I was not in a flow state, I was eating lunch; chewing and staring at a few words about flow I’d jotted on paper.  Chewing, chewing, waiting for inspiration.

Which would be more engaging; an article on the concept of flow or one on a method to attain flow?  Could I write this post as a dialogue?  Could I link the method and the content that emerged from the flow state?

I was intrigued by the possibilities of a dialogue between flow method and content.

Below, you will see that I built this dialogue post table form; on the left will be notes on my methodological sequence while on the right is the resulting content that explains flow and how you can use it to your own benefit.

With any luck, if you follow steps like those on the left you will likely enjoy the benefits of a flow state as explained on the right.  I am curious about your experiences.

A Curious Method of Attaining Flow  Thoughts on Flow & its Uses
From my luncheon-focused state, I felt the need to…

Engage

I ask myself, “How can I create a flow state right now to assist my writing process?”

That question leads me to ask, “What, exactly, is a flow state?”

As defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the book, Flow, it is a “mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.”

I think, “OK, but why do I care about doing this?”

Add Meaning

I asked myself a why question to align my desire to attain flow in this work process with my higher values.

To do this, I inquire into the nature of flow by asking what is the nature of NOT flow?

What is my lack of flow experiences costing me in productivity, creativity and joie de vivre?

What is the cost of missing a chance for a bit of brilliance each day?

The reverse of flow is agitated distraction, which seems like:

– Reactivity rather than proactivity

– Urgent rather than important

– Management rather than creativity

– Outer rather than inner

– Other rather than self

– Shreds of time rather than time transcending experiences

– Distracting and frustrating rather than focused and productive

Discover a Way In

I ask, “Given that I now want what flow offers, can I find a way to immerse myself in my topic as a precursor to attaining the flow state?”

How can I engage with the web of ideas that flow contains and implies?

I begin to ask questions that tease the topic into its constituent elements (the Cartesian Method of breaking complex things into their elemental parts for analysis before resynthesizing them into a more completely understood whole.)

How is flow state attained?

Flow is best attained when:

  • Tasks have structure and direction
  • Tasks offer clear and immediate feedback
  • Perceived skills on task are well-matched, but do not guarantee success in the challenges the tasks present
  • We have time free from distractions

What are its parts?

  • Challenge – clear and valued
  • Skills – well-matched, directly applied
  • Feedback – clear and fast
  • Time – undisturbed time to enter and utilize flow state

How do the parts relate?

  • If our skills are directly applied to…
  • Clear, valued challenges that…
  • Provide direct, fast feedback over time,
  • We will enter a flow state which is…
  • Highly productive and enjoyable.

What are the dynamic tensions within flow?

  • Challenge v. skills
  • Intense engagement v. time on task
  • Feedback v. lack of interruptions
Attain Flow

I ask how I can now move into the flow state and stay there?

How to move into flow

  • Set the stage.  Silence and set aside your devices.  Turn off your email client.  Close your door.  Turn on some engaging but relaxing music.
  • I find it easiest to control my time and interruptions early in the day.
  • My circadian rhythms are such that early in the day is by far my best time for reaching a flow state.
  • Identify a challenging task that you want to deeply engage with your best skills.
  • To attain Flow State one needs to have uninterrupted time on task.
    • Managers typically work in small chunks of time spinning many plates while makers work and plan in half-day increments so that they have time to attain flow.
    • Drucker speaks about it being an executive’s job to be interrupted. But, many of us are more maker than executive and we need to manage our interruptions. There’s a vast literature on this topic.
    • Doug Tompkins of Esprit and Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, friends, both used Management by Being Absent to let their teams rise and give themselves room to attain flow experiences in nature.  Surely you can stay away from the office for a few hours here and there.
  • Stay engaged until you reach a flow state by continuing to lead yourself deeper into the task by engaging with challenges and deepening questions..

How to sustain flow

  • The longer I am in flow, the easier it is to stay there and the more I enjoy the fruits of the productive experience.  The state becomes self-reinforcing.
  • I sometimes use lyricless music to distract those parts of my brain that seek stimulation.  Many ADHD adults maintain focus with meditation, caffeinated beverages, and bursts of heavy physical exercise (I keep 25 # dumbbells on my desk for this purpose).
  • I find analysis and synthesis and design work on paper is far more engaging more likely to lead me into flow than working on computers or devices which tend to distract me.
  • At some point external interruptions or internal limitations(mental or physical fatigue, bio breaks, etc.) arise to knock me out of the flow state.  Reducing the likelihood of these interruptions is a key to enjoying longer flow experiences.
Go Deeper

I ask myself, “How can I go even deeper into the flow state?

  • Asking myself leading questions engages my curiosity and creativity in ways that lead me deeper into the task at hand and thereby deeper into the flow state.
  • Leading or self-coaching questions include
    • How could you take this three steps further than ever before?
    • What creative risk could you take now that could make this 3x more impactful?
Share the Riches

To add substance and motivation to my pursuit of flow, I ask myself questions about how I can make my work relevant to others.

How can I connect readers to what I find or experience in the flow state?

  • Make the article engaging to those interested in the concepts and the practice of flow.
  • Reveal my own method along with some introductory content on the what and why of flow.

What fresh ideas can I identify here?

  • Socratic Method of attaining flow states
  • The important desire to return from the flow state with practical benefits for the more prosaic world.

What can we do with what we have just learned?

  • Set aside time for flow
  • Begin to practice attaining a flow state
  • Notice and enjoy the rewards of a flow state

How do we bring this back into the realm of practical application?

  • Add flow time to your calendar now
  • Identify your most engaging challenges
  • Begin thinking of questions that will lead you toward deep engagement with your challenge
  • Set aside time for two or three more practice sessions
  • Reflect on gains and learnings after each flow session
Give Thanks

As the flow state fades, I acknowledge the joys and learnings I have just gained.

Sometimes, I will journal after attaining a flow state to crystallize and cement the learnings and positive experiences.

I find that I am more deeply satisfied and inspired by work I produce in flow states

 

In creating this post, I got to experience two sessions of flow. First, the idea for the method and content form came to me and I outlined the flow of ideas over lunch.   The method worked to pull me into a flow state.Then, several days later, I returned to type up the piece and I enjoyed a long session generating the content you have just reviewed while listening to music* that engages my very distractible mind.

I hope that this unusual format has engaged you in a flow state even as you read it by presenting a clear but uniquely challenging way to address the topic.May you find your way into flow with increasingly joyful and fruitful results,



*My favorite working music includes Bach’s Cello Suites and Christmas Oratorio, Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, and a variety of Opera pieces sung in languages I don’t speak.