Posts Tagged ‘Flow’

Flow & The Dangers of Writing

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

A funny thing happened recently while I was driving a race car at about 170 MPH, and it was all about flow. As I arced the car through a turn, the sticky slick tires at their limit of grip, the g-forces forcing me to grit my teeth, running just inches from two other cars, a thought popped into my head: this is like writing.


Yeah, driving a race car at the limit is like writing. Okay, writing is safer. I’ll give you that. Well, unless you poke yourself in the eye with a pen, get a paper cut or stub a finger on the keyboard. Or you’re writing while racing. That’s just crazy dangerous.

When I’m writing at my best (it could happen!), I don’t think. It just happens. It flows.

When I’m racing at my best, I don’t think. It just happens. It flows.

When I try really, really hard to write something, I get the same results I do when I try really, really hard to drive fast: garbage. The harder I try, the worse it gets. The more I relax and let it happen, the better my performance – racing, writing or whatever.

The challenge is trusting myself. It’s trusting that if I let go and don’t try that the results will come.

I’ve even asked myself, “If I can’t trust myself, how can I expect anyone else to trust me?” That thought usually triggers something. And that something is nothing. Does that make sense? The nothing is me trusting myself to not try, to just let it happen. It’s not getting in the way of a great performance.

Great performance comes from knowing when to push, to try, to work at it… and when to let go, to trust yourself that it will happen, to let it happen, to let it flow.

Have you ever observed someone trying too hard? Trying to impress others? Have you ever done that yourself? I have. Often it’s a lack of self-confidence that drives this behavior. But, when I’ve just said to myself, “Stop – trust yourself. You’ve got nothing to prove that trying harder is going to help. Relax” I begin to let go of focusing on what others will think and… I don’t think.

“Economy of movement” is a term that 3-time World Driving Champion, Jackie Stewart used to describe driving a race car. “The less you do, the faster you’ll be” is how I describe it. Simplicity and efficiency is key to driving a race car fast.

When commenting about a long letter he’d written, Mark Twain said, “I could have written a shorter version, but I didn’t have time.” Simplicity and efficiency. Great writing requires few words. ‘Nuff said.

Great performance is also about simplicity and efficiency. About letting go, about not thinking, about letting it just happen, about being in the flow.

Racing or writing or whatever.

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Addicted to Flow

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

I have a problem. I’m addicted to “flow.” I am someone whom others would describe as lucky, for I’ve known for almost all my life what I’ve wanted to do. I’ve had goals from the time I was 5 or 6, and I spent the next 45 years or so “working” towards them. Actually, I should say “flowing” towards them…

I have a problem. I’m addicted to “flow.” I am someone whom others would describe as lucky, for I’ve known for almost all my life what I’ve wanted to do. I’ve had goals from the time I was 5 or 6, and I spent the next 45 years or so “working” towards them. Actually, I should say “flowing” towards them.

Flow In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as that state where you are doing something – anything, any activity – without consciously thinking about it. You are totally into this activity, and enjoying it moment by moment – you are “lost in the activity.”

Have you ever experienced this state? I’ll bet you have. My problem is that I’ve experienced it too often – in racing, playing sports, and doing business.

Csikszentmihalyi believes flow is at the core of happiness, and that for most people, they are most happy when they are in the flow.

That certainly is the case for me. To me, there is nothing better than being lost in an activity. Unfortunately, when I’m not in the flow, I’m not completely happy.

I wonder how many other people are like me?

Like any “addiction,” the more I’ve been in the flow, the more I want it again. As I’ve been racing cars less over the past few years, my overall level of happiness has reduced. I need a fix of flow. Fortunately, I’ve been able to find it in areas other than racing.

What activities readily trigger flow for me? Well, driving, of course. Coaching, writing, certain business activities, figuring out problems, times with my family, learning, reading, and presenting workshops.

This past weekend I conducted an 8-hour workshop. Presenting to a group of 30-plus people, and making sure the energy level stayed up and the participants were learning for 8 hours can be a challenge. I was able to stay in the flow for at least 6 of those 8 hours. Every now and then I’d find myself slipping out of it – often when I recognized I was in the flow, I’d pop out of it. That’s the way it works – the second you realize you’re in the flow, you begin to think with your conscious mind, and that kicks you out of the flow. But then I’d relax and just trust myself to do what I do best in that situation, and I’d be back again. What fun!

It’s in those moments of flow where it seems I could keep going and going forever. That happens when I’m really into a fun work project – I could work non-stop, for days on end without coming up for air! I’ve been accused of being a workaholic, but I just think of it as doing what I love, and getting lost in the flow of my work.

I wonder if the definition of a workaholic should be “someone who gets in the flow when working”? Maybe we could look at workaholics (check out Workaholics Anonymous) differently – in a more positive light?


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