do deep and productive work I.e work that really matters.
Routines & Rituals
Habits are strengthened by routines and rituals, so place a routine around your dedicated activity to help achieve that flow state.
For example, I write straight after breakfast in the mornings, at my desk, where my laptop is already on and Scrivener, the writing software I use, is already open. I open this file the night before so that when I get to my desk, it’s the first thing I see rather than jumping onto the internet.
Set yourself up for success.
I manage distractions by having a bottle of water on my desk (to mitigate going into the kitchen) and I switch off the radio. I also make sure that I have cleaned the breakfast dishes because I know it will nag me whilst I write (I don’t like a dirty kitchen!).
I know it may sound weird but these things all make a difference.
Identify your distractions and then get rid of them or mitigate them.
I also tell loved ones I am unavailable during a certain time slot in the morning i.e. 9am-10am and that I wont respond to calls unless it is critically urgent. Again this is risk mitigation and also stops me from feeling bad that I am ignoring calls.
After my writing session I reward myself with a cup of tea or I watch an episode of a favourite program.
Busyness vs Productivity
Ask yourself would you feel like you had a productive day if you:
Posted 50 comments and likes on Facebook?
Wrote 500 words today on your book draft?
Which task feels like it will make a bigger impact?
Which task will move the needle forward?
Which task would have made a difference to your life and goals tomorrow?
I think it’s quite obvious that the second option of writing words on your book would have been more productive. This is the foundation for your creative work.
This insight is also shared by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention. In this book he explains why habits and schedules are so crucial for creative work:
The implications for everyday life are simple: Make sure that where you work and live reflects your needs and your tastes. There should be room for immersion in concentrated activity and for stimulating novelty. The objects around you should help you become what you intend to be. Think about how you use time and consider whether your schedule reflects the rhythms that work best for you. If in doubt, experiment until you discover the best timing for work and rest, for thought and action, for being alone and for being with people.
This is the key for your creative process. Own it, understand what works for you, and honour it so that you set yourself up for success.
Take Action Now: What routines and rituals can you start implementing today to help you get closer to your writing goals? Just start with 1 goal for this week.