Monday, July 13, 2009

Creativity and Flow Psychology

I found this article that talks about the perfect state conducive to optimal experience and functioning. I have edited it but you can read it in it's entirety at

Creativity and Flow Psychology

by Douglas Eby

"The best moments usually occur when a person's body
or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort
to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The author of "Flow - the Psychology of Optimal Experience" and a number of related books, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced me-high chick-sent-me-high) says we can facilitate the conditions for this quality of optimal functioning, and that it may be found in a wide range of careers and activities.

For his doctoral thesis on "how visual artists create art" he studied photos taken every three minutes as artists created a painting. He says he was "struck by how deeply they were involved in work, forgetting everything else. That state seemed so intriguing that I started also looking for it in chess players, in rock climbers, in dancers and in musicians.

"I expected to find substantial differences in all their activities, but people reported very similar accounts of how they felt. Then, I started looking at professions like surgery and found the same elements there ­ a challenge which provides clear, high goals and immediate feedback... They forget themselves, the time, their problems," he says........

Athletes call flow experience being in the "zone" - an optimal psychological and physiological climate for peak performance. Brazilian soccer player Pele has described days when everything was going right, and feeling "a strange calmness I hadn't experienced in any of the other games. It was a type of euphoria; I felt I could run all day without tiring, that I could dribble through any of their teams or all of them, that I could almost pass through them physically. I felt I could not be hurt."

Basketball players, when they experience being "in the zone" report that the basket seems bigger, and feeling an almost mystical connection to it. The legendary hitter Ted Williams has said that sometimes he could see the seams on a pitched baseball. Gymnast Carol Johnson found that on some days she experienced the balance beam as wider, so "any worry of falling off disappeared."

Football quarterback star John Brodie told Michael Murphy (author of "The Psychic Side of Sports") that he found periods in every game when "time seems to slow down, in an uncanny way, as if everyone were moving in slow motion. It seems as if I had all the time in the world to watch the receivers run their patterns, and yet I know the defensive line is coming at me just as fast as ever."

This time dilation experience may relate to studies of psychologist Robert Ornstein in which increased information processing by the brain can result in a "stretching" or slowing down of the experience of time.

Sports psychologists and trainers use a range of techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, concentration exercises and meditation to help access this "zone". One of the consistent themes of these approaches is the need to "get around" the conscious mind.

The winner of the 1988 Olympics in archery was a 17-year-old Korean young woman whose training included meditation for two hours a day.

Archer Tim Strickland has noted that conscious intervention is the great enemy: "Your conscious mind always wants to help you, but usually it messes you up." Csikszentmihalyi has warned "You can't make flow happen. All you can do is learn to remove obstacles in its way." He says the effort to recapture the high of a perfect run down a ski slope, for example, will rarely succeed because "you're splitting your attention from what's happening now."

Acting teacher and consultant Jennifer Lehman notes how that quality of mind can interfere: "It's difficult to achieve a consistent openness, letting things flow through you, without your own judgments, your own personal history, or how you think it should be, interfering with that. I also have a feeling that our thinking mind is different than our feeling mind, and that if we start thinking, we shut down creative expression.

"Thinking is very linear and one dimensional, and we get attached to it and its 'should' and 'ought to' and 'let me go in there and fix it'.....

...A related concept has been developed by Diane Ackerman, a poet, essayist and naturalist who teaches creativity at Cornell. In her book "Deep Play" she talks about being able to "play anywhere that is set off from reality, whether it be a playground, a field, a church or a garage.

"Deep play doesn't have to do with an activity, like shallow play. It has to do with attitude or an extraordinarily intense state...

"Swept up by the deeper states of play, one feels balanced, creative, focused... Deep play is an absence of mental noise -- liberating, soothing, and exciting. It means no analysis, no explanation, no promises, no goals, no worries. You are completely open to the drama of life that may unfold."

.....Susan K. Perry, PhD affirms that flow is not a state of 'no mind' or meditativeness as such. "I don't believe that when you get into a creative place, you're giving up thinking," she says. "You're super-thinking -- better and with more parts of your mind than you do normally."

But having a 'busy mind' can also mean being fragmented, unfocused, distracted. "You want to get to a place which is both loose, relaxed, and focused," she notes. "What I found in my studies of flow are that two things you need to do to get to this place where time stops and you can be most creative, are to loosen up, and focus in.

"It's a paradox, obviously, to be loose and focused at the same time. And they overlap, and one may come before the other." She also thinks we "choose not to get into flow, which means we aren't able to access our deepest creativity. We choose not to because, perhaps, it's more stimulating to be surrounded by overflowing in-boxes."....

1 comment:

Teaching Solutions said...

The author of "Flow - the Psychology of Optimal Experience" and a number of related books, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says we can facilitate the conditions for this quality of optimal functioning, and that it may be found in a wide range of careers and activities.

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