Monday, March 7, 2011
On Creativity and Flow
by Patty Lakinsmith
I've been reading lately on the topic of creativity and Flow. You may have heard of the term "flow". Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of "Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life" describes flow as, "the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives". To an athlete this is often described as being in "the zone", and others describe it as ecstasy, joy, aesthetic rapture, being in the moment, and such. Simply, it is completely focused motivation.
Activities or situations that can induce a flow experience have a number of things in common:
1. There is a set of clear goals.
2. Immediate feedback is received.
3. A person's skills are required to overcome a challenge (e.g. a technical problem in your medium or design) that is just shy of his or her ability to meet.
Presumably, flow occurs when someone has a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses. So, in a game these would be the "rules" of the game, and in art they may be more self-imposed, such as those faced in some kind of challenge. Feedback is available to tell you whether you are succeeding or not in the activity, and lastly, the activity provides a challenge that is difficult enough to sustain motivation and interest but just within reach of your skill level.
I have personally experienced flow in a wide variety of settings: in graduate school projects, in work projects, some athletic activities, and in lampworking, but most notably and memorably in the latter. It's classic - I'm completely focused and don't hear the phone ring, I lose track of time and fail to hear messages my body is sending me ("your shoulder hurts!", "you really should go to the bathroom, don't you think?", and "when was the last time you ate?"). This is flow, and I must say, it is highly addictive and divine.
I usually can't achieve flow when I'm doing something from someone else's playbook. That is, a highly prescribed custom order (which I rarely do), or things that I know I have to do. But give me a challenge, e.g. a bead that can double as a mechanical element in a piece of jewelry , and a stretch of time where I know I have no other obligations and won't be interrupted, and I'll lose myself in blissful concentration.
Have you experienced flow in your creative adventures? What does it feel like to you? Have you noticed any trends about when it may or may not occur? Do you have a time tested method that is sure to get you in a flow state?