Flow

Ah the elusive flow state. The zone where everything comes easily. Things just flow onto your page, canvas or screen. Everything fits together perfectly. Nothing can stop you.Now what was I saying?The toughest place to get to and the easiest place to get distracted from, the mental state often called 'in the zone', 'flow' or 'laser focus', is often the favorite place of many creatives.You've probably been there before. Time seems to fly by. The world around you isn't really there. A million little distractions that warranted attention before no longer exist. Whatever you are creating erupts from your hands, demanding to be written, moved or shaped into life.But on most days, flow is damn near impossible to achieve. What gives?It would make sense that the highest mental state of creation would be hard to get to and even harder to sustain. The highest level of anything isn't a walk in the park to attain. You don't start out as a black belt in any martial art. I can't think of anyone that's able to do a frontside 1080 wakeboarding for the first time. Do you know anyone that's written the perfect software program the first time through without making any modifications?I spend most days at my day job doing some sort of web development. Sometimes, I'm just doing a page layout and it's easy to grasp what should go where and then do it. Often though, I'll need to think through several layers of functions with many combinations of data just to see how a program will work in the real world and where things could go wrong. Like the real software, if I'm interrupted right in the middle of things, the process falls apart.Writing is the same way. If all the pieces fall in the right place, I can hammer through an article in no time. I'm able to write more of my articles this way lately and it's really nice. I can definitely attribute that factor to writing almost every day and trying to think all my posts to death before I start writing. I don't mean to kill it, but to come up with anything and everything I want to say about the idea.I hear a lot of people talk about flow in the creative space but I think it's in the athletics and sports arenas as well. When I'm on my game skiing, mountain biking or running, if everythings in place and going as well as it can, it feels like the creative zone. Anything can come up on the trail or my line in the snow and I can handle it. I'm perfectly in the moment and it all just feels right. This is why a lot of people play the sports and do the things outside that they do. They've found that zone. But be careful, it's addictive.Everybody I've talked to, whether they realize it or not, who becomes obsessed with doing something has reached a state where they aren't fumbling through what they're doing. They're not constantly checking facts, making sure their form is right, or being interrupted by other things. 100% of their mind is working on the problem at hand. Things click. Things flow.So if this is where everyone wants to be then why is it so hard to get there? It's one of those things that if you're pushing to hard to get there, you won't. It's like Neo trying to jump from one building to the next in the beginning of the Matrix movies. If you're thinking about it too much, you won't make it. If you're thinking about getting into the zone, you won't because you're thinking about getting into the zone. You have to be one with your craft.There are a few factors that help when I'm looking to create. It's by no means an exact science. Some days these things don't work at all. Sometimes the process is effortless.Be PatientFlow is not a forced state. It's a state of mind that comes from a lot of learning. You have to be patient with your craft. If you're just beginning, there's going to be a lot of checking and making sure you're doing things right. You might be able to get into a flow of learning and attain a higher focus but I doubt that you'll see it in your new art. For example, I'm learning to play guitar right now. With how much I know right now, I'm not going to be able to get into the zone. I'm checking things on the computer, I'm checking the book I've got, watching parts of a DVD, massaging my sad, weak fingers. So many interruptions are conducive to getting things flowing. But it will get there eventually.Don't Force itNothing is going to happen when you're forcing it. When you're forcing it, you're thinking about it. If you're thinking about it, it's not going to happen. Flow is about being 100% in the moment. If, at any point, you start thinking about other tasks you need to do, food you'll cook later, or the fact that you're looking to get into the flow, it's not going to happen. It's kind of like sleeping. If you're thinking about getting to sleep, you'll probably be up for hours trying.Set up your locationEveryone's favorite location is different. Some people get things done in coffee shops, others at home, in their cabin on the water. There can be more than one place that you can accomplish this. Look for something for few distractions to start. Look for places you can "zone out" and no one is going to bother you. I find being by myself at home works well because everything I need is there. It is a bit of a push to stop thinking about other tasks I have to do there though.For me the location can depend on the task. A place that is very conducive to writing can sometimes not work so well for drawing or coding. I find I can handle less distraction when I'm coding versus writing. Keep this in mind when you're looking for place to do your work. You might not be able to do some tasks in certain places while others are perfectly ok.Have everything you needFlow works well when you don't have to stop and do anything. Looking up links, researching, figuring out a new programming method, talking to friends, cleaning the bathroom, are all excellent ways to break flow. Try and have everything you need already in your head or close at hand. For writing, I like knowing almost exactly what I'm going to write without the technical details, like links or exact stats. Write as much as you can without the extra information. During your editing, go back and fix up and add in the little details.Think Creation, Not Destruction Scott Young has a good description for the phases in creativity. The first is creation. The uncontrolled, no holds barred, process of just putting as much as you can onto the page. Don't think about exactly how it reads or that it says exactly what you want it to say. You can do that later. In creation you're looking for quantity, not quality. This can be very conducive to flow. As you get better and better at putting what you want to say down on the page the first time, the ideas you come up with during creation will be better. Just don't start thinking destruction(editing, cutting, rewording) until it's actually time for that phase. Scott recommends doing them on different days so you won't accidentally slip from creating to destruction to early.Have you found any tricks that are good for getting into the flow? Do you even call it flow?