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Find Your Flow And Boost Your Creativity    

Find Your Flow And Boost Your Creativity

Art by FISK

By Dr. Julia Colangelo, a MyWellbeing therapist

You’re sitting at your desk and only focused on the one tab that you’re supposed to be. (Forget those 17 others that usually tug at your attention.) Distractions slip away. Your mind is half-groovy, half-almost hypnotic. Your fingers tap the keyboard like they’re moving magic. Your thoughts and behavior are aligned. You’re in total flow.

This isn’t by chance. This is flow state, and it occurs more often than we think. 

The term flow was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s based on his research to use positive psychology to help people unlock peak performance to enjoy more of life and tap into their strengths.

When we’re in a flow state, our brains and bodies focus on one task, and one task only. By focusing on a single activity, our brain isn’t focused on the distractions and self-doubt that grab our attention most of the time.

That allows us to be more creative, focused, and aligned with our truest selves because we’re no longer inhibited by self-judgment, which tends to be the biggest, and most overlooked, distraction.

The benefits of flow state don’t stop there. It can also make us happier and more optimistic because we’re connected with the present moment and embracing what we want to be doing, all while enjoying the process.

But with flow, we seem to always be left wanting more. Why is this?

Flow doesn’t have to be so elusive, and we don’t need to spend a ton of time and energy chasing it. Nor do we need to try to induce flow with substances. Our mental wellness matters too much for that.

Achieving flow comes down to being intentional. By following these five steps, you can help improve your concentration on major tasks so you can enter flow states more often, and on your terms. 

Step 1: Choose an activity you love

Don’t skip this step. The point of flow is to enjoy the process, not to torture yourself. This allows flow to be fulfilling, challenging, and more creative. Do a brain dump of all your favorite activities and then narrow it down to the one that you want to focus on.

Step 2: Identify your flow triggers 

Flow triggers are activities that previously led to flow and are easy to replicate. This might be as simple as a stretch, a morning routine you enjoy, or something you consume to promote energy (like a flavorful smoothie). Flow triggers can also come in the form of a favorite playlist or social interaction that sparks inspiration. Once you identify them, you want to take actionable steps to increase their frequency, which leads to more creativity and innovation. 

A pro tip: Communicate your desire to trigger more flow with those around you, and explain why you are making certain decisions. People tend to be more respectful and patient when they know we are taking actions to improve our mental health and increase our mood, so let others know why you are going through with your flow plan.

Step 3: Develop the skills you need to enjoy your flow activities

Watch some tutorials, ask for help, or focus your energy on whatever it is you want to create.

As you’re honing your skills, set specific goals. Instead of saying you want to “be more creative everyday,” try something more measurable such as “increase your time in a creative flow state by five minutes every day in the month of March” Then identify how you’ll measure your progress and feedback. I’m a fan of using wall calendars (yep, old school!) to have a visual reminder to look at everyday. A simple color or sticker tracker on a big wall calendar helps enhance focus and sustain momentum when the going gets tough. And instead of worrying that you’re “never in flow,” you’ll be able to start celebrating the moments of creativity and flow that occur more often than you probably realize.

Step 4: Work when you feel productive 

If you try to enter a flow state when you’re fatigued or stressed, or postpone it until the end of the day, you’ll end up missing out on flow more often than not. It’s important to block out times in your schedule and designate them as “flow sessions.” If you know your tendency is to have focus in the mornings, optimize your mornings. If you love getting creative at 2 am, go all-in on evening sessions (no apologies necessary!) The less we worry about others’ judgments of how we access flow, the more frequent and positive the flow experience will be. If you’re not sure what time is best for you, track yourself for two weeks and try to notice patterns. Then start to prioritize whatever flow triggers and flow time seem to help you.

Step 5: Free yourself from distractions 

Turn your phone on airplane mode, turn off WiFi if you’re writing, have your snacks and drinks ready. Whatever it takes to sustain flow for longer periods of time, do it.

By removing those distractions, you’ll be better able to enjoy the activity of flow itself, not just the benefits of creativity or productivity that come with it. This helps strengthen the neural pathways in your brain needed to repeat these behaviors and reactions. 

When in doubt, keep stretching your creative capacity. When you hit a plateau, increase the level of challenge in your creative activity. This helps prevent boredom and creates a more dynamic experience that your body and brain will be trained to want to replicate, thus leading to more flow.

Ultimately, what’s amazing about flow is that we all access flow and creativity in a unique way. The opportunity to channel more flow is within your reach right now. The potential for wins is clear: You’ll feel more confident, creative, aligned, and happy. What are you waiting for? Reactivate your flow today. You’ve got this, Local Optimists =)

Dr. Julia Colangelo is a Professor of Mindfulness at Columbia University, Flow Coach/Researcher, Therapist, Speaker, and founder of Hello Flow equipping driven professionals with positive psychology strategies to prevent burnout and unlock their creative genius to create positive impact. Dr. Julia’s the host of the Flow Surfers Podcast where she provides weekly 10-minute bitesize flow lessons. A proud mom and surfer, Julia can be found between Maui and NJ living an offbeat lifestyle. Connect with Julia over on @drjuliacolangelo to share your experiences with flow.

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.