Sometimes we get confused looking for the mystical experience called flow.
Its easy to get carried away chasing that illusive Flow State, that is more and more frequently talked about now.
Recently it has been talked about mostly in reference to Peak Performance of Elite Athletes. At least that is how I have seen it in my field of vision.
I consider myself athletic person, I love to workout, swim, hike and maintain a healthy lifestyle, so for me the association of flow and sports was a very interesting subject.
And so I started looking for signs of flow in my life that resembled those of athletes.
As I continued on my journey - a number of things became apparent as the time went on.
Because I was aligning myself with my inner Artist, I was separating further away from the concepts and words such as “Competition”, “Winning”, “Performance”, “Grind”, “Comparing”, “Pushing”, “Striving”, “Accomplishments”, “Achievements”, “Elite Performance”, “Number one in the world” etc.
There is nothing wrong with those concepts, but I was no longer willing to hustle away my creativity.
Because I realized that I was going after wrong kind of Flow for me.
If there is a person who really loves baseball, or hockey, or football, or swimming, or figure skating or any other sport and they know how to play the game, and they are good at it and that is what they do and that is where they get that flow state - then they should keep doing it and if they call themselves a Peak Performer, or someone else does, in that context - then its all perfectly fine.
But for an Artist of any kind, to be trying to get their Optimal State the same way as athletic sports person would - will never work.
Creative Flow is a different kind of animal, and easily spooked. It can be hard to identify exactly what is your own personal way to experience Flow State as an Artist.
For me the clarity came when I stepped away from the Warrior archetype, which has served me well and provided stability for my ego. As I stepped away from that, I got acquainted with my Magician archetype.
Creation with the Magician is not the same as with the Warrior. Its much lighter with a lot less grind and hustle.
There are also archetypes of Lover and Sovereign, and they help us in equal amounts also. Lover connects us with that which we love to do and Sovereign is a visionary. All 4 are important.
So if you have ever found yourself in a place where you have been acting from the need to survive, where you must and should do things and you have been lacking the creativity needed for your Art, I invite you to consider switching out of that harsh mode of living.
Its exhausting and it doesn’t mean you are doing your own thing just because you are grinding and hustling every day.
In summary, if you are chasing a state of creative inspiration and you are not finding it, consider doing the following adjustments:
1) Identify where you are hustling hard and grinding
2) Recognize there there are different aspects, roles and archetypes that you have
3) Consider what version of you would find Art effortless, opposite of exhausting work you are doing now
Have fun creating!
We are living in the universe with endless streams of data coming towards us at all times. At the moment it is estimated that each person produces 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day.
It was calculated that in 2020 total amount of data created was 59 zettabytes. One zettabyte is 8,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bits.
Don’t try to imagine that, you will break your brain! Its a lot!
And that is just digital data, that is quantifiable. On top of that there is data we consume and produce from our natural organic environment.
You may wonder how we are managing to exist in that soup of data. Fortunately we have this thing in our head that is called brain.
It is an organ that is encased in the layer of bone, muscle and connective tissues.
It has no idea what time of the day it is or what weather is outside the skull.
Well…that is not entirely true, because the eyes are outside of the skull and they are actually considered to be part of the brain itself that are pushed outside during the embryo development process.
But even considering the eyes, the brain only gets the information that it receives from the sensors that are located on the ends of the nervous system network.
Eyes register light waves and interpret them into electrical signals, tactile senses relay pressure information, auditory organ translates vibration waves and so on. Totally 5 agreed-upon senses and a sixth sense, that is debated among people.
So consider that all those zettabytes of data flying around and everything that senses register - if all that information was just freely entering the brain - it would fry it in seconds, or milliseconds, or whatever is the smaller measurement of a second.
But it doesn’t. Have you ever wondered why?
The reason is that we have filters set up in our brain.
It is called Reticular Activating System. It allows us to filter out a lot of information deeming it not necessary.
To help regulate that process of what to discard and what not to - there is a portion of the brain called amygdala.
It is the guard that watches for danger, and survival of the whole organism is depended on that organ. As you can imagine, it is a lot of responsibility and amygdala takes it very seriously.
