It’s a lovely word ‘flow’.

Recently, a mate of mine was talking about the flow effect he gets from running (about 30 minutes or a few miles into each run). After months of effort, he now finds jogging in the winter gloom easy, absorbing, blissful.

It’s a feeling that I get during a good swimming set or my Afia chum, Sarah, might get when she practises yoga (Vinyasa, the Sanskrit word for connection, is another way of describing flow).

The chat started me thinking about how flow works for writers.

It’s when we get in the zone, or, in the groove – the state in which we’re so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced the idea of flow in the 1990s as:

“A state of mindless grace where one acts at optimal performance without having to think about it.”

In Csikszentmihalyi’s words:

“Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

This isn’t about talent or genius. Reaching flow states isn’t an accident. It happens after a lot of hard work, over a long period of time.

To reach flow in whatever you do, there are six things you need:

  1. High skill – which means practice, practice, practice
  2. High challenge, but achievable – don’t overreach
  3. A supportive and knowledgeable network
  4. Clear goals and means to measure progress, with immediate feedback
  5. Intrinsic value
  6. Systems that remove distractions, and for building habits and rituals

For me, as a writer, there are definitely times when I reach a state of flow.

Time seems to slow or stop.

Hours pass by like minutes.

I’m unaware of little other than the task at hand – not paying attention to background noises or distractions.

And I don’t check my inbox every five minutes.

Sound familiar? Csikszentmihalyi called this “activation energy” and it takes effort and attention to find – whatever the activity.

So it seems that going with the flow takes some good old-fashioned graft before you start reaping the benefits. Just like running.

When and where do you experience creative flow – let us know?

You can find out more about Mihal Csikszentmihalyi in his TED talk on flow.