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The ABCs of Creativity: Zone

When someone is “in the zone,” he or she is exhibiting the highest level of his or her talent through a seemingly effortless expenditure of energy. Michael Jordan’s 38 pts, 7 rebound, five assists, three steals and a block stat line while having the flu or his hitting six triples against Portland and shrugging about it after being criticized for his lack of three-point shooting skills are both great examples of being in the zone. Athletes are most often described this way because they are most often in the limelight, but artists, scientists and hobbyists can feel as if they are in the zone or, as creativity pioneer Csikszentmihalyi called it, “the flow.”

In Csikszentmihalyi’s “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention,” he describes part of the creative process as “the flow” and says that there are nine elements that characterize the flow:

  • Clear goals with no ambiguity: In the case of Jordan’s basketball games, the goal is clear; put the ball in your hoop. Whether you do it or you get a teammate to do it, the ball needs to get in your hoop.
  • Immediate feedback: The ball either goes in the hoop or it doesn’t. The feedback is immediate.
  • Challenge and skills are balanced: This is a little more difficult to illustrate. Basically, the question is whether or not the person’s skills are balanced with the challenge he or she is facing. If the challenge is too easy or too difficult, the person will not be able to enter the flow. It’s when the two are in alignment that the person enters the flow state.
  • Action merges with awareness: The person is focused on what he or she is doing. They do not think about anything other than the activity in the here and now.
  • No distractions: They exclude distraction from their minds. They are in the moment.
  • No concern about failure: The activity that the person is involved in is too consuming to give the person the opportunity to worry about failing or the outcome of failure.
  • No self-consciousness: The activity is too consuming for the person to be worried about how he or she appears to the outside world.
  • Time changes: Things slow down and time speeds up so that while the person is doing the activity, every detail can be examined, everyone else around him or her is slower, but when the activity is over the person doesn’t feel as if any time at all has passed. He or she loses track of time.
  • The activity is the end not the means to an end: If the activity is itself the goal and the required means to get to a greater goal, it becomes easier to enter the flow. If an author is writing to write a book and not to publish it or make money from it, he or she is more likely to enter the flow.

Getting into the flow creatively is why artists are depicted as absent-minded or the author doesn’t her someone calling out to him while he or she sits at the typewriter. It’s also what makes creativity so rewarding. Being in the flow indicates the person is operating at his or her highest possible ability without being overwhelmed. Get in the flow, or the zone, if you prefer, become more creative.

For more on creativity, check out, “Disneyland Is Creativity,” “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity,” and “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories for Greater Positive Creativity.” If you want more content like this, join our Patreon.

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