It happens so rarely, doesn’t it? Flow, that is. That mystical, mythical, mysterious state of mind, state of the heart, state of the universe when everything just works.
The concept of Flow was elaborated by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (All the fairy dust in the world wouldn’t have helped me spell that correctly. Thank you Ctrl+C.) If you’re a creative, or just someone with hobbies and pastimes, the concept should feel familiar, even if you don’t know it by name, or by the name of the guy who expounded on it.
It’s when time stops. You ease from one task to another without getting lost, everything works. You are at the height of your productivity.
If you have twenty minutes to spare (and if you’ve already caught up on the Sing With Your Feet podcast), do yourself a solid and watch this TED Talk by Dr. Csikszentmihalyi.
You may or may not know this about me, but I am an absolute geek for Venn Diagrams. I love me a Venn Diagram. It’s part of my “brain-mapping” process. (Uhm, your what?)
What? You don’t know what brain-mapping is? You do it, I’m certain you do.
It’s when you write things down, just to get them out of your head. You’ll write out a few categories and start listing related ideas. Maybe it’s a to-do list. Maybe it’s a mini flowchart. Oooh, ooh, ooh! Or maybe it’s a full-on retro-planning: what needs to happen first, and how soon before the step that comes after it… I LOVE RETRO-PLANNING. Do not get me started on Gantt Charts. I might never come back.
Maybe for you, it’s doodles while you’re on the phone that serves as a way to brainstorm.
Okay. So, back to Venn Diagrams.
I seem to remember that at some point when my indulgent husband and I were getting to know one another, back when we stayed up all night expounding on theories about how women get old men become distinguished, and playing Mastermind, he said something about Venn Diagrams, and…while we were nothing more than friends, I might have had some kind of distant flash about a knight in shining armor.
Am I saying that I fell in love with the man I married because he talked knowledgably about Venn Diagrams? I will let you stew on that.
But for this very moment, I want you to try something. I want you to make a circle.
Inside that circle, I want you to write all the things you have to do.
A (non-exhaustive) sampling:
- Scoop the kitty litter
- Fold laundry
- Make dinner
- Take kids to school
- Balance the checkbook
- Do the dishes
Let’s be honest. There isn’t a lot of fodder for getting into a state of flow with these six things you have to do.
But let us not despair. These things are incompressible, yes. They take time, yes. But I want to argue something, something that I have been trying to put to the test in my own life (because, theories, you know…):
When we have more states of flow doing the things we love to do, these other things feel like they take less time. The amount of time spent in the state of flow might not even really matter. It just needs to happen. We just need to make that shift in our creative brains.
So now, let’s make another circle for our hallowed Venn Diagram: Things we love to do and lose track of time doing (yours will be different):
- Making music
- Sitting in silence in a beam of sunshine
All right…do you see where I am going with this?
Is it possible, is it in any way possible to create an overlap in the things you love to do and the things you have to do?
I have mentioned this before, but a long time ago, I discovered that doing the dishes (something that needs to get done) immediately after a meal and putting them away made my life so much easier. Because my Venn Diagram-loving husband knew that what I was doing was essential to the good-functioning of our home, he took it upon himself to entertain the scalawags while I did this activity.
But guess what? While I am doing the dishes, my brain does not need to be engaged. No, I cannot refashion a man’s jacket into a fashionable cape while I am doing the dishes, but I can dream about how exactly I am going to refashion that man’s jacket into a fashionable cape.
In the doing of things I have to do, I am capable of entering a state of flow. It may not be quite exactly as satisfying as ripping out shoulder pads and basting in fluorescent thread to test my theories, but I am investing in the things that geek me out.
Let’s call it virtual flow.
By increasing the moments of flow in my day, certainly, by all means, in real moments of flow, but also virtual moments of flow, I can increase my feeling of satisfaction with my days. By not letting my passions escape from me while I fold laundry, I find that the balance starts to weigh more heavily on the side of contentment.
Another example: when I actually take the time to make pretty food, (which is one of my 22 in 22, thank you very much), it scratches that itch I have to make art. Sure, it doesn’t last forever. But if I can convince myself that I am creating something, and can invest in the beauty of the thing, even making food can be something in which I can find flow.
You do not have to exist in a siloed world of “things I have to do” and “things I love to do.” Nor do you have to necessarily change careers in order to find more satisfaction. You can start by bringing what you love into what you have to do.
Please try this.
Oh. And listen to the podcast, too.