When I’m there, I’m there. For a writer, nothing is more satisfying than dropping into a completely calm, relaxed state of creative flow. The words trickle from my fingertips effortlessly. My thoughts are cohesive. And, for the number crunchers among us, word count productivity hour-for-hour is off the charts.
Last week while visiting with my therapist we discussed the various layers of the electromagnetic spectrum and how the brain operates. She wanted me to understand where my brain fit on the spectrum, especially when I’m being creative. When writing is pleasurable and reflective, it’s a meditation of sorts and shifts our brains into a higher level of processing (Alpha and Theta waves) than our everyday go, go, go mindset (Beta waves).
I savor the days I can get into a flow state and complete my writing tasks in half the time, with fewer edits needed. Or, when the pitch ideas come so quickly I can’t write them down as fast as they pop into my brain. So, I’m working on harnessing this so I can shift into a flow state more often, more easily.
This post is a bit more personal and outside the box than the usual here on Web Writing Advice, but I hope it inspires you to think about your own preparation for creative moments. If your answer is a blaring alarm clock with ample options to press snooze and a copious amount of coffee, listen up. I have some ideas for you.
In this post I’m going to share:
- My Morning Routine that Sets Me Up For the Best Work Days
- How Our Brains Get Into a Flow State
- The Actions I’m Taking to Make Creative Flow Happen More Often
- Why Finding My Creative Flow Matters to Me (And My Clients)
My Morning Routine That Sets Me Up For the Best Work Days
Whether it’s 15 minutes, or an hour, carving out time just for you each morning is critical if you want to launch into your day without feeling overwhelmed. Last year at a business conference, I listened to one of the producers for the upcoming movie adaptation of the book “The Miracle Morning” speak about optimal morning routines and how they can improve our emotional and physical health. I’ve also found they boost my creativity and word count as a writer. I wrote about her tips in this post, “How Morning Routines Make Us Feel Amazing (And 6 Things You Can Try)“.
So, what do I exactly do each morning? I’d love to say that I don’t grab my phone and peek at messages that popped in overnight, but, I do. However, I keep it minimal and scan for important things that deserve my attention first thing, then I put my phone down and go electronics-free for the next 20 minutes to an hour.
In that time period, I move slow and purposefully. I try to keep my mind solely focused on each moment to program my brain to stop multitasking. Here’s the usual flow of my morning routine:
- Make a cup of hot herbal tea or chicory. This warm cup of pause helps me realize I can move slowly for at least the amount of time it takes me to drink my first cup of the day.
- Open scared space in my home. I follow the Shamanic belief system and give gratitude to my ancestors and helping spirits for their guidance and love each day. You might meditate, pray or read scripture from your spiritual book of choice.
- Gently move my body. I enjoy yoga and often do a short gentle flow on my mat near a window. I absorb the emerging light of the day and work out any muscle or joint soreness.
- Listen or read something inspirational. I have several books about mindfulness, meditation and overall mental wellness. Sometimes I’ll read a chapter from a Louise Hay book, or simply reflect on a page from my Mindfulness book. Other times I’m tired and just want to listen, so I turn to a podcast like Why Shamanism Now, Optimal Living Daily, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations or queue up a short meditation in Insight Timer. Some are as short as 5 minutes.
- Write in my journal. After easing into my morning, ideas often pop into my head. I’ll tuck these away in my journal. Sometimes it’s just a few words, other times its pages of reflection. I like to honor the processing in my brain and get it on paper so I can look into it further at a later time. It’s like puzzle pieces come together when working through a difficult topic or making a decision. I can see on paper how my brain is working!
And, that’s it. It might sound elaborate at the start, but once you find a morning routine that works for you, it becomes a habit and fits into your day seamlessly. And for those thinking they don’t have time for something like this, make time. Setting up your day at the onset makes the rest of the hours so much more manageable and less stressful.
