Creative Flow: What Is It and How to Get Into It

Today’s topic of interest is ‘the flow’. Also known as ‘creative flow’, ‘flow state’, or ‘creative flow state’, and defined as the mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in a task, it is an immersive, psychosomatic experience in and of itself that you most likely have found yourself in at some point. You read that right. Contrary to what most people may think, the flow state is not an experience exclusively reserved for musicians, painters, poets, artists, and other creatives. Rather, it’s a state potentially accessible to you and me – all we need to do is arm ourselves with the necessary knowledge and poof – just like that we, too, can achieve it… Kind of.

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The Flow State & the Creative Process

The creative process is often defined as having five steps – preparation, incubation, illumination, evaluation, and verification. Our five tips for entering the creative flow state, mentioned below, lend themselves to each step of the creative process. You can think of the flow state as an enhancer of each step of the creative process, rather than the result of it.

And just before we get into the specifics of the flow state, it’s important that we set ourselves up for success. The key to succeeding here is honest reflection – upon reading every piece of advice outlined below, take a step back and ask yourself the following:

  • Am I already doing this or not?
  • If yes, is there any room for improvement?
  • If not, should I try this?

Without further ado, here are the five steps you can take to increase your chances of entering the flow:

1. Be Open to New Experiences

What would you do if a friend or loved one asked you to go on a last-minute trip with them? Does the prospect of it fill you with excitement or dread? To be open to new experiences is to allow yourself to explore the world around you. It means to be brave in saying ‘yes’ to new things and daring to be unconventional with your choices and taking the road less traveled.

It may help to think of your experiences as colors on a palette. The more of them you have, the more colorful the picture you paint will be. Some ideas for you to entertain:

  • Try a new hobby that is out of your comfort zone
  • Travel to a country you’ve never been to before
  • Read a book on a topic that piques your interest
  • Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a long time
  • Take a walk out in nature
  • Explore a city without using Google maps
  • Listen to new music, dance, and exercise

2. Know Yourself Well

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you like working in a quiet and controlled environment with minimal interruptions, or does the buzz and liveliness of a cafe sound more appealing to you? What are your hobbies, likes and dislikes? Whatever your preferences may be, having a keen sense of who you are is crucial to achieving a flow state.

Start by identifying your Biological Prime Time (BPT) using this questionnaire. If your BPT is in the morning, then complete the most challenging tasks of your day then, and leave minimal work for later in the afternoon. If the opposite is true, it’s best to take on the big tasks as the day progresses and you feel ready to tackle them.

Structure your daily tasks and activities in such a way that your routine works for you, not the other way around. By priming yourself for a fulfilling day, your chances of entering a flow state increase exponentially. Learn to work with your nature, not against it.

3. Have a (Challenging) Goal in Mind

Research has proven the utmost importance of entering a situation with a goal in mind and a challenging component to it. If done correctly, you may notice your motivation levels improve, and you’ll likely find it easier to immerse yourself into the creative process. To succeed in this, the task you assign yourself has to be challenging enough that you maintain your focus and remain engaged by it, but not so challenging that you become stressed and frustrated.

It’s like teaching a kid how to ride a bike. The goal is for the kid to ride the bike on their own, the challenge is to do so without training wheels. By providing the kid with the training necessary and encouraging them to balance themselves well, they will soon know how to ride their bike. And this will be the right moment for you to remove the training wheels and challenge the kid further.

It stands to logic that you wouldn’t just remove the training wheels before the kid could find their balance, right?

4. Choose the Right Setting

Do you often find yourself unable to concentrate properly on the task at hand? Internal and external distractions are what most often blocks people from entering the flow state. By internal distractions, we refer to all the mental blocks, stress, and racing thoughts that may keep you distracted and agitated. Internal distractions are harder to eliminate than external, so while achieving a healthier state of mind is crucial, doing so can be quite tricky. You may want to try:

  • Surrounding yourself with people and things you love
  • Leading an active lifestyle and walking every day
  • Writing any negative and distracting thoughts down
  • Spending time outdoors and walking in nature
  • Concentrating on varied tasks
  • Releasing tension by taking up boxing classes, or something to that effect

External distractions are quite self-explanatory, and also easier to tackle. All you need to do is find yourself a quiet and comfortable environment that works for you. While we’re all slightly different in our preferences, we can all benefit from:

  • Having a familiar and comfortable space
  • Steering clear from electronic devices
  • Keeping visual stimulation and distractions to a minimum

5. Embrace Failure

The goal here is to manage destructive thoughts and the fear of what others may think of you and your work – a common hindrance to achieving a flow state. To do so, you need to realize that creation is a process of trial and error, and that errors are a natural, useful, and integral part of success. Still not convinced? How about this – scientists have proven for a fact that the single largest predictor of one’s future success is their willingness to fail.

Think of your failures as the predecessors to your current and future success. If you find yourself struggling, then it may help to teach yourself how to fail in a smart way by acknowledging the context and not just blaming yourself. See it as a learning opportunity and reflect on what could be done better next time. Make sure not to repeat the same mistake again by giving yourself ample time to reflect on the situation. Then, share your failure with others, ask for their feedback, take your lessons from the experience, and move on!

Final Thoughts

While we have spent the last ~1000 words helping you create the building blocks to enter the mysterious and magical world of the flow state, we also need to acknowledge that our best efforts can only get us this far. Researchers and creatives agree that, despite our best efforts, the flow state mostly occurs by accident.

Sure, we’re doing our best to influence the occurrence and frequency of these accidental events, however, there is no guarantee that following the steps above will yield the same results every time. At the end of the day, the flow still lives in the cognition domain of the human brain that we’ve only recently begun to understand.

So don’t stress it too much. Nothing is worth stretching yourself thin over. Do your best, and your best will be good enough. Remember to enjoy the journey that is the creative process – you will reach your destination, this much is certain.

The Creative Management Series

Explore our extensive series on creative leadership and creative management to prepare yourself for every challenge ahead:

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