In a nutshell this is the human earthly experience. Filtering out a lot of data to make space for something meaningful.
But how does the brain know what is meaningful and what is not?
Some say the brain is not even connected to the soul and consciousness, it is only a transmitter/receiver of that said consciousness. And if we were to start discussing consciousness itself - this conversation would go down a very deep rabbit hole.
Lets stay at the level of the brain and what it means for the creative people.
Maybe every single person on earth is creative and maybe everyone has exact same potential to becoming an artist. Putting aside another very complicated subject of nature vs nurture debate - we come to the fact that everyone has a free will and a capacity to chose what to pay attention to and everybody does.
Generalizations aside, this is how I perceive my experience of creativity and how I experience sorting through what to pay attention to and what to not to.
I have to admit, that at the end of the day, what determines my choices are the emotions. Even though emotions are made by the body when we think certain thoughts, that arise from us experiencing something. It seems to be a closed-loop system.
It has been discovered by science that babies are born with infinitely more neural connections in the brain and as they grow older - those connections are reduced and that is how those filters for experiencing world get established.
I would have to guess that as I child I have made preferences towards certain experiences and emotions that created loops of thinking and feeling.
I have interpreted things that I did, such as painting, dance, music, as activities that had the most potential to produce the best feelings.
There was also an infinite potential for endless variations in those activities.
Curiously enough, that endless potential did not seem to be enough at one point in my life. Somehow I separated from those creative pursuits because my experience of reality in those moments indicated that I was no longer experiencing those positive emotions that I was used to originally.
The carefree nature of drawing as a child or dancing without a care in the world doesn’t do very well in the harsh world of day-to-day living. Or so we think.
What could be the reason for that?
The answer is manyfold, but one thing jumps out at me - that guardian that has been trusted the survival of our entire being, amygdala, seemed to have taken it’s job too seriously and found itself at the front of the bus and started directing the show.
For me personally, the thoughts of survival highjacked my entire existence for many years, leaving absolutely no room for creativity.
Creativity, and connection with those pursuits that have a capacity for infinite potential, makes the life worth living. We understand it conceptually.
If that is true, then the infinite potential for solution exists to our many problems.
And by the same logic, when we disconnect from that potential, we stop expanding in thought and in action.
Survival is only concerned with maintaining and protecting the resources, never with exploration of the unknown.
And as humans, we are wired for exploration.
So coming back to brain filter and experience of reality - when I did not realize that my amygdala has stolen the show, I diverted all my resources towards satisfying its demands. Somehow they seemed to be so much more important than my need to explore.
Set of habits were put in place, routines were established and belief systems directed my actions. All went well until all those creative ways I used to access beauty, started calling back.
I was lucky, my creative aspects were relentless and never gave up, producing inner distress and a drive to change, culminating in a dream, that spelled out that I was a creative person and should do more creative things.
It is an individual journey, to reunite with your own creative self, but if I had to summarize the above here are the aspects that play the biggest roles:
1) As children we make preferences for how we like to access that infinite potential of creation
2) As our life progress and brain develops - sometimes amygdala convinces us that we need to focus on surviving
3) We either go through life carefully safeguarded from all dangers, or we eventually realize what happened and take the wheel back and regain the control of the journey.
What you need to know for your own creative journey are the following:
1) What you loved doing as a child the most
2) What aspects of life make you scared the most and remove them, as much as possible. (hint - news scare a lot of people, you may need to practice not watching the news, if you do)
3) Once you are able to negotiate with your danger detecting mechanism - you have to explore ways to experience your childhood preferences again.
This is important, because our creativity lies in those moments of curiosity and exploration. And what we get from it is infinite new ways for dealing with our old reality and transform it.
The more we are engaged with that field of infinite potential through our art, the more we expand, grow, evolve and change.
So only follow these steps if you want to change!
There are days when we have plenty of time, and relatively strong desire to create, but just can’t get into the state of mind conducive for Art.
For me it happens on weekends when I don’t have any plans, but that makes every option a good option and so I freeze up not knowing which task to do.
