Flow theory and creativity

Flow chart via.


You know when you are working on something creative and it's like time doesn't exist?

That mental state is called flow.

I have experienced it in late night conversations, in meditation, being in the sea, painting... I bet you have, too!

I knew the feeling, but couldn't name it, let alone replicate it on purpose.


Then I got into game theory and learnt about... flow!

This theory was coined by a man with an impossible surname: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

He defined the conditions/characteristics of this feeling as:

  • We are up to the activity.
  • We are able to concentrate on the activity.
  • The activity has clear goals.
  • The activity has direct feedback.
  • We feel that we control the activity.
  • Our worries and concerns disappear.
  • Our subjective experience of time is altered.

(list via).

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The basic take is simple:

work on something that's difficult to be challenging, but easy enough to accessible.

If it's too hard you'll get anxious ("I want to write a series of novels to replicate the Harry Potter phenomenon!"). If it's too easy, you'll just get bored ("there, I cut a paper garland following a youtube tutorial").


I find that my daily practice has helped me a lot finding that sweet spot. I have developed an awareness for complacency. I am slowly discovering how the flow rules apply TO ME and MY PRACTICE. For example, entering the moment with a desire to explore rather than a desire to replicate a successful piece is way more inductive for me. 

Being able to handle your flow might actually be key to creative productivity.

I'd love to know more about your flow experiences! Send me an email, or even sign up for the Creative Habit workshop coming up soon.

creative nerdMaria Gil