What is flow? How do you find that state of mind where you’re completely absorbed in your work and filled with joy?
When I typed “working in flow” into my Pinterest search bar the other day I found a plethora of yoga flow articles.
Not exactly what I was looking for.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve had some pretty joyful moments in child’s pose or corpse pose at the end of a hardcore hour or so of vinyasa yoga. But I was delighted because the workout was over and no one had to pull me out of a camel pose and I didn’t fart during a triangle pose. I don’t think this level of gratefulness qualifies as “flow.”
What I’m talking about is what Julie Shrum, entrepreneur and crafter extraordinaire, shared back when I interviewed her for this article.
Julie stated, “Some people get runners’ high; I get crafters’ high.”
When I asked her what that looked like, she said, “When I’m working on craft projects, I’ll forget to eat, I’ll stay up later—like hours at a time—and not realize it.”
Essentially, for her, time becomes non-existent.
“It’s like total focus when I creating,” she said. “Blinders on and complete focus. I won’t hear text message pings. When roommates would knock on my door, I wouldn’t even hear them.”
That, to me, is “flow.” Complete absorption in a task that brings fulfillment. Joy.
I saw a graphic on Pinterest that provided a simple summary of this state. Basically it said that a small challenge coupled with a low skill set led to nothing more than apathy. This must be why I hate data entry. It’s tedious, and I don’t really get the point.
Small challenges presented to a person with a high skill set lead to boredom. I’ve read articles about how difficult it is for women in high-powered, fast-paced careers to become stay-at-home-moms. This boredom leads to guilt which leads to a host of other emotional strains.
Difficult challenges presented to people with low skill sets obviously lead to anxiety. When I try to enter data on charts I really don’t understand, I get nervous.
However, sizable challenges presented to creatives with a commiserate skill set leads to flow. For Julie, stringent deadlines and difficult craft requests don’t seem to be an issue.
“I get so entranced in what I’m doing,” she said. “I’m totally relaxed, and I can focus on nothing else. The first summer I got my Silhouette Cameo to cut vinyl, I wasn’t even hungry. I would forget to eat.”
When writing ideas come, I can write for hours and don’t realize time has even passed. I wrote an entire manuscript in a week a few years back. Once it “downloaded” from the ethers or the Muse, where I imagine that all creativity begins, I didn’t want to stop the flow. I loved the process, and I was overjoyed to see the product finished.
In her article entitled “Five Ways to Achieve Flow” on the Website verywell.com, Kendra Cherry writes that “flow is often described as a mental state in which people experience complete immersion and involvement in an activity. Things seem to happen almost effortlessly, an d time seems to disappear while in this state.”
Cherry quotes artist Paul Klee who says that, “Everything vanishes around me, and works are born as if out of the void…Ripe, graphic fruits fall off. My hand has become the obedient instrument of a remote will.”
Like the graphic I found on Pinterest, Cherry notes that your skills need to be matched to the task. She also says that reaching for a challenge and trying something that stretches your present skill level can lead to a flow state.
Goal-setting is another important facet of flow. Deadlines force me into that state as does creating something funny for an audience. Julie’s business demands can also put her in that state. Avoiding interruptions is also vital—those of us with kids know how tough that can be. It’s tough to achieve flow when mediating arguments, refilling endless water bottles, and mopping up bodily fluids. It’s not impossible, though, if you remember to stay grounded in the present moment, and not fixate on the end result.
Julie sums up the flow state when she says, “All my energy is poured into the enjoyment of being creative.”