What, I discovered, works for me is the following. (And keep in mind that what works for me may not work for you, but I will explain the underlying reasons so you can replicate for yourself)
Firsts - start with your environment. The physical space plays a big role in how our thoughts are formed. On one hand our environment is the reflection of our inner world, but at the same time we can influence our inner world through the environment.
To test that - just try to go into a very cluttered house and see how you feel. Then for contrast, visit a gallery or a library or a theatre. What we see around us can make us feel inspired and elated or it can crush our soul.
So when you are having difficulty with your creativity - create the conditions in your environment for inspiration.
Which means - clear you room. Clean the space where you will be working. Create a space of potential by removing as many items as possible. The more things we see - the more we are reminded of.
What worked for me was clearing my kitchen table. This allowed my brain connections to stop firing, which were associated with things on the table, and that freed up energy in the brain to be diverted to something else.
Then second thing to do - get your tools of the trade out. Whatever it is. For me it is paints, or brushes or pencils.
I took all my colored pencils, put them beside an empty page and started sharpening them. What that allowed my brain to do is to focus on a simple task. It was easy to focus on the act of sharpening and when we focus on one thing, we collect and gather energy in one place and then it becomes easier to direct it elsewhere.
Through that simple action it allowed my options to narrow and it analysis paralysis stopped.
The empty sketchbook beside me also tempted me to think of what would be fun to create once the pencils are all sharp.
Third thing I did was turn on one of my study lessons.
Sometimes focusing on just creating something seems like too much pressure.
And sometimes focusing on just learning also seems too daunting.
So to reduce the pressure from both I combined auditory stimulation and mechanical action of sharpening.
My pattern recognition start being engaged, electricity in my brain started to increase.
I started to feel more optimistic about what I would create.
Additional thing may help is if you find someone to do the activity with.
Social connections are important in general, but when you combine them with something you love doing, even more focus begins to gather. We, as humans, are wired for creatIng together and watching another person being engaged in something inspires us also to do our thing.
Last thing I had to engage with is struggle at the beginning of the drawing process.
Once all the pencils were sharpened and I was deeply engaged with the lesson I was listening to, I decided on the subject matter I was going to draw.
At that time it almost seemed as if I was running out of motivation to be creative, but I wanted to continue listening to the audio, so I pressed on.
The beginning of creative activity should feel a little difficult. Its almost as if it was a test for us to prove to ourselves that we really got what it takes to create.
By staying with that feeling of difficulty, staying with that sensation that the art piece is too much for us to handle, we are able to get to the next level where it flows.
So here is the summary of what to do to jump-start creativity:
1) Clean your environment - reduce cognitive load
2) Get your tools of the trade in front of you and start looking at them - engage the familliar networks in the brain
3) Do a simple task - something that will be easy to focus on to start building energy
4) Stack motivation by adding another fun component that can easily co-exist with your creation process - music, radio, podcast etc.
5) Social connection - to bring the feeling of connection and safety to reduce any possible anxiety thoughts, plus utilizing mirror neurones seeing your friend doing their thing
6) Move into presenting idea and stay with the struggle
So here you go, 6 steps of getting creative when you don’t feel like it.
We are humans, not machines!
Well…duh, you might say! Of course we are not machines! We know what!
But actually our brains operate a little like computers.
Here is the thing about cognitive work where you have to think, consider options and make decisions. It all depends on the available energy.
Energy = focus.
And even in the case of physical labour - it is still cognitive work because no matter if you are moving a mouse on a desk or swinging a hammer - you are constantly making calculations.
It may seem that that risk from miscalculations is higher in the physical labour job, but actually it may be even greater when you consider making a mistake on a big business deal and not knowing outcome for weeks or even months, and potential for disaster haunting you causing an extensive stress.
So you want to make sure you are the most focused during those times when you are engaged in a task that may produce variations down the road, so you can make best calculations,
When we make decisions, we prefer to use our past experience in order to predict the future outcome and act based on that information.
It all comes down to energy available for that activity in the brain.
If the process is fairly standard and we have a lot of previous scenarios to rely on - our processing ability is much higher and speed is faster. Even if we are low on energy - we will be able to calculate.