Infographic authored by Synchronicity Foundation for Modern Spirituality. To view the original post, visit Free Infographic: Meditation and its Effects on Brainwaves.
How Our Brains Get Into a Flow State
After my morning routine is complete, I head to my desk to get to work. I scan my inboxes for anything that requires immediate attention, then shift into creative writing work while my focus is strong and my brain is alert.
I find that my optimal writing time is when I first get to my desk, and lasts three to four hours. Sometimes I can get back into the flow state in the afternoon if I enjoy some time in nature or on my yoga mat during my lunch break.
So, what is this flow state that I keep referring to? Author Steven Kotler, co-founder and Director of Research for the Flow Research Collective, explains that flow is the optimal state of consciousness where we feel and perform our best. We become so focused on the task before us, that everything else seems to fall away. Time slows down and creativity flourishes. Being in a flow state encourages our brains to return to that state, training us to be more and more creative.
In science terms, the flow state is caused by the temporary deactivation of the prefrontal cortex. That’s the part of our brain responsible for higher cognitive functioning. So our brain in essence quiets our impulse control and inner voices of doubt. We become less critical. Our courageous mind emerges allowing for the flow of feel-good hormones, like dopamine, endorphins and serotonin to be released, helping us focus more acutely and dive into our imagination.
C Wilson Meloncelli, a Flow State Coach, explains that our brains move through five stages of processing depending what we’re doing and feeling. The magic flow state that creative people often seek happens during the Alpha and Theta stages.
- Gamma Waves: These are the fastest pulses in our brains and help us with cognitive functioning and processing tasks.
- Beta Waves: These are present during normal waking consciousness when we are alert.
- Alpha Waves: We experience these brain waves during light meditation or when our thoughts are slowly flowing, like during a daydream.
- Theta Waves: When we dream, this is the state we experience. You might notice vivid imagery and greater intuition.
- Delta Waves: The slowest of the brain waves, these are experienced during dreamless sleep and deep transcendental mediation.
During the Alpha and Theta waves stages we blur between activating the conscious and subconscious mind. Work starts to feel effortless and memories, experiences and new stimuli in the brain all work together to form creative insight.
The Actions I’m Taking to Make Creative Flow Happen More Often
Since tackling a project last summer and fall about circadian rhythm, I’ve been trying to find greater balance in my days and tap into the flow state more often. I did really well with it for a few months, and wrote about it in “The Secret for Me: Balancing My Out-of-Sync Circadian Rhythm“.
Then life got a little nutty, and I didn’t honor my body’s messages as well as I could have. Now, I’m trying to be a better listener. I’m responding to subtle cues from my body to take naps, go to bed earlier, eat then I’m hungry (not when the clock dictates), drink more water and eat foods that are nourishing to my body, not just my cravings.
I’m also trying to be routine with my morning routine. Sometimes I wake up late or not feeling well and just want to skip this critical start to my day to…get my day started faster. Every time I do that, I end the day wishing I had paused in the morning and set myself up for a better outcome. Every. Single. Time. Why? Because I know my morning routine lays the foundation for more happiness, productivity and energy.
Why Finding My Creative Flow Matters to Me (And My Clients)
I want to put my best work out there. Period. We weren’t born to work, work, work and squeeze a few hours of personal time in on the weekends around our other commitments. I’m seeking better balance, integration and flow between my work and personal life.
By optimizing the time that I spend at my desk, I get my work done quicker and to a higher level of satisfaction and quality. Instead of staring at a screen for an hour trying to figure out how to start an article, my brain is already in a creative flow state and ready to put those words together.
When I look back on pieces written in a creative flow state versus the average push forward and get this task done mode, there’s no debating which ones have a better rhythm, choice of words and structure. And, I love that. I want to put out the best content I can for my clients and readers on my websites. So, I will work daily to drift into this creative flow state and harness its magical writing powers. Will you give it a try too?
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Note: This post was last updated on August 27, 2021.