Finding Flow

Hjem etter en lang dag på markene

For all artists the ultimate creative experience is when you lose yourself in your work, when you immerse yourself so much in some creative activity during which time cease to matter, when you forget yourself and everything else but the task at hand, when the work flows, when you are in flow. I have compared this experience with the feeling of being in a tunnel (se my post Tunnel Vision some time ago), while others call it «being in the zone» or just «in flow». As a matter of fact flow is a term used in psychological studies, of which University of Chicago psychologist and researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was one of the first to examine.

According to the science flow happens because we make it happen when our mind or body is voluntary stretched to its limits, in an effort to accomplish something difficult or worthwhile. The question is – especially for those who have yet to experience flow – how do we make it happen. In workshops I teach I often talk about this feeling of flow, but I always find it hard to give concrete advice how to make it happen. My recommendation has been to work hard; that flow will eventually happen if you do the work. I think that is true, but it’s not necessarily a very satisfying answer. And just doing the work isn’t always enough for everybody who is seeking flow, neither. Last time the question came up for me was in a comment to my post Diving into Unconsciousness, to which more than a mere description of experience itself I really wanted to come up with some thoughts about how to get there.

Imagine my excitement when just afterwards I came across a book investigating in depth what being in flow means. The book «Writing in Flow» by Susan K. Perry is based on a comprehensive study she did on 75 best-selling and award-winning authors for her doctoral dissertation. As indicated by the title of the book, it deals with being in flow while writing, but a lot of what Perry points to is valid for any kind of flow-experience. I certainly recognise her thoughts and recommendations for my own work as a photographer.

I am still in the process of reading the book, but already now I can say «Writing in Flow» is a book that gives an exciting glimpse into the creative process. Even more so it gives concrete input and ideas about how to get into flow. I will get back to the book and quote some of the concrete advices that Perry bring forth in a later post, but for now I just want to mention six requirements she believes is necessary to be able to be in flow.

First your activity must have clear goals and give you some sort of feedback. You need to want to do whatever you do for some reason which can be as simple as wanting to show the beauty of nature if you for instance are a nature-lover. In addition it needs to give you some satisfaction of some form, it could be nothing more than just being able to accomplish the task or being praised by the work afterwards. Secondly for flow to happen sensing that your personal skills are well suited for the challenge is necessary, giving you a sense of potential control. Thirdly you need to be intensely focused on what you are doing. Fourthly when in flow your sense of time is altered, with time seeming to slow, stop or become irrelevant. Lastly the experience needs to become self-rewarding.

As I said I will get back to a deeper review of the book as soon as I have finished it, but already now I can easily recommend «Writing in Flow» – even if you are not a writer.


87 thoughts on “Finding Flow

  1. very intersting post ! very useful to me …how to keep this connection with the flow , how to become the flow ….maby doing what we love ? totally …
    « On ne fait bien que ce qu’on aime. Ni la science ni la conscience ne modèlent un grand cuisinier. »
    de Colette

    thank you 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Otto. I have been stuck in a real writing-rut for quite some time. I appreciate your synopsis of this portion of the book and may need to invest in it myself.

  3. When I first stumbled across the concept of flow (many, many, many, many moons ago), it seemed an apt description of the tipping point where the conscious and unconscious meet to create. And not just the traditional ideas of art, but the continuum of creativity. Thanks for reference to her book.

    1. When in flow you let the unconscious mind take over in a way that it won’t do when you are not in flow. At the same time you need some part of your conscious brain to be active, too. So, yes, it’s definitely a balance. Thanks for the comment, Sally!

  4. Having a good flow is just as important as having a good flow of energy through one’s body, soul and spirit. Sometimes I get a burst of flow of creativeness when I’m just driving around listening to music or laying in bed. I’m able to store that flow somewhere and bring it out again when I have the proper utensils or camera with me. Great post!

    1. Music is indeed a good facilitator in finding the flow – as Susan K. Perry mentions in her book, too. Thanks for the comment, Amanda!

  5. So that’s what it’s called, I have stayed up at night working into the wee hours of the morning on some of my composites and the hours tick by without notice. Whilst I’ve had a clear vision in my head to start with, I’m guided organically by the image as it evolves. Flow is absorbing. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It has many names, and in the end it doesn’t really matter what you call it. The important thing for creativity is to be able to experience being in flow, and you clearly do so. Thanks for the comment, Jeff!

  6. The “flow experience” when happens is full rewarding. You are the flow, you are your project, growing, changing, transforming. It recently happened to me with my wife, and I noticed she “got” the flow when she saw the goal of our work becoming possible,concrete and defined. It really was a great moment. And the result satisfied both of us. Thanks Otto for this interesting post.

    1. Being in flow is indeed very rewarding. And it’s great to hear that you and your wife had a satisfying outcome of being there. Thanks for the comment and you ever present interest, Robert!

  7. “To work hard, and flow happens”. That is beautifully said, a wonderful post (and a wonderful photo as well!). A Daoist philosopher once said say that when “dancer becomes the dance” they have found the Dao…the natural state of creativity. It relates well with what you have written.

  8. What you describe as “flow” is exactly how it use to be for me in the edit suite at the TV station. I always said I was on a “roll”… I like your word better. I would look up and wonder at the silence and realize that the work day had ended and everyone had left the building, it would be dark outside. I would phone home and hear, “I know…you are on a roll…see you tomorrow”. Looking around I saw that people had come in to say good night and left bottled water, a piece of fruit, half a sandwich, a couple of cookies…whatever they had at hand. They all knew that I would still be there when they got back in the morning.

    1. And that is a wonderful description of flow, Michelle. You know you have been there, when the rest of the world has moved to a new place in time and space.