When we are faced with something that we have little experience doing - it will require us searching for more past examples in order to decide how to proceed. This will require the higher amount of energy.
In the end - it all comes down to how much energy is required to make a certain decision and how much energy we have in the brain/body.
There is chemistry, electricity and brainwaves are at play here.
Last nights’ sleep, level of fitness, how much energy is diverted to maintaining immune system, what is the nutrients balance - all of those components and more will affect our decision-making ability.
We usually notice when we are not at the top of our mental game, but we have very little ways to describe it and even less tools on how to improve it.
I think it is imperative for us to know that just because we are sitting in front of the computer for 8 hrs per day - does not mean we will actually be able to produce the results automatically.
So how can we optimize our decision-making ability when there are so many components at play?
The answer to that lies in the amount of available energy per day and in the ways of increasing that amount.
If you imagine yourself as a bucket - every problem you have is a hole in that bucket through which your energy is being drained.
Energy = focus.
To plug those holes in your bucket:
Know your system and how it works.
Follow your sleep patterns to flush the toxins from the brain.
Reduce inflammation and other aspects that could be causing physical pain in the body.
Identify emotions that divert your attention.
Create clear goals so there would be a compelling future in front of you pulling you towards it.
Identify thoughts, lists, tasks you are holding in your head and outsource them to paper.
Engage with other people to stay socially connected, because no matter if you are an introvert or extravert - you still need your tribe.
Those kind of things is how you can prevent energy leaks and increase your capacity for decision - making.
The balance between your skills and challenges at hand is one aspect of creating optimal opportunity for Flow State or being In-the-Zone.
It is applicable to any area of your life. Whatever it is that you are doing - starting a business, changing a career, racing a car, becoming a parent, making art, doing research, shopping for food - anything at all.
The key to understand is that this is all conceptual. Its all in your head. You give meaning to the situation you are facing, you give meaning to how hard you think it is and you decide how skillful you are at handling it.
There are no measurement tools that will specify exactly where you are on that balance. But you can create tools for yourself through the process of exploration.
What you need to understand here is that your perception of the challenge will cause you to produce a certain amount of stress chemical. How much - depends on your thoughts.
If you think its too much to handle - you will produce more cortisol and and you will be stressed and you will not be able to skillfully navigate the situation.
If you think you are too good for this situation, if you think you are over-qualified or if its beneath you - you will not produce enough stress hormone to get you to focus. You will be complacent and outcome will be sloppy.
You want to be in the center. You want to be excited looking at the challenge ahead because you know you have just the right amount of skills gathered for this occasion.
And if you do that - then you will be In-The-Zone. You will forget the time, forget to eat and at the end you will feel tremendous satisfaction.
And that is what we call Flow State. From that all creativity, innovation and productivity happen.
But what is required in order to be in that perfect spot on that scale?
You have to know who you are, where you going, where you have been to support your belief about your capabilities and you have to feel in control.
All those things take time and internal exploration.
The world is changing every day right now, and if you want to feel like you’re equipped to deal with all of it - you will need tools and help.
What differentiates an Artists from a Creative person?
I used to think it was one and the same. Artist and Creatives. Yes all Artists are Creatives, but not all Creatives are Artists.
This distinction has jumped at me one day and finally put my inner turmoil at rest.
You see, I had an idea in my mind, that I had to be an Artist, that it was my gift, my purpose and my life’s journey. I held all kids of ideas about what it is like to be an Artist until I came to an undeniable distinction that made me realize that what I named an Artist and what the world named an Artist are two separate things.
Of course, the semantics are at fault here, because rarely do we agree on the meaning of most things, even if its a generally-agreed upon definition. The terminology we use to describe something is based on our unique experiences and then we add our internal meaning to it.
My definition of an Artist was someone who used pen or pencil on a regular basis to illustrate objects or subjects on paper. (Or digital). Perhaps what I considered Artist actually more closely resembles an Illustrator, or Graphic Designer, or other kind of Designer.
I was trained as an Interior Designer, after all, and I have a terrible penchant for Fashion Design. Common theme here is Design.
What I realized the world considered an Artist was someone who was highly unstable, flamboyant, volatile.
