Want to write your best work? These proven psychological triggers will help you enter a state of mind that is proven to boost creativity and happiness. It's a win-win.
What is the Flow State?
Have you ever been working on something and become completely immersed in the task? You forget to eat, your inhibitions fade, you might even forget to pee. All of a sudden, it's been four hours and you emerge from hyper-focus on the task in front of you. You were in the zone and created some of your best work. That zone is also known as the flow state and it's a real psychological phenomenon.
The term was popularised by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, with his book Flow: The Psychology of Happiness in 1990. He claims it's "an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best". Flow helps to heighten our ability during demanding and engaging activities by flooding our brains with chemicals such as dopamine – it's like entering fight or flight mode in your writing, without the stress. The background noise fades away and you can just crack on with what you do best.
The 8 Benefits of the Flow State
Complete concentration on the task in front of you
Clarity of goals and reward in mind, with immediate feedback
Time can speed up or slow down
The experience is intrinsically rewarding
A feeling of effortlessness and ease
Balance between challenge and skill
Actions and awareness are merged, mitigating self-consciousness
A feeling of control over the task
These benefits are key to writing great prose. How often do you feel inhibited by your self-consciousness or distracted by 100 other things whirring in your brain? Creative writing is difficult at the best of times, but what if you could knowingly induce a dose of hyper-focus, ease and creativity for your writing sessions? Imagine all the wonderful things you could write!
How to Trigger the Flow State
While the flow state is a natural phenomenon that will occur when we challenge ourselves, it is also trainable. In fact, there are five ways to trigger it. These are risk, complexity, unpredictability, pattern recognition and novelty. Not all of these are useful for us writers – who wants to jump off a building with their laptop, am I right? But the following two triggers might be of use.
This is one of the easiest things you can do, and probably already do, in your writing process. The act of refining your work, rereading yesterday's paragraph and moving that blasted comma or correcting that spelling error – that's pattern recognition. And every time you spot the pattern and perfect your work, you get a little shot of dopamine! No wonder I love my job.
So, if you're struggling to get going when you start your writing session, try editing some of your earlier work. Even just a paragraph. This will prime your brain to induce the flow state so you can reap the benefits of your uninhibited creativity, while simultaneously reducing the pressure of facing the blank page. Your brain is already whirring and ready to crack on. Great writing here we come!
This trigger is an easy way to give yourself a little dopamine hit before you even sit down to write. You can keep it simple, like putting on your favourite outfit – no judgements here if it's loungewear or a full on frock, you do you. You could also try changing up your environment by visiting a park or coffee shop. Or how about a new tool like a pen or trying out that new writing software? Any small act that gets you excited to start, the novelty of the process, will help you draw focus quicker so you can perform better.
The other triggers may be better reserved for the adrenaline junkies out there, needing Risk and Unpredictability to break records in daring sports such as big wave surfing, but you can learn more about those in Matt D'Avella's video below.
So, those are some of the ways you can trigger the state of flow to boost your creativity in your writing.
Let me know if any of them work for you!
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