  9. Okay, now that you have piqued our curiosity… I’d like to hear some of these lessons learned when you actually finish the book! (As a writer, I’m asking for completely selfish reasons – just to be transparent. LOL)

    Thanks Otto

    1. I don’t mind your selfish reasons for wanting more about the book. As a matter of fact my latest post is already out there with more excerpts from the book. Thanks for commenting, Carol!

  10. Looking forward to further discussion of this book. New ways to approach the creative process are always welcomed. Thanks for bringing this title to my attention as I wouldn’t normally look at books on writing.

    1. I agree with you, Karen Ann, it’s always interesting to learn about new approaches to the creative process. That’s why I keep reading all kinds of book about creativity – and like to discuss the subject. Thanks for the comment.

  11. Good discussion, as always. Thanks for this. Focusing on a creative activity, whether it’s a blog post or a dish or even as mundane as creating a spreadsheet, needs our 100% attention. In our fragmented, sound-bites, media-bites world, it’s not so easy. The urge to give in to the numerous stimuli is so great. One has to really recapture that discipline and direct it to the task in front of us.

    Good photo, by the way! Beautiful.

  12. Excellent composition, I like the silhouette on this beautiful evening sky! Yes, when I went into that tunnel photos!

  13. What a coincident, I will publish an article on my blog tomorrow in which I will mention the concept of the flow as well. A couple of years ago I wrote a book (in German), a critique of the concept of creatvity of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. But tomorrow I will mention the connection of luck and the flow.
    I like your picture. It goes so well with your text.
    All the best from the sunny coast of North Norfolk
    Klausbernd 🙂

    1. I like your writings about the connection between luck and flow. Fun when synchronicity like this happens. Thanks for commenting, Klaus Bernd!

  14. Your highlights of the book make it sound like a very interesting read. I know that when I am out shooting, I really do get lost in the process. I forget about everything except trying to capture the water or the flowers or the building, etc. Thanks for stopping by and the like of my post “Same Flower – Different Angles”.

  15. Sound like just the book for me to read. I love the feeling when an idea starts to form for a blog with photos I have. Suddenly the words just follow. But it is getting the right idea for the photos I want to present in a blog.I am so not a writer, but would love to be better at it. Right now I have so many projects on the go my blogging has fallen behind. But my other projects are also creative in form and using my photos, just have to keep the momentum going to completions. Thank you for the book info and a reminder of keeping the creative flow going. Love the photo here as well. A very special capture got in the moment.

    1. I hope you get all your projects landed. But having many balls in the air is a way to boost creativity, too, isn’t it? Thanks for your comment, Carrie!

  16. Flow…like water down a gentle stream. Love this post and LOVE the new blog site name: In Flow. Perfect. Here’s a funny mention: I spent an awfully long time tonight trying to find your old munchow creative site in the WP reader. Of course it was not under M anymore. It was only after I Googled your site I realized the new name. And, top it off, trying to do all if it on mobile under poor phone reception…gah. It was worth it. 😄 Fun times! Ha-ha

  17. Thanks for tackling this difficult topic, Otto! This is all good advice. I think it takes a great deal of concentration to get into the ‘flow’. That’s why I typically do better when I work on something alone with little distraction.

  18. There are times when each minute passes by so agonizingly slow…and other times when hours have passed without me realizing it. Thanks for sharing this! Love that photo!

  19. Otto, great image. I think it reflects the post perfectly.I always get engrossed in my work, and I sometimes find it impossible to stop when I start something I am creativity and emotionally involved in. I love being challenged; and I think art gives us that opportunity to explore and learn all while having fun. 🙂

    1. Being in flow often means not being able to stop. And I agree with you, the challenging part of the creative process is really fun. Thanks for commenting, Emily!

  20. Wonderful silhouette! I’ve always enjoyed the twilight time when colors and silhouettes define the landscape. Creativity, no matter what the form, makes use of the absence of “something” –whether it be color, or action, or sound. As artists, we don’t need to provide all the details! Thanks for sharing the fruit of your labors–and for checking out mine!

  21. So true again. I think we all have something inside us to express that is as unique as us if we just let it flow out of us with no restrictions or worries. Shore the technicalities up later once the groundwork is laid 😉 stunning photo! delicious colors! great post Otto.

    1. Yes, letting go of yourself, restrictions and worries is something that boosts the creative process. Thank you for your nice comment, Christina

  22. Flow is fascinating-when it happens it is as if everything else stops and that feeling of being guided by something within is so powerful. This book sounds terrific and I have it on my list-as always your posts are so helpful Otto-thank you so much!

  23. Your image is stunning, Otto. It seems to almost bring the viewer into a sense of flow just by looking at it, whether the eye follows the clouds in the sky or the road. I was out in the heat and humidity today, watching butterflies dance, and totally forgot the heat until thirst kicked in and I realized I’d been out longer than intended. (No danger involved since I wasn’t far from the house.) Fascinating subject — flow. I’m going to look for the book. Thank you! 🙂

  24. Thanks for visiting my and liking my post on “The Sundog Drift” Glad I checked you out. Love your blog. Will follow you. I recently experienced a literal “flow” moment while photographing wild horses in the remote Red Desert in Wyoming. I came upon a band of about 12 horses way out from the road. It took me quite awhile to get close. Once fairly close I threw my really cool NEW hat off thinking it was scaring the horses. Thought I could just come back to get it once done photographing. But the hat was nowhere to be found even after an hour combing the area to look for it. Turns out I had become so immersed while photographing I WAY moved out of the area I started out in. Got a little scary, ran out of water and had to search for my car. Luckily I found my car before nightfall. Got some great shots. Stay tuned for my new blog and membership site coming soon. The Daily Mustang.

    1. Flow makes you lose contact with realities – at least sometimes. I am glad you found your way back before it became critical. Thanks for re-visiting and for your comment.

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