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The Mechanics of Flow
An Excerpt from My Upcoming Book "Flow Triggers"
When I was majoring in Fine Arts at East Tennessee State University in 1971, the professor of my introductory drawing class, gave the students an interesting assignment: Draw a self-portrait. I dutifully went home and did a drawing of myself. When I returned to class, he had us all lay our self-portraits on the floor of the huge open classroom for his inspection. He did not comment on any of them, other than to instruct us to go home and, using any medium we wanted, make 30 variations of our first self-portrait. THIRTY!!!
I went home and started the assignment. The first five or so were very similar to the original portrait. I thought, “This is going to get boring fast!” What I did not realize in that moment was that he had given us permission to think outside the box, to get out of our comfort zones, to push the envelope—anything goes. The transition from near photographic likeness to self-reflective abstract was an enlightening journey for me.
I proudly gathered up my 30 new self-portraits and displayed them in class as instructed. My professor went around the room and selected—what we students assumed was his favorite—one out of the 30. Then he said, “Using the one I selected, go home and do 20 more.” Our chins dropped to the floor.
By this time, I was using every medium I could think of to fulfill this assignment. I learned that I had to get out of my head and let it happen—that there are no mistakes. On my very last illustration, I painted my tiny one-year old daughter’s feet in brightly colored tempera paint and “walked” her across the page. I added some strategically placed ink lines indicating a hint of my round, wire-framed glasses and a representation of my waist-length long hair parted in the middle hippie style. I suddenly realized that my professor had forced me to look at the core of who I was at that time of my life. It was my favorite of the 51 “images.” It was also my professor’s favorite. (Note to Reader: I no longer have this creation. I wish I did, but after many moves, it is long gone.)
This professor trained his students in multiple mediums to prepare them for this assignment. Then, by pushing the assignment for three iterations, he not only provided valuable experience, but introduced incremental challenges allowing his students to maximize their ability to stay in flow.
Flow depends on skill and experience. However, being good at something does not necessarily mean that you will always work in flow when you do that activity. You must feel challenged in the moment AND feel confident that you can meet that challenge.
Because flow is unique to each individual, interactions with others can impact your flow-state. To consciously work in flow, you, also, must recognize when you become bored so that you can seek out new challenges for yourself. If you do not feel confident to meet the challenge presented and/or become anxious, it is important to get the additional training and real-life experience to be able to meet the challenge in the future. When you allow others to impact your flow, it could be a result of your own lack of self-confidence in what you know about the situation or the activity, your misinterpretation of an interaction, or a feeling of being out of sync with the mission itself.
The mechanics of flow are tied to situation- and self-awareness. You have the ability within you to put in place the circumstances, environment, and the knowledge to allow you to maximize your flow states thereby improving your sense of well-being and your productivity. No excuses. There are no mistakes.