Being full-time Artist requires separation from the conventional reality to such extent that it borderlines on insanity.
And these are just my observations of the most radical cases of Artists. Of course there is a variety. Of course there are full-time Artists who are stable and grounded.
I guess my inability to compare, put side by side and measure the degree to which one may need to deep into insane pool - was causing me a lot of confusion.
I wanted to express myself, I wanted to share my skills and talents, but I didn’t want to dive off into the deep end.
And so finally I came to a conclusion, that while insanity of the radical Artist seems very enticing and freeing - it is not something that I could ever get to, nor do I want to.
But I still want to express my talents.
The key lies in the ability to integrate the activity that brings internal joy to the everyday life, without it completely consuming everything in its wake.
And every person should pick up a pen or a pencil or a brush and move it on a medium of their choosing without feeling bad that they are not doing it constantly 24/7.
Art in its basic form benefits everyone greatly. Just like Picasso said - “Art wipes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
You don’t clean your house every day, nor should you wipe your soul every day and feel bad if you don’t.
What I needed for myself is to allow myself to be less consistent with my Art and still feel great when I have a chance to engage with it again.
What you may need is to remember how you like to doodle, or play a musical instrument or do some wood carving and not feel bad that you have not made it into a profession.
The less judgement you have about your own Art, the more you can incorporate it into your daily life, your corporate job or business, into your cooking and so on and so forth.
Then you will see how that appreciation of creativity for its own self can transform your life.
Being In The Zone is not the same thing as being Zoned-out….
Nor is it the same thing as being so in the zone that you are reckless with no regard for rules and a hazard for yourself and others. Actually being reckless is the dark size of being in the zone.
So lets look at the first distinction.
When you are fully focused, in the present moment, alert to the wide range of your surroundings, in a good mood with positive outlook on the things, when time no longer matters and you can’t quite tell the difference where you end and the chair on which you are sitting, begins… or maybe its a carseat, or a seat of a bicycle, or water in the poll/ lake/ river etc. When you have the clear goal in front of you (an aim on the target) and you know you can do it. That is when you are In The Zone.
Being in that state also is called being in Flow. Its called Flow State by science.
So when things are going well and you’ve trained for this moment - that is your flow.
It is the most rewarding state to be in and on some level everyone has been there and everyone strives to feel that again.
On the other hand we have the total opposite, which is feeling Zoned-Out.
It is when you are so tired, everything becomes just one blurry scene. You may find yourself in that state driving back from work at the end of the day, and that state causes more harm than we know. The awareness is reduced, reaction time is slow and feelings are mostly of the low and uninspiring nature. Nothing good comes from that state of total exhaustion and most of the time the feeling of tiredness actually comes from our brain being out of electricity and chemicals to run on.
You may ask - how can a brain run out of chemicals? They are always there!
Actually everything has its limits. If you have been intently focusing all day long, if you have been running a lot of electricity through your neurones - its possible that those connections can become less responsive after a time.
Everything gets tired and needs a break - muscles or brain cells.
So the best thing is to not get to the point where you feel this zoned out. It is extreme and doesn’t have to happen. If you prioritize good sleep, movement, hydration, nutrition and clear goals - you may experience less and less of that total exhaustion.
Unfortunately in the last year we have had a lot of extra things to consider every day, which adds extra cognitive load and creates a higher likelihood for exhaustion.
Be aware of what is on your mind, where it is coming from and how much it is taking from you.
Now the final distinciton - being reckless in the Zone. The dark side of Flow.
It happens when the negative emotions take over. When the energy for flow is present, you are alert and awake, but for whatever reason your anger is activated.
Or when you feel so skilled and in control of the situation that your Ego makes you think you are invincible.
So ego or anger being the driving forces.
It is possible to feel that unpleasant irritation when someone interrupts you from doing something you love. When you are in the zone doing your best and something happens and makes you stop.
If you feel like you were not in control of that interruption - it could affect your mood quite severely.
So these are the three most common states of mind as it applies to the Zone.
In summary - identify what is your In The Zone activities - and spend more time there. Do everything possible from getting completely exhausted and zoned out. And prepare reframes in case you do get interrupted during being in the Zone so you don’t end up on the dark side of it.
