“Of all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
“You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I have experienced this time and time again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching it in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out of itself.”
Sounds scrumptiously creative and satisfying, doesn’t it? This is how a composer describes being transported in a moment of intense concentration and creativity. He’s in the “flow” state according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is “An almost automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness,” that we are most likely to experience when we devote ourselves totally and eagerly to a meaningful challenge.
As writers, we know what it’s like to be in creative flow. We seem to lose track of ourselves and of time as well. Ideas and images flow effortlessly onto the page. Once you have a glimpse of what this feels like, you feel grateful and blessed — and eager for more!
In a great TED talk that he gave (check it out at Ted.com), our boy Mihalyi offered a chart with a simple but compelling equation: Challenge + Skill = Creative Flow. Basically, the chart showed that “flow” occurs at the “sweet spot” between your level of skill and the difficulty of any challenge you undertake.
In other words, skill, challenge, and flow are all connected. What this means is that if you take on a big challenge in your writing — something that really stretches you, you’re likely to feel anxious at first. But if you persevere and hone your skills through consistent practice, at some point, what you’re doing will become stimulating rather than stressful. But if you play it safe and stay in your comfort zone, you’re likely to feel in control of your skills and material, but bored because you’ve set the bar too low and don’t feel challenged.
The bottom line: If you want to experience more creative flow in your work, then take on a big enough challenge to keep yourself stimulated and excited. When you do, you’ll be moving toward “flow” — and the fulfillment and happiness it brings. Let’s go for flow as we all write on!
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