One of the biggest things I’ve been learning recently is about how I can create the best setting for my optimum creative flow. I’ve been experimenting and treating it all like a data gathering exercise so I can replicate the successful parts and reduce the distractions and less optimum elements.
You might be asking, what the hell is creative flow? So before I jump into some of my best tips I’ve been discovering, let’s see if I can explain just what it is
What is ‘creative flow’?
Creative flow, sometimes also known as "being in the zone," usually refers to a state of heightened focus and immersion in a creative activity, where one's skills and abilities harmoniously align with the challenges of the task. Creative flow can refer to any creative pursuit as well, not just visual art, it’s a state where anyone can experience a deep sense of engagement and time seems to pass effortlessly.
The concept was first introduced by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who described it as the optimal state of consciousness where people feel their best and perform at their peak in creative endeavours.
In the state of creative flow, individuals often lose track of their surroundings and self-consciousness, becoming fully absorbed in the present moment. It’s a truly immersive experience and, for me, leads to a heightened sense of creativity, productivity, and a deep connection to my work.
The conditions for entering creative flow depend so much on the individual, and work on the balance between the level of challenge and one's skill set, clear goals, immediate feedback, and a strong sense of control over the creative process. Needless to say, distractions and interruptions can really disrupt the flow state, which is why it's essential to create an environment that nurtures this level of focus and creativity.
So now you understand what I mean by creative flow I hope you can see how essential it is to developing a creative practice and that discovering your own personal blueprint into the creative zone can be so rewarding.
Here are my top tips to finding out what gets you “in the zone”...
Set Clear Intentions
Before you begin your creative work, set clear intentions and goals for what you want to accomplish. This helps focus your mind and directs your energy towards the task at hand.
Clearly articulate what you aim to achieve with your creative work, having some specific and measurable goals will give you a sense of direction and purpose.
Try to keep your goal clear and then work to divide it into smaller, manageable tasks or milestones. This approach helps prevent overwhelm and allows you to focus on one step at a time, keeping you motivated and on track.
It can also help to visualise your creative goals by creating a vision board or mind map. Using images, words, or symbols that represent your desired outcomes and the feelings you want to evoke through your creative work really helps drive creative ideas. Displaying this visual representation in your workspace as a constant reminder of your intentions and aspirations will help bring focus when your mind wanders.
Do you like silence? Rain noises? Do you like music only - no lyrics? Creating a playlist of different options can act like a ‘cheat code’ to get you in the mood and is something I’ve used for years to get me into certain projects. Experiment with playing instrumental or ambient music that complements the mood of your creative work. Classical or lo-fi beats can create a peaceful and productive atmosphere, whereas energetic rap or dance music can create a sense of urgency and keep you on your toes.
I also have a bit of a thing for hearing the wind in the trees, so when I can’t be out in nature I use an app to listen to nature sounds which I find really calming and focusing. The gentle sounds of rain, waves, or birdsong can transport you to a serene and imaginative mental space or white noise can help to cut out distractions.
A few years ago I had a bit of a realisation in regards to how I react to certain scents. I’ve always known that, for me, scent is the most powerful for evoking memories, I can be transported to my childhood with just the hint of my grandma's perfume. It’s a beautiful thing but can also be a bit jarring when you don’t expect it. But I began to realise how much scent affected my work, productivity and real world happiness. Finding out what you like an what you hate, what gives you a headache and what concentration of certain things is too much or too little is a really interesting exploration. You can try scented candles or use essential oils with calming or inspiring aromas, such as lavender for relaxation or citrus for energy and focus. The pleasant scents can help create a conducive atmosphere for creativity scents that can uplift your mood and spark creativity.
This isn't a huge one, but it’s definitely got it’s place for me, especially when battling with the British weather and fuel bills. Being physically comfortable will really help you focus better on your creative tasks, hot water bottles and thick socks are a must come winter!
You can also experiment with the use of hot or cold drinks during your creative process. A warm cup of tea or coffee can be comforting and soothing, while a cool drink can be refreshing and invigorating - I’ve nearly always got a cup of tea on the go.
Whilst it’s really important to use natural light whenever possible, as it can create a sense of openness and connection to the outside world, make sure you also notice what this does to your space and how it allows you to connect with your work. You might also like to dim the lights or use soft, warm-toned lighting or fairy lights during evening or night sessions. Gentle lighting can create a relaxed ambiance, promoting a calm and focused state of mind so can be great for journaling or more mindfulness type sketching and creating.
Listen to your body
This is an extension of the sensory exploration really, but another branch of figuring out when you are in a great place to get creative. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re tired, take a nap. Forcing yourself beyond certain levels of comfort will never result in happy creativity so try to stay in touch with what you need.
By paying attention to your energy levels you should be able to identify when you feel most alert and productive. Some people are more creative in the morning, while others find their peak time in the afternoon or evening. If you can gather the data on this, you can try and schedule your creative work during your “peak time” to maximise your chances of entering a state of flow.
Minimise distractions as much as possible and try to work out what those actually are for you. It could be noises, certain types of light/flashing, having your computer on etc. I feel like I can never quite settle if my clothes aren’t comfortable, sounds odd maybe, but I have to find a low-distraction, comfortable outfit to work in otherwise it’s really off putting! You really need to be able to concentrate without interruptions, so whatever it is that might take your attention elsewhere needs to be put aside for a while. I’d say the number one and also easiest first step to this is to put your phone on silent or place it in another room to avoid distractions from notifications. If you need your phone for music or looking at an image etc then I’d highly recommend putting it on aeroplane mode.
Create a Ritual
This is one of my favourite things to do and is basically a bit of a round up of all the previous points. By establishing all the elements you’ve figured out about yourself so far into a pre-creative ritual, it’s a signal to your brain that its go time. It could be as simple as making a cup of tea, putting on your playlist and lighting a candle. Consistently engaging in this ritual before your creative work helps train your mind to transition into a focused state more easily.
You can also add warm-up activities into your ritual that can help ease you into your session. Start with simple, low-stakes tasks related to your creative work. For example, if you're a writer, begin by jotting down ideas or doing free-writing exercises.
Disconnect from Perfectionism
One of the most important things you have to do when you want to get super creative is to just check the perfectionism at the door! Allow yourself to explore and experiment freely and shut down unnecessary self-criticism which will undoubtedly slow down progress.
Embrace all the imperfections and focus on the joy of the creative process itself!
Important! Whilst writing these ideas down I’ve realised that some of them may feel like extra barriers to getting creative!? Which is definitely not the intention of any of this. Use these as guides of all the things to look out for on your journey! It’s all about trying different configurations, techniques and stimuli and logging the data for future reference. You don’t need the perfect playlist or scented candle to get going, but you can use the ideas and tips to experiment and find your way towards building something that bring you closer and closer to your perfect recipe for creativity. Entering a state of creative flow is such a personal and unique experience and only you know when you’re there.