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Creativity Coaching – Art and Flow

Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a wonderful book that I am reading through a second time just to get a better grasp on the ideas that are presented. Although written 20 years ago the book is still relevant today. Chicksentmehi is a social psychologist who coined the term “flow”, a concept that is important to all creative people.

“Flow tends to occur when a person’s skill are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable. If challenges are too high one gets frustrated, then worried and eventually anxious. If challenges are too low relative to one’s skills one gets relaxed, then bored. If both challenges and skills are perceived to be low, one gets to feel apathetic. But when high challenges are matched with high skills, then the deep involvement that sets flow apart from ordinary life is likely to occur.” (Finding Flow p.30)

Csikszentmihalyi examines how we use our leisure time, differentiating active leisure from passive leisure. Passive leisure is doing things like watching TV, reading shallow books, gambling, drinking, etc. Active leisure involves choosing activities that are more likely to get you into flow such as cooking, exercise, fixing things, painting, learning, practising a musical instrument, etc. If active leisure brings us more satisfaction why do we often choose passive leisure over active leisure?

After a busy day or when we are feeling tired it is easier to choose passive leisure. Active leisure, on the other hand usually requires some sort of effort to get started. We may have to gather supplies, get out tools, get to another location, change clothes or similar preparations before we can begin our activity. We need to be willing to invest some energy into this preparation time before we can get into the more valuable activity we want to do.

Interestingly, once we are engaged in our chosen activity, we don’t necessarily feel happier, or at least no more happier than when we are busy with passive leisure. However once we are finished the activity we are more likely to feel fulfilled or proud of our efforts if we engaged in active leisure.

I certainly have experienced that need to put energy into getting over the threshold to start painting. I was away for a week at my daughter’s wedding in Mexico and upon returning found my painting desk covered with various things tossed there as I was busy packing. The mess on my desk needed to be dealt with before I could get to  painting. It just seemed easier to check my email or go shopping for Christmas than to face that mess. Yet in order to do paint I had to get over that threshold. Eventually I got my desk cleared off, finished and framed a painting and got ready to resume another one. Active leisure takes more energy to engage in but is far more fulfilling in the end.

The same ideas apply if your creative practise is also your full time job. You may find yourself procrastinating and putting off getting down to tackling that tricky part of your painting or your novel because it requires getting over the threshold of doing the necessary preparations to move forward with the work. If you view this as normal and recognize it for what it is, you may be more willing to put that little bit of effort into getting over the threshold. You then may find yourself rewarded with a period of flow when you are working at your best, using your considerable skills to meet the challenges of your creative practise.

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