‘Till next time!
One of the most dreadful phrases one could hear from their friends or their family - “Its just the way it is”, “Life sucks, nobody enjoys the work they do”, “Just be happy with what you have”.
Have you ever heard that from someone? Did it make you feel inspired or did it make you drop to the lowest level of your consciousness?
I bet you it was the later, not the former.
You can’t blame people, however. They are doing the best that they can with what they got. Not all of them have access to experiential understanding of possibilities.
This reminds me of David Eagleman, who has coined the term “Possibilitarian”.
I love this term, because when things get tough, and you know they will get tough more often than not - I would like to think of what is possible, not what is conventional.
And I can’t stop myself from talking on every corner about how I do not agree that “This is all there is to life”. I don’t agree that life sucks and we just have to brace for it. I don’t agree that everyone have uninspired jobs and thats all there is in the world.
Same lot for everyone. I just don’t belive in that.
At every level my being rebels at the concept that concept of being fulfilled at work is a fictitious one and nobody actually every experiences that.
That thinking is wrong on so many levels! And I am dedicated to continuously challenge that belief in every way possible.
Like they say : “I wasn’t born to just pay bills and die”!
There is more to life, so much more! All we have to do is take the blinders off and have the right support with us.
Let me know in the comments below if you ever heard that “This is just the way it is” in your life? What do you think about that?
Have you ever had an experience that was so great and so captivating that it seemed like anything was possible? Perhaps you were in a seminar, webinar, 2 day online event, a hike with your friends, a performance of any kind, a long race - anything intense and long in duration.
Do you remember the focus you had and the high you have felt?
This has been happening to me more often than I’d like to admit.
In the last 18 months of staying at home I have been learning almost non-stop.
This means - programs, seminars, 2 day events, week long stints of learning.
What I found is that gradually my flow hangover has increased and my tolerance has decreased putting me in burnout much faster.
You would think that the more you do something - the better you become at tolerating it. It does not seem to be the case for brain chemistry.
At the beginning of 2020 I was quite exuberant and optimistic.
By the end of 2021 it seems that I am becoming cynical.
Cynicism is one of the common symptoms of the burnout. And I have been negotiating with that state for quite some time.
But let me back-track a little to explain why flow hangover happens.
From purely chemical perspective - the more intensely we focus on something - the more chemistry and electricity that goes on in our brain. Neurones must fire in order for us to learn or create something.
Even if you take an electrical wire, as an example, you can think of how it sometimes gets hot, or the plug gets hot, after extensive use. (Some electrical things, not all, obviously).
Same can occur in the brain - the more electricity that runs through the brain - the more it “heats up”.
In the last 2 months I had a couple of online events where I was glue to the screen learning for 2 days straight. Not to mention strain on the eyes - by the end of those events I was a total wreck.
Meaning that all my good feelings and good emotions were used up. I had nothing good left. My mood was the lowest and there was nothing I could to instantly improve it.
This is something that you need to understand - flow hangover is a thing, it happens to anybody after any intense activity and it is the worst feeling. Completely opposite of the feeling that you have when you are in the flow activity of your choosing.
So what to do? Never to go to live seminars ever again? Swear off the online classes?
Its not possible for me, I love to learn and improve and progress. But after this recent occurrence and the depths to which I plunged, I have decided to put in the practice of radical recovery.
What that looks like is - first of all - remembering that it is flow hangover. It is critical to remember that, because assumptions made about this mood can really harm your relationships with your friends and family. You need to be aware that its not your personality flaw, its the chemistry in your body that is making you act that way.
Then, it is important to prioritize sleep to its fullest, because during sleep we flush away the toxins developed throughout the day. The more intense the day - the more things there are to flush.
And third thing, that is a must for negotiating with flow hangovers, is time in nature. Because when we are outside, our focus wides, this causes our nervous system to relax, and if we add brisk walking to it - we can also produce Nitric Oxide, which will flush away stress hormones from the body.
So next time you find yourself in a terrible mood after a really good and exiting event - remember these 3 things and you will surely improve relationship with yourself and those around you.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever experienced flow hangover.