How to find Creative Flow

Weekending in Wales with two badgers in a tipi

I intermittently provide creativity training for clients who need their staff to learn to be innovative, solve problems, adopt creative behaviours and be motivated in their jobs.  Courses are delivered in some sort of training room in an office building (impact of budget cuts).  I understand why organisations need people to be engaged and contributing.  I question whether real creativity and fulfilment at work is attainable fully by running courses.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a leader in positive psychology, talks about “flow” and how it is important for human creativity and fulfilment.  Flow is a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.  People usually need space and the right environment to do this, not sitting behind a desk or in a training room.

Csikszentmihalyi makes the point we need introverted and extroverted thinking to be creative and that people are happiest when they are in this state of flow, in full concentration with the activity at hand and the situation. It’s a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The idea of flow is akin to the feeling of being “in the zone” and is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where someone is fully immersed in what he or she is doing. It is characterised by a feeling of great absorption, engagement and fulfilment during which temporal concerns (time, food etc) are typically ignored.

I try new things regularly.  Every year I go to new places, have new experiences, do something for the first time.  I recognise the value in doing the introverted thinking too (as an extrovert that has taken a bit of work) and that learning comes from the new and the different.  It helps me come up with new ideas, plan for new ventures and approaches to work, review and evaluate learning, set new goals.  I feel engaged and motivated in my life and business.

And that brings me to my glamptastic tipi near the sea which I settled into happily a few weekends ago. My plan was to take some time walking by the coast, thinking out plans and goals whilst staying in a new environment. 

It all went in a very different, unanticipated direction as I set out up my first hill.  I wasn’t thinking of any ideas or plans.  I was spotting yachts bobbing in the estuary, then an island, interesting flora and fauna; I stopped to smell flowers, got carried away with the sight of sea and cliffs and the feeling of the hot day.  I stopped now and then, but essentially kept taking in the views and processing the feelings, smells and sights I was experiencing.   I would break from my “day dreaming” and remind myself I was here for a purpose and needed to do some proper thinking.  Right!  No wrong.  Every part of my surroundings was telling me to just ENJOY the walk. Pay attention to what’s grabbing your attention as David Allen would say.  Aaah …… I gave myself permission to enjoy it and do nothing else. 

I began to absorb the detail of the up and down path, my proximity to the drop off above the sheer rock, the blaze of yellow gorse mixed with mauves of heather and ling, then tormentil, tiny blue birds eye, yellow vetch poking up under verdant green slopes of bracken swooping down the steep cliffs into the bluey sea that was washing the rocks and caves below.

And there you have it, being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies (in this case 5 hours). Every action, movement and thought follows from the previous one. The whole being is involved.  I really can’t explain much more except there came a point where I checked the map and turned tipi wards.

And did I get to my plans and goals?  It didn’t matter. I returned home engaged and motivated.

That night my tipi neighbours and I sat out and watched meteors, “oohed” and “aahed” as an incredibly bright International Space Station and its supply rocket spun overhead.  More flow.  Then they listened as I gave a potted lesson in the constellations we could see without up lighting (thank you to the Astronomy teacher at Ayers Rock Observatory in the Northern Territories for my lessons!). Time flew by unnoticed til someone yawned and headed off, head torch light jigging in the inky black.

Maxed out on having “in the moment” flow is something we should all do but it can seem a waste of time when we’re busy.  To some it might seem like a huge indulgence or just crazy.  And would clients go “yes, ok” to spending the day being zoned out in nature as a means to promote creative engagement rather than work in a training room?

At 3am the following morning I was awoken by banging and the sound of someone - or thing - moving about.  I switched on my head torch and two startled badgers who were investigating my food box looked up.  One had a bread roll in its mouth which it managed to keep hold of as they shot off, probably traumatised forever as I yelled after them “don’t take my food”. 

Time in flow is never dull.