Have you heard people talk about being “on the ball”, “in the zone” or “in the groove” while doing some activity? This often happens to athletes, musicians, writers and other artists while they are performing, although it is certainly not limited to these fields.
What they are talking about is being in a flow state, which is simply a mental state that allows a person to be fully involved in her task because of a heightened state of focus, productivity and creativity, and therefore achieves success. Flow is laser-sharp focus, single-minded concentration, and channeled energy. When people are “in the zone”, they immerse themselves so fully in what they are doing that they lose all track of time. They are positive, energized, happy and on a natural “high”. At the same time, they are effortlessly pushing themselves beyond their limits and strengthening their skills. Research has found that it is when people’s bodies or minds are pushed to capacity that success occurs most often.
Musicians can experience a flow state when playing their instrument, often in a live performance where they are pushing themselves to perform at their best in front of an audience. Being in sync with the other musicians gives them a sharply-focused energy. Drummers achieve flow—what they call “getting into the groove”—when they drive the beat.
Many athletes that appear to perform miracles—a basketball player making a basket from halfway across the court, for example—are in a state of flow, or “in the zone”. Players often describe these incredible achievements as effortless, astounding others with their lack of specific knowledge about how they did it.
Those who engage in spiritual practices like Buddhism, meditation or yoga are no strangers to the flow state. For these disciplines it is necessary to transcend normal awareness and overcome the duality of self and object, and in doing so lose the sense of self-consciousness. In spiritual disciplines being in a flow state is called “being at one”.
Here are the basic traits of the flow experience:
- having a clear goal and knowing instantly how well you are doing
- action and awareness merge into single-mindedness
- high concentration on what you’re doing to the point that all else disappears from your mind
- a feeling of being in control
- loss of self-consciousness and a sense of growth
- altered sense of time, which often goes faster
Without flow, creativity is difficult to achieve. When you’re depressed, worried, tired or distracted, your creativity is blocked, not flowing. But it’s not always easy to get into a flow state, and indeed it’s not always voluntary. Creative thinking techniques can help you to get into this state.
Creative Thinking Techniques
- Brainstorming – this is often done with two or more people, also referred to as bouncing ideas off each other. The idea is to think of as many ideas as possible without censoring yourself or criticizing other people, and build ideas by association.
- Random Element – when you’re at a loss for a solution, introducing a random element to the problem can help unblock ideas. Identify your dilemma and then open a book and pick a random word; this method compels an association between the new word and the problem, allowing new solutions to flow.
- Role Playing – pretend that you’re someone else, either real or imagined, and think of new ideas. This methods inspires new thoughts you might not normally be comfortable thinking on your own.
- Mind Mapping – with this technique for creative thinking, you write down your issue in the middle of a piece of paper, then draw branches from it in many directions. At the end of the branches you jot down any ideas triggered by the main idea, and then draw branches out from these associations to add sub-associations. Using colors and images is helpful to stimulate the imagination.
- Free-Form Writing – this is a common technique for opening up your mind to new ideas. Write for an allotted amount of time and don’t stop to think until your time is up. Do not censor your thoughts or worry about spelling or grammar. Simply write, allowing one idea to open up the next.
What are your ideas about creative thinking? Have you experienced the flow state in your life? If yes, the results might have astounded you, showing your boundless potential. Share it with us