Creativity & Happiness - 25 March 2012
Sunset at Green River Overlook - Canyonlands NP, Utah, File #
Link To Original Image: http://www.tom-hill.biz/Galleries/Scenics/Utah/20957775_CZGg5B#!i=1665216590&k=SKZpcJ9&lb=1&s=A
We've all heard the term "being in the zone". It's a fairly common thing to hear when you’re in the sporting world. If you participated in sports you might've experienced times when everything seemed to fade away and all that was left was simply the sport, the activity. The pain, the effort, none of that mattered. All there was was the task, kick, tackle, shoot, jump. It's almost like you're on autopilot and things are happening without your input. It's beyond yourself. It's being in the zone. There's an artistic angle to this and that's what we're going to talk about today.
I was introduced to the concept of Flow as founded by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (good luck pronouncing his last name), a noted psychologist, while reading a blog that normally was associated with long distance running. The premise of the article was when you're so focused on the task, the accomplishment, the outside world tended to fall away. If you're a runner you know what I'm talking about. There are those special moments when the world passes away and all your left is your breathing and each step. The author if this article talked about this particularly normally grueling 100 mile race where somewhere along the way he got into the zone. He had a smile that refused to leave his face. He dropped his pacer--the guy that’s supposed to help keep him motived and keep his own speed up. By the time he had finished the run, he hardly knew what had happened with the day. It was amazing. Flow as defined by Csikszentmihalyi is being in that state, a state of ecstasy or euphoria.
He coined the term because it corresponded with composers and other creatives he interviewed that could sit for hours with time passing away, where their compositions were flowing out of their fingers to their manuscript. That was Flow, that conscious production where things seemed to happen regardless of the environment.
I'm not 100% certain but this isn't quite the same idea of "going with the flow", that Taoist concept where you are but a leaf on the river of life "flowing" in a direction as compared to the rock being pounded by that river of life. I think Flow to Csikszentmihalyi meant something different, though I could be mistaken.
What's this got to do with us and today? The setup for being in Flow is attempting a rather challenging activity requiring a high skill level. That sounds like photography to me. In fact, I've found in-flight bird photography to exhibit exactly those conditions which might completely explain why I love in-flight bird photography so much.
Csikszentmihalyi also brings up the idea a certain skill level is required to achieve this state. He alludes to needing 10 years of basic training before being at the necessary skill level to trigger the circumstances of Flow. What I find most interesting with that little piece of info is it corresponds with the 10,000 hr rule. It's the rule of thumb where you need to have engaged in 10,000 hrs of intense committed activity before becoming a master. While the author of Flow wasn't specifically targeting what was necessarily to be a master, his number certainly sync's up.
Note: the 10,000 hr rule of thumb was champion by Malcolm Gladwell in his book blink. I've referenced this before. He noted, 10,000 hrs was about 10 years of concentrated daily involvement. For sure, this association is mine and not either of the other two noted authors. I find it interesting.
In short, Flow is a state where attention, motivation, and situation meet, resulting in a kind of productive harmonious state. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
What’s this all mean? Well, at the least it points in a direction. If you wondered how you would ever get into the zone, one of the prerequisites is to have the skills to accomplish the task. That means a level of proficiency and that means hours and hours of drudgery and commitment. If you play a musical instrument, it means scales and exercises until you’re blue in the face. It’s means putting in the work to establish that foundation.
The second prerequisite is a challenge. First, it needs to match up with your skill level. Then, second it needs to be high enough yet achievable. This points to another direction, improvement. The constant expansion of skill and capability. Said another way, it’s learning.
Finally, I’ll add my own spin from my own experiences of Flow. It’s active. It’s not a passive thing meaning you evoke the state where it materializes in the right balance of skill and challenge. It is not something that simply appears without being called forth. It is a request you ask of yourself and in the right conditions it arises.
Of course, our first experiences of this when we were kids did not have any of this mumbo jumbo associated with it. There’s a fantastic picture of a kid painting a model where he’s totally immersed in his activity. That picture is used as a sample of a child being in Flow. Why it was so fantastic to me was I did exactly that when I was in elementary school. I was the kid that spent countless hours in our basement making and painting models. I remember it seemed like there was no time. Time seemed to slip away. I just remember the task, the building and painting.
Here’s a quick thought. Do you think our sense of time--why it passes so much more quickly--as we get older is affected by our ability to slip into flow or out of it? The more we’re conscious of the time the quicker it passes by? The less we’re aware of time--in Flow--the longer the weeks seem to go by?
I have no idea if that’s true but it’s an interesting thought.
Being in this state causes a kind of euphoria. When you’re being creative, intently making something with a singular focus, there is this euphoria, a kind of happiness. The hypothesis is being deeply creative makes you happy.
According to some (in Wikipedia, you can search it) Flow, or its versions, are an intrinsic thing to us. It’s built into us which brings to mind that being in that zone is as much a part of us as anything.
In a TED talk, Csikszentmihalyi related the story of his discovery of Flow by analyzing data showing what made people “happy”. While some may say it’s a material wealth thing. He noted once you’re past a certain very basic level, polls showed rates of people being happy did not improve when you had more money. Your state of happiness was not based on your personal wealth. That led to interviews with creatives, happy creatives, that may or many not have had personal wealth associated with their art. The point being that because they could invoke Flow, regardless of whether it was profitable or not, these creatives were happy.
Of course, being creative is not exclusive to the arts. There are other ways of expressing creativity. My main point in all this is there are way to make yourself happy by being totally immersed in something difficult and challenging. The money aspect is practically immaterial to being happy.
If you’re wondering if it’s all worth it, the work you’re doing to improve your art, I say it is. In fact, I say it might be the best way to achieve satisfaction if you let it be.
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