In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi lists nine elements that accompany "flow."
After "clear goals" and "concentration and focus" is the subject of today's Relaxed Writer post:
"a loss of feeling of self-consciousness; the merging of action and awareness."
How to merge "action" and "awareness?" Read on for "The Art of Not-Trying: 3 Habits to Cultivate Flow.'"
1. Give yourself permission to write really, really bad stuff. We all know the purpose of the first draft is to "get the ideas out" without paying much notice to grammar, rhetoric, etc. But how bad are your first drafts, really?
Nearly every writer I've coached has benefited from practicing redirecting his or her "trying" energy from writing a "solid" first draft to writing a "truly awful" one. I invite you to practice this skill by making your next first draft even more "horrible," "unbelievably incomplete," "sloppy," "barely coherent" or [insert your favorite descriptor here] than ever before.
How to Do It:
Have fun with this: write badly in a bold way. Your goal is what I call a "Swiss Cheese Draft:" a slice of writing with a slight structure a gaping holes you'll fill in later. By redirecting your "trying" energy, you essentially silence it.
2. Thank your critic. I believe it's inaccurate to think that we'll eventually overcome, overpower or eliminate our inner critical voices. In fact, the critic's chatter is a signal that our mind's in order: it is natural and healthy to experience resistance when we move forward or write something new. The trick is to welcome the critic's chatter as a signal that we're doing something right (by challenging ourselves, rather than staying in our comfort zone). And then to move on.
How to Do It:
Treat the inner critic's chatter as you would an untimely call from an aggressive telemarketer. Thank the critic for "calling," and then hang up. Immediately. No need to get sucked in to its (often savvy, seductive) sales pitch. You're too busy writing.
3. Meditate. Please note: I define "meditation" loosely. Any activity that helps connect you to a sense of well-being and helps you to turn down the volume of your inner thoughts counts.
As a guide, think of your favorite activity (bread-baking, walking briskly, listening to Bach and doing yoga are a few of my own favorites). If the activity helps you transform your energy from excited (or nervous, or jumpy) to calm, then it can serve you well as a form of "meditation."
Doing a meditative activity regularly helps you to:
- develop metacognitive awareness
- develop a sense of daring and play
Each of these qualities are essential elements of "not-trying," and build a strong base for the self-forgetting that contributes to creating flow.
How to Do It:
You may already be doing meditative activity on a regular basis. If so, be aware of it as such and give yourself as much opportunity to engage in it as you can...preferably daily.
To experience more-formal meditation techniques, view my post, "Audio Supports for Meditation" for links to guided practices of secular and Buddhist-inspired techniques.