Flow: are you in the zone?

Flow_ are you in the zone_

If I ever have any doubts about my choice of career, I sit down at my laptop and start writing.  When I look up to find that a couple of hours have passed without me noticing, I know that I’ve had a flow experience.

I’ve been working on a crime novel, a bit at a time, for quite a long time now.  Every so often a new idea will pop into my head and I’ll write it down somewhere.  I’m astonished by the number of times that I get back home to find that I’ve already included it.  My Mum’s been having a clear out recently and gave me some of my ancient notebooks and folders to take away.  I’ve found that some of the themes I work with now are often ones that have been with me since I was a teenager.

What is flow?

But what’s all this got to do with my business? I hear you cry.  Well, are you in the right business?  Sorry if I cause you an existential crisis.

Don’t get me wrong, every job has challenges.  Whether you have a difficult customer, an annoying colleague or if there’s simply a part of the work that you hate, it comes with the territory.  What I’m really getting at is whether the main purpose of the work finds you ‘in the zone’.

Can you focus all of your concentration on what you’re doing and enjoy feeling in control.  Do you feel that your task is rewarding?  Could you see yourself doing it just because you enjoy it?  I might have left the law but I used to love digging into a new file, discovering what it was all about and what we still needed to know.  I’d sometimes lose track of time and end up having to sprint for my train.  These days it’s more likely to be a dash to the school gates.

Is it easy?

No, it’s not.  Just because you enjoy something doesn’t mean it’s simple.  It might mean that your skills and knowledge are equal to the task but it should still be a challenge.  The person who developed flow theory, Mihály Csikszentmihályi, discovered that flow doesn’t happen when you’re struggling or when you’re bored.  If you feel that a task is too easy or too hard you just get bored or frustrated.

You need to feel that your skills match what you’re doing and you should also be free from distractions.  That’s often easier said than done.

Surprise yourself

That’s not to say that you should only seek out things you know you can do.  You could surprise yourself.

As regular readers will know, I was presented with 40 postcards for my 40th birthday last year, each with a different challenge.  One of the challenges was to climb a wall.  When I say I’m not good with heights it would be more accurate to say that I’m completely petrified.  But a challenge is a challenge so we headed off to the Kong Adventure Centre in Keswick on our recent holiday.

The instructor showed me how to secure my harness and how I would be clipped on so he could make sure I was safe.  I climbed to a spot about 4 feet in the air and he told me to fall off.  That was the scariest part and guess what?  I was fine.  I promise I’m not sitting here in plaster.  I’d hoped to get to the top of one wall and I made it up four of them, each progressively harder.  I loved it, the time flew, and now I’m back home I’m looking for a local climbing club.

If you feel as if you’re not on the right path, look for your flow.  You might just surprise yourself.

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