Flow -- the harmony of creative ideation and peak production in pursuit of perfecting one’s craft. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first described the feeling in his book Flow as a state of mind where we are “so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
Many times, flow is attributed to the state of mind writers, painters, musicians, poets and performers spend a lot of their time searching for. Once they find it, holding onto it becomes paramount -- some may even call it their muse, but that’s a story for another time, in another world.
Make no mistake though, fluidity in truly wondrous production is something that people seek in every aspect of career-driven pursuits. Designing and finishing what we could call the quintessence of our best product, plan, motion or whatever it may be, is something that takes time, effort and practice. Throw the flow in there though, and sometimes it can seem easy, or at least a little bit easier than it normally would have been. It’s that state of mind where taking on challenging tasks and completing them feels like the completion happened without trying.
It’s also that state of mind that seems fleeting, unattainable and frustratingly distant, like always trying to grab something that’s just barely out of reach, hands grasping empty air fruitlessly over and over again. It can be maddening.
There are strategies that work to support us in our pursuit and attainment of this mindset though, and once we’ve attained it leveraging it is as easy as putting the mindset to use.
In other words, this flow state can be controlled, if we give ourselves challenges/goals -- tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult -- to reach. Optimal experience, after all, is something that we make happen, and is therefore in our power. No matter how unattainable flow may seem, or how random the moments of flow may appear to be, there are ways to order our consciousness and achieve flow states of mind on a regular basis.
Ultimately, we spend a good chunk of our lives working, and trying to find the most optimal way to not only produce work that fulfills the requirements we are tasked with, but that is also enjoyable. As such, learning how to transform our jobs into flow-producing activities is something we all seek.
Let’s get flowing.
Clearly Define Your Goals and Aspirations
Use Self-Controlled Goals and Aspirations to Push Yourself
This is where it all begins. As described above, flow is that state of mind you find in the situations where you are being challenged, yet using your talents and skills to overcome those challenges.
It’s the harmony between being challenged enough to be stimulated, and being skilled enough at the challenge to not feel overwhelmed with the task.
When we get overwhelmed, we tend to get stressed or anxious and lose focus because our minds are inundated with the anxiety associated with the task. Conversely, if a task is not challenging enough, we lose focus and start searching for other stimuli to occupy our minds with.
Therefore, clearly defining our goals, aspirations and challenges is imperative to finding flow.
Take some time to reflect on the daily challenges you face in your school or classroom and define where you are being challenged enough, where you aren’t being challenged enough and where you’re being overwhelmed with the task at hand. How can you optimize these experiences to better suit your talents and skills?
This takes a lot of self-control and focus. Start by first defining what your daily standards are in relation to your goals and challenges. For example, if your challenge is to increase student engagement in your school or classroom, what standards are you using to measure that challenge? Are you reaching those standards too easily? Are they too difficult to reach? Where is the middle ground?
Once you’ve determined this, find ways to monitor your success and provide yourself with feedback. If we are trying to constantly improve, then it is our duty to do so by holding ourselves accountable. How are you continually improving the model you’ve determined will be supportive of your goal to reach your challenge? How are the standards you use to measure that success constantly improving to keep up with the talents and skills you refine on a daily basis?
The flow state of mind is not accidental, it is a practice in self-controlled accountability that challenges us to continually seek ways of bettering ourselves and our “product,” if you will.
Consider the Consequences of Your Environment
How Can You Make Your Environment Work for You?
When seeking peak productivity, we often revert to routine in order to fulfill the needs of our desired output. Routine certainly works to ensure that we get the task done, but it is not conducive to finding a challenging environment where our skills and talents are best put to use.
If you’re looking to challenge yourself more on a daily basis, and have clearly defined those challenges and aspirations (above), then your routine will need to be shaken up a bit.
In other words, consider the consequences of your environment, and how your actions can impact you.
The more we put ourselves in situations that provide direct feedback to our actions, the more we are likely to rise to the challenge.
For you, this could be as simple as speaking up in a staff meeting, if you normally don’t, and providing your opinion as a potential avenue for success in your school or classroom.
Or, it could mean taking steps in your learning environment to try something new, instead of using the same routine. Regardless, the key is that we put ourselves in situations that have direct consequences, but that can be managed by our skills and talents.
You will rise to the occasion if your skills and talents are built to handle that occasion. Sometimes you just need to push yourself out of your comfort zone to realize that your defining attributes are built for more than just routine.
Are You Dedicating a Set Time for Creative Discovery?
Deliberately Practice Activities for the Sake of the Activity Itself, Not for the Results
Are you making time to deliberately practice your skills and talents in the service of creative discovery? If so, you will learn to leverage what you learn in your flow state, and apply it to your learning environment more consistently. Once you dedicate time to this endeavor, you will be able to discover your flow state of mind on a more regular basis.
Once we’ve clearly defined our goals and aspirations, and learned to use our environments to support us in exploring our talents and skills further, application is the next step. Application is not as simple as putting those strategies to the test; it needs to be focused deliberately and practiced for the sake of the activity itself, not for the desired outcomes of the activity.
In other words, why do we enjoy planning truly inspiring and engaging lessons for our students? Or, why do we enjoy cultivating a school culture that is both supportive and challenging in the service of innovation? What is it about the activity itself that is so enjoyable?
This is when flow state becomes the catalyst to creative discovery because, as Csikszentmihalyi describes in an interview with Wired Magazine, flow is “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follow inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
In other words, even though the results are what we seek with flow states of mind, we cannot focus on the results when we are seeking to utilize this state of mind to our advantage. This starts by just setting time aside for yourself to investigate the aspects of education that you are most passionate about, and deliberately focusing on the activity of investigating this passion, not how it will benefit your learning environment -- that will come naturally.
We all seek this mindset. It is the means by which life becomes an enjoyable experience, an experience that is both challenging and fulfilling to the talents and skills we innately possess as unique individuals.
Seeking the flow state of mind with deliberate challenges and practices will result you achieving this state of mind beyond the coincidence of what appears to be mere accident. As said earlier, optimal experience can be controlled, and your skills and talents can move beyond routine, into a world where you are constantly using your attributes to discover new heights.
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