Find Your Flow
You are creative.
Creativity is not just for designers, musicians, writers, or filmmakers. Every time you solