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Divinely human: Why the process of creating makes us forget about time and space.

Have you ever been so absorbed in creating something that you lost all sense of time and space? This mesmerizing state, known as "flow," is a fundamental aspect of human creativity. It's a phenomenon that makes us feel fully alive, connected, and, in a way, divine. In this short blog, we'll explore why the creative process can be so captivating and how it reflects our innate human nature.

A retro-future music producer created by AI

The Magic of Flow in the Process of Creating

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, renowned for his work on positive psychology, coined the term "flow" to describe this state of complete absorption in an activity. He defines it as "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).

When we enter this flow state during creative pursuits, something remarkable happens. We lose track of time, our self-consciousness fades away, and we become one with our creative process. It's a state that artists, writers, musicians, and even scientists have described throughout history.

The Neuroscience of Creative Flow

Recent neuroscientific research has shed light on what happens in our brains during flow states. A study by Ulrich et al. (2016) found that during flow, there's increased activity in brain areas associated with concentration and decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for self-reflection. This explains why we lose our sense of self and time when deeply engaged in creative work.

Interesting: The Captivating Nature of Creativity

Creativity, and the pricaptivates us because it aligns with our deepest interests and curiosities. When we're in a state of flow, our attention is fully focused on the task at hand, making the experience intensely engaging.

The much desired flow-zone is where enough skill matches a challenge. As skill increases, we gain control. When we've been in control for a while, we begin to relax. Then, as you can see, things become boring. So the cycle goes until we find something creative to challenge us again. Getting past worry, anxiety, into arousal and finally flow. Knowing this explains why creativity is a dynamic process. Also, why artists become easily bored.

A chart pointing to the flozone, where challenge meets skill
A 'Flow' Chart

Consider the story of physicist Richard Feynman, who was so absorbed in his work that he often forgot to eat or sleep. His colleague, Freeman Dyson, described Feynman's state of mind as "half-way between a Buddhist monk and a circus juggler" (Gleick, 1992). This intense focus is a hallmark of the flow state in creativity.

Important: The Value of Creative Flow

The importance of creativity extends beyond the immediate satisfaction of making something new. When we're in a state of flow, we're not just creating – we're also experiencing a profound sense of fulfilment and purpose.

Cultivating Flow: Practical Steps to Enhance Your Creative Process

While flow states can feel magical, there are practical steps we can take to increase our chances of experiencing them in our creative work:

  1. Set Clear Goals: Csikszentmihalyi emphasizes that flow is more likely to occur when we have clear objectives. Before starting a creative session, define what you want to achieve, even if it's just "write for 30 minutes" or "sketch three new ideas" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997).

  2. Eliminate Distractions: Flow requires uninterrupted focus. Create a workspace that minimizes external disruptions. This might mean turning off notifications, using noise-cancelling headphones, or finding a quiet space to work (Newport, 2016).

  3. Match Skills with Challenges: Flow occurs when we're pushed just beyond our comfort zone. If a task is too easy, we get bored; if it's too hard, we get anxious. Seek projects that stretch your abilities without overwhelming you (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

  4. Practice Mindfulness: Regular mindfulness meditation can enhance your ability to focus and enter flow states. Even short daily sessions can improve your concentration and present-moment awareness (Moore et al., 2012).

  5. Find Your Peak Hours: Pay attention to when you feel most creative and energized. Schedule your most important creative work during these times to increase your chances of entering a flow state (Pink, 2018).

  6. Use Rituals: Develop a pre-work ritual that signals to your brain it's time to create. This could be as simple as brewing a cup of tea, lighting a candle, or doing a quick stretching routine (Currey, 2013).

  7. Embrace the Process: Focus on the joy of creating rather than the end result. When we're too fixated on outcomes, it can create anxiety that disrupts flow (Gilbert, 2015).

  8. Take Breaks: Paradoxically, taking regular breaks can enhance your ability to enter flow states. The Pomodoro Technique, which involves 25-minute work sessions followed by short breaks, can be an effective way to maintain focus and energy (Cirillo, 2006).

Cover of the book FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Csikszentmihalyi argues that people who experience flow regularly tend to be happier and more satisfied with their lives. He states, "The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

Create things.

And be happy :)

Want to take an even deeper dive? Check out my book on the matter. Written especially for Creative Professionals like you. Available in paperback and Kindle.

Artrepreneur a field guide for creative professionals


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