If you’ve ever studied creativity, you would know creativity happens when you create connections that are normally never correlated.
For these wonderful moments of insights to happen, you have to have a calm and clear mind— when your mind isn’t cluttered with thoughts of the past or the future, and you are truly present— in that magical state we refer to as FLOW. What is flow?
Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Intuition can be much more powerful than logical intellect. You can access your intuition in your subconscious, when you shut down your rational mind.
When you are relaxed, you tend to be more hypersensitive to the environment around you. Creative people are usually more sensitive to environmental distractions, and their brains are better at filtering out less relevant data than normal people. This results in a widening scope of attention, an increase in volume of new information gathered from the environment around them, which in turns, increases the chances of creative connections between distantly related information.
We hear about people coming up with their best ideas in the shower, driving to work— when they are doing things that allow their brain to function on autopilot while performing habits that require little conscious awareness. This is because our mind is completely relaxed, and we are able to reach into our subconscious to see clarity and make connections.
I get insights quite frequently everyday because I taught my mind to look for, and appreciate them. This usually happens when I’m on my bike rides which gets me absolutely in my zone.
Importance of Nurturing your Creativity
Creativity is truly the secret to innovation. Creativity is the basis of problem solving. Without problem solving and innovation, our world would never move forward. Hence, why it’s so important to nurture your creativity even if you don’t “think” you are a creative person. We all have it in us, the challenge is to access this power.
When you are in flow, you have surrendered yourself from all expectations and anxieties. It is only in this state when you can truly receive the gift of creativity, insight, or an answer you are looking for. Things that once didn’t make sense may become clear. Reaching flow state isn’t difficult but requires practice especially if this is new to you.
How to Achieve Flow State
- Eliminate External Distractions
- Eliminate Internal Distractions
- Hack the Grind
- Maximize your Productivity
- Make Time for Enjoyment
1. Eliminate External Distractions
To achieve flow, you need to eliminate all distractions. Our struggle with focus is a pandemic in itself because we are all a slave to our cellphones and society’s go-go-go mentality.
A study showed it takes on average 20 minutes to focus on a task every single time you get distracted. Distractions include checking your phone, email notification pop ups, multiple browser tabs, your partner/kids/pets disrupting you in the middle of a task. Needless to say, our brains are not made for multi-tasking (task switching).
It is quite mind-blowing to think that only 3 distractions equates to an hour of lost productivity! Sure you can continue to work after each distraction, but you’re not working smart and efficiently, and taking advantage of flow state.
2. Eliminate Internal Distractions
Our brains can be annoying because it’s job is to keep you alive so it’s always scouring your environment for “danger.” This is why you may have negative self-talk, ruminating thoughts, or a mind that is constantly wandering.
You don’t need to be a slave to your monkey-mind and you can override it by meditation, journaling, and practicing mindfulness. All these practices will help you silent your inner-voice— and being able to sit still by yourself is the greatest skill you can develop.
You can practice achieving flow state through meditation. There are many types but meditation is basically mindfulness– living your life in the present, and being able to enjoy all of it as it is, without judgement. Meditation allows you to reach heights of awareness you would have never imagined possible, and achieve intense states of focused attention you can bring to any aspect of your life. Including rewiring your mind for creativity and problem solving.
Putting your thoughts onto paper is a hack to clear your mind of clutter. We often have too many thoughts going through our heads and getting them ‘out’ minimizes mental clutter. You are freeing up precious and valuable mind space for what’s important. Don’t underestimate the power of journaling!
3. Hack the Grind
The prefrontal cortex of your brain is responsible for maintaining focus, memory, problem solving, planning, and blocking distractions but it is extremely sensitive to lack of sleep, burn out, and other bad lifestyle habits. If your current activity hasn’t been ingrained in your mind as a ‘habit’ you are going to be easily distracted, interrupting flow state.
According to the work of pioneering sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman who discovered the basic rest-activity cycle or ‘ultradian rhythms’, we can work for approximately 90 minutes before we need to recharge (at least 20 minutes). After using all our energy, our bodies shifts from a parasympathetic to a sympathetic arousal — a physiological state more commonly known as “fight or flight” when we start dipping into our ‘reserves’ to keep on going. Too much of this will cause stress in our system.
Ultradian means “many times a day.” Rhythms refers to the regular oscillating (up-and-down) wave patterns these cycles follow.
Ultradian rhythms are oscillating biological patterns hardwired into our DNA which affects all aspects of our physical, mental and emotional health. It’s purpose is to manage cycles energy output in all processes of your body (sleep, metabolism, blood sugar, etc). Our bodies send us clear signals when we need a break, including brain fog, drowsiness, and loss of focus. Unfortunately, society teaches us to override those symptoms with caffeine and sugar but what we really need to do is take a break.
Work smart, not hard! You don’t have to be a victim of the grind if you respect your natural patterns which allows you to harmoniously ebb-and-flow with your energy cycles throughout the day. Knowledge is definitely power.
4. Maximize your Productivity
If you are going to use time blocking techniques such as 90 minute blocks of intense focus, make sure to maximize your time. Set up your workspace for success so no one will bother you, turn your phone off, use the bathroom before turning on a timer. Once the timer starts, you are going to work intensely for the 90 full minutes… before taking a minimum 20 minute break! Mind you, these cycles are very hard on your mind and most people won’t be able to do more than 2-3 per day.
I like to “prime” my mind, knowing it takes me sometime to get into flow state. I may read related articles, or journal for 10-20 minutes before that time block begins.
We all know achieving work-life balance is the secret to a successful, fulfilling life. Understanding these natural rhythms will prevent us from burning out, and help us reach our maximum potential.
5. Make Time for Enjoyment
Achieving flow states are common in athletes because sports and doing challenging things such as rock climbing, mountaineering, competitive cycling, or driving race cars all require you to be absolutely present. In some situations, it may mean life of death. The more you do it, the better you become, and the more your life will change for the better.
Find activities you love and do it for enjoyment because we can’t be taking life seriously all the time. It can even be gardening, painting, writing, gaming, and even going for walks.
I first realized the concept of flow as a graphic designer because I noticed all those times I would be working on a project and soon, half the day is gone! Later on, I solidified my experience when I got addicted to fitness when I found myself constantly in flow. I saw my life changing because of all the insights, downloads, and new creative ideas that come with flow.