‘In the zone’ is the term people use, if I’m not mistaken; the term I’ve been using is ‘stopping time’. That’s sort of a semi-secret I let jillafriends in on a little while ago, and when I did, I wondered whether there was any ‘serious science’ behind why it was so effective~for me, at least.
Turns out, there is, and I found out quite by accident quite recently through an almost completely unrelated channel (this Fast Company post, in case you were curious). Seeing as I was one of the last people on earth to own a mobile phone or get on social media, it shouldn’t be too surprising for me to be one of the last to find out how experts refer to my ‘stopped time’ as a ‘flow state’.
As it turns out, I’ve had to do a little impromptu reading today on flow states which very naturally roused my curiosity~considering the not unimportant part it plays in my ‘painting factory operations’. So I thought I’d look a little closer into ‘the state to be’~all the time, if it were up to me~at least, whenever the painting factory is up and running.
The Science Behind the State
When I said I’d look a little closer at what a flow state is, I’m obviously not writing something for The Lancet or anything like that~I just Googled something real quick, just like anyone (who didn’t ask the AI ^^).
My ‘nutshell understanding’, therefore, of what being in a flow state is, involves being so absorbed in what you’re doing (i.e. painting or *arting* in general) you lose all track of time.
You’ll find more detailed descriptions of what a flow state is in Medical News Today, along with some information on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the positive psychologist credited with calling it that. If you wanted to get more technical, i.e. the parts of the brain and the biochemicals involved, you might want to check out this read from Frontiers.
The point is, there are ‘official’ x ‘scientific’ explanations for ‘the magic’ that happens when one is in the zone. I admit I find it somewhat comforting knowing that it’s not all ‘just in my head’ or ‘something I just do to myself’ in order to boost my productivity.
Crazy Into You
I’m pretty sure I’ve described it this way before, but to me it’s a lot like being with *the thing you want most* (think bug-eyed ex-Hobbit wearing naught but a butt-flap obsessing over his precious). When you don’t have it, you dream of it, and when you do, heaven help anyone who dares take it away from you (as in you’re liable to lose a finger).
I find it interesting how the experts note the difference between the flow state and hyperfocus, although for me, that difference can start to blur when you’re ‘shooting an entire series’ and not just working on a ‘special’. Like I find myself thinking about it or ‘mentally rehearsing’ how I’m going to work on it later, whenever I’m ‘in between states’ (e.g. on the road (usually in traffic).
Medical News Today mentions how people in flow may even feel annoyed (to put it mildly) if their flow should be interrupted. For my part, I confess to having yelled at the people I used to live with (back at my parents’ house) whenever they would innocently ‘break into my barrier’ to tell me it was time to eat or something.
I’d say I was a pain in the sleeping bag to live with because of this~I’m not making excuses for it, just offering reasons behind it. (And this is why moving into the jillahouse was one of the best things I could’ve done, for them as well as for me.)
Getting to the Next Level
A few copyblocks back, I referred to achieving a flow state as ‘something I did to myself’ (like sleep deprivation and self-poisoning via caffeine are things I do to myself) ~because, as the researchers validate, it is something you can actually induce.
Apart from the articles I’ve mentioned, Verywell Mind also has suggestions for inducing a flow state. These suggestions include getting rid of anything that might distract or interrupt you, and to those, I might humbly add the following as elaborations:
The articles likewise suggest meditating or practising mindfulness before working or to help ‘ease you into flow’, as well as giving yourself enough time to reach that state. This kind of reminds me of the creative downtime spent by those art directors I worked with back in the day before pulling an all-nighter.
In any case, I admit it can take some time to achieve flow, and that amount of time tends to, get to me. Believe it or not, my days are generally very structured, particularly when I’m in the painting factory (i.e. prepping for a show) because it’s the only way I can ‘live my Batman life’. That means the more time I spend trying to reach a flow state, the less time I have to actually be in it ><
Find Your Flow
Fortunately, I’ve since figured out how to not let that get to me~which is also pretty much how I achieve flow state, myself. (My whole ‘time-stopping thing’, which, if you aren’t in on it already, I’d be happy to share with you if you become a jillafriend) ^^
Because as I understand it, it’s different for everybody, i.e. what puts one person into a flow state may not work for somebody else. While experts recommend taking note of what made it possible for you to reach a flow state (so you can recreate the same circumstances), this assumes you were able to achieve that state to begin with.
Personally, if I knew something helped me to work better, I’d like to be able to use that thing purposefully rather than by accident, or for me to take advantage of it, if and when it ever came along.
Headspace advises people to make a ritual of it, which reminds me of my own routine for painting at night (which I usually do in a (you guessed it) flow state). The good news is that experts also suggest that achieving flow state on a regular basis is possible with constant practise.
Not Just More, But Better
The articles I’ve shared here also discuss the benefits of working in a flow state, which all boil down to being able to get more done, and to get it done better.
For me, if I may add a *benefit* of my own, consciously removing the ‘time pressure’ factor enables me to produce better work because I’m not rushing it~I mean, I am, technically, especially when there’s a deadline to be met and I’m counting or rationing the hours I have to get X amount of work done.
But it doesn’t feel that way to me, and I’m able to fool myself into believing I have all the time in the world. And if I may share, a bit, about what makes this state so special, it’s like, being able to forget about everything and think about nothing except the thing you’re working on.
You literally lose yourself in the colours, lines, shapes, textures, the materiality of your medium~the *flowiness* of watercolour, for instance or the *gooeyness* of acrylic or the *crunch* or *scratch* of whatever you might mix with it, or the rhythm of the strokes of your brush or knife.
I’ve described this as an addiction and a sort of escapism~which hopefully is another way to explain why I’ve (regrettably) snapped at anyone or anything that suddenly x abruptly *yanks me back down to earth*. (Again, not an excuse, but an apologetic explanation.)
I say again, though, that the ‘more lost’ you are in it, or even ‘the more you enjoy it’, the better the work turns out in the end. Also, I admit, that whole ‘forget everything’ thing? Depends on whether you happen to be including *what’s on your mind* in your work, or whether the technique you’re using (like patterns or colour fields, let’s say) allows your mind to wander while working… you get the idea (I hope) ^^;
Finally, I also find it curious how it’s been said that a flow state helps people to better manage their emotions~for as long as I’ve been ‘stopping time’ while painting, that’s one thing I’ve yet to experience and admittedly one thing I need to work on. (If anything, if the ‘snapping at interruptions’ is any indication, being in this state intensifies them, for me, at least.)
Having read (as in took a quick dip, not deep dived) what I have to demystify what happens inside my ‘time-stop barrier’ or ‘field’ if you will, now leads me to wonder what it’s like for others working in this state.
Are you able or are you better at regulating your emotions like the experts say? Or what do you do to put yourself into this state of mind if this practice has helped you with your practice at all? Or are you aware of any further, ‘deeper dive’ reading on the subject? If you could share, I would love to learn.