Working in a State of Flow
By Irene S. Roth
Have you ever been so engaged in an activity that you lost track of time or even your surroundings? A bomb could have gone off and you wouldn’t have noticed anything except the task at hand? Wouldn’t it be nice to write this way during your allotted time?
That’s called “flow” – a state of consciousness where we experience a task so deeply that it truly becomes enjoyable and satisfying. For me this usually happens while I’m reading or writing. For you, it could happen during any number of tasks — golfing, cooking, hiking, etc.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the architect of Flow. After many decades of researching the characteristics of the “optimal experience” he wrote Flow: The Psychology of the Optimal Experience. A guide that shows us how to add more meaning in our lives by increasing the time we spend in Flow.
There’s an indescribable contentment that comes over a person when they are writing ‘in flow’. Not only do we lose a track of time, but we lose a sense of where we are and how long we have spent writing.
The Conditions of Flow
Flow can be achieved by anyone doing any task that we are dong, as long as the conditions are right. I usually get into a state of Flow while writing. I just get into the zone and after a few minutes, I really get into my work and I’m completely oblivious of my surroundings.
Sometimes I can’t write very fast and keep writing that way for many hours. Other times, I type very slowly and the words don’t come easily. But, either way, I’m in a state of Flow.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are eight characteristics to an optimal experience:
1. When you’re in Flow, you feel challenged by the task at hand.
This means that the difficulty of your writing project has to be “just right”. The writing project or task can’t be either too easy or too difficult. Otherwise, you won’t be able to write in Flow. If the task is too easy, you’ll get bored and eventually stop. If the task is too difficult, you’ll get frustrated and eventually stop. Either way, you won’t be writing in Flow.
2. When you’re in Flow, you will have the ability to concentrate is very important.
If there are too many interruptions or it’s too noisy, you won’t be able to concentrate on your task. Or, if you’re upset about something, again, you will never be able to write in Flow. If you can’t have concentration, you can’t have Flow.
3. When you’re in Flow, you’ll have clear writing goals that you need to achieve.
Goals establish a mechanism to measure your progress and provide a sense of achievement. People in Flow usually continue to achieve their writing goals without too much difficulty. They can do that almost effortlessly.
4. You must receive immediate feedback on whether or not you have achieved your goal.
Many of us work around our goals but not on our ACTUAL goals. That is where the problem comes in. We must work on our goals in order for us to be successful. Then you’ll know immediately if your goal was reached or not.
5. When you’re in Flow, your worries and frustrations will recede into the background.
You know you’re not in Flow if your worries keep harassing you as you write. This perhaps is one of the greatest benefits of writing in Flow. You’re busy concentrating on your task and the rest of your world just “goes away” for a short while. Even though you’re challenged, you end up relaxed, satisfied and you achieved something meaningful. There is absolutely no better way to write that I know.
6. When you write in Flow, your sense of self and especially ego disappears while you’re writing so intensely.
There is nothing more relaxing and powerful than writing in Flow. Your self tends to fade into the background. However, when your self reappears, you’re refreshed with an even stronger sense of self. You also feel good about the fact that you accomplished your goals.
7. You have a sense of control over your actions while performing your task.
There is nothing that will help you to feel more in control than you’re writing in the state of Flow. You will feel so in control and so content after you have down your writing when you write in Flow. And your writing will take you to places that you never thought possible.
8. When you write in Flow, you lose track of time and feel great when you’re done with your task.
One of the chief ways that I know that I’m in flow when writing is that I don’t keep checking on the time. If I do keep looking at the clock to see how much time I have put in on my writing, I know I’m not in flow but just trying to mechanically get the writing done.
Did you do your writing with Flow today? If not, try to develop this state of mind. Not only will you write better and more productively. But you’ll be happier as a result too.