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Have you ever gotten so interested in something you were doing that the world sort of faded away and you lost track of time? You were probably in a state of “flow.”
To get into flow, you need to choose to do an activity that you enjoy, that challenges you a little, and that you are confident you can do. It works better if you aren’t on a deadline or have other distractions to your attention.
People don’t usually get into flow at work, because what you do there is for a purpose that is required of you. It could happen to researchers who get to set their own projects–losing themselves in a lab or library for an afternoon working on a pet subject. But most of us who work are not so engrossed that we stop watching the clock.
Often a flow-generating project is creative in nature. Painting, crafting in a new way, making music, writing, drawing and sculpture or pottery-making can do it. So can sewing, cake decorating, or refinishing furniture.
That’s not to say that the activity has to be creative. My husband can get into a state of flow machining a new part for a machine, updating his computer or tearing down a new power tool to optimize it. He loves technology and precision, so he gets into the flow that way.
Ever “zone out” in a video game? That’s flow again. I struggled with “Space Invaders” till I let go and really gave it my undivided attention. Suddenly I could work it and have a good time too. It just took more attention than I’d thought.
Flow makes it all yours.
Whatever you do that generates it, that flow will bring you closer to the object of your attention. Because of that odd time-sense disruption, you end up with your task outside of time, in your own little space. It has your full attention. You are doing your best work on it and in the end it will show. It’s the icing on the cake of activity.
Everyone is different when it comes to flow. Some people achieve it easily; others, not so much. It isn’t something you seek out, but rather, you sort of slide into it as you do your thing.
I’ve gotten into the flow while painting walls in the house. (That’s with rollers, not doing a mural!) I love applying a better color and seeing it happen. It takes skill that I have, attention to keep up with drips and such, and enough time that I’m not watching the clock.
Groups can get into flow too. Musical groups do it, especially if they are used to improvising with each other. It takes a strong common purpose to do group flow, and knowing the others’ working styles well, but it can be done.
Imagine a jazz quartet creating improvisations on a theme, each knowing what his part is and what to expect of others. And when his turn comes, each player gets to soar for a while. To the audience, it comes out as a cohesive piece, but it never existed like that till just now.
What to do with flow.
Enjoy it as a gift from the universe, whenever it happens, and go with it. Don’t force it; it will come if it’s going to. Some days it doesn’t. Writers have writer’s block and flow and in-between days. So if some days you can get totally immersed in piecing a quilt and other days it would be a chore, then that’s the way it goes.
If you notice yourself getting lost in tole-painting, maybe that is a sign you ought to stick with it as a craft. And if it fades, maybe tole-painting isn’t challenging you at all any more. Then you can choose to try new designs, or try another style of painting to add to your repertoire.
Using the experience as a source of information, then, will help you decide where you are in your mastery of a craft. If you have a low-flow craft, maybe you have more to learn before you can feel confident enough to take on the challenges ahead. Or maybe you’re not challenged any more. That’s useful to know.
Love an activity but starting to lose the flow? Add some skills in your field. Say you took up sewing and got very good at assembling clothing from commercial patterns, even adjusting for fit. But now it’s like mass production, a little boring.
What’s a logical next step for you? You could take on tailoring skills and make more structured garments. Or you could learn to design your own patterns. Either one will lead to new challenges and bring back the flow.
Or maybe you’re satisfied with the garment-making skills you have but want to challenge yourself in sewing other things. Try out patterns for tote bags, quilts, applique, machine embroidery or smocking. Let the machine rest and learn handwork. More opportunities for flow await.
Flow can be addictive!
We’ve seen in movies and TV the computer nerds and gamers all isolated in rooms strewn with computers, consoles, soda bottles and pizza cartons. These guys evidently have an extreme flow problem.
We humans love to feel good. So we tend to do more of what brings it on. And since, when you’re in the flow, you forget time and ignore bodily cues, you can run yourself down.
Enjoy flow but watch for addiction signs. If you’re neglecting basic needs–yours, your household’s–and falling behind on your chores, like paying bills and cleaning the cat box, you have a problem. If you can’t quit, get help.
Remember that flow is only part of life. It’s great when it happens, and if you find something that brings it on a lot, how nice for you! But please respect it because it has power, and use it wisely. Enjoy in moderation.
For more on pleasurable activities, which might induce a state of flow, read Find New Hobbies In Old Ones.
Where do you find flow in your life?