Creative Notes Week 5: The Ever-Enviable State of ‘Flow’

Today’s reading was Csikszentmihalyi on The Flow of Creativity, which I would define as the state of mind in which a person’s outward perceptions fall away and they instead become utterly immersed and focused on their present task. It is the state that creatives seek the most, as it leads to the greatest levels of productivity, renders stress, anxiety, and other real world concerns powerless, and can lead to a profound sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when the person exits ‘flow’ and has achieved what they wanted, such as finishing a piece of work.

I can identify with this concept an awful lot, as I had previously come up with a variant of the idea myself, only I referred to ‘flow’ as ‘the creative groove, and aside from the name, it served as very much the same idea.

Csikszentmihalyi goes even further as to define what factors play a part in maximising the enjoyment of the creative process, and therefore form the impetus for ‘flow’ to take place. I found this particularly enlightening to read. Despite my ambition, I have yet to muster such impetus to act on what I desire to do the most, and I find myself very fortunate to have the author give a breakdown of what conditions best breed enjoyment and spark creativity.

I feel as though I spend a lot of time short on impetus for creativity and flow, as a direct result of not meeting a few of the conditions Csikszentmihalyi mentions – for example, a lack of immediate, recognisable feedback for my actions. A lot of my projects are for my own personal entertainment and are based solely around my own sense of humour, and I would be reluctant to show something so personal to the outside world for fear of judgment or causing offense. However, having only myself to judge my own work creates a limited space for feedback, and the lack thereof slowly banes my incentive to carry on doing it, regardless of who it was intended for.

I do aspire to experience flow more often so that I can spend more time focused on what I want to do, and feel more fulfilled at the end of it – that I have tapped into deeper potential and achieved more than I could when forced to deal with the never-ending trivial tribulations of real life. Yet surprisingly I do not consciously seek to achieve ‘flow’ very often. Often I am distracted, stuck in a loop of procrastination, followed by regret, as I look back at the time I wasted, and disheartened at the lack of progress that I have made, and having instead only reinforced the vicious cycle of inaction and negativity, I cannot amass the strength to push myself out of the cycle and take action to combat it. This cycle has been perhaps the greatest and most taxing obstacle that stands between me and achieving my future aspirations, and has formed the base of the neuroses that cloud my thoughts, disrupt my ‘flow’, and defeat my spirit.

Still, I am thankful to Csikszentmihalyi for his insightful writings. Though it is not pleasant to come to terms with my neuroses, being aware of the problem is the first stage in counteracting them. I know it won’t be quick or easy, so the lack of instant gratification in defeating the problem will make it all the more exhausting. There are potentially years of internal programming to sift through and straighten out, cleaning out all that impedes my productivity, causes negativity, and hope to regain the impetus for creativity, and the means to achieve ‘flow’.

However, nothing that ever matters comes easily. It will be a long, ongoing process to rebalance my mind. It will take commitment, and effort – that which I would normally shrink away from in disgust. But I have realised that being truly creative is not something that comes freely, but is a path that must be consciously and constantly committed to. The most ultimately fulfilling route one might take in life will not necessarily be the most fun from moment to moment. There must be focus, and sometimes we have to take away all that is familiar to us before our minds can stretch out to new frontiers, and if only for a moment, we can become something greater than what the trappings of reality, and indeed our own delusions, make ourselves out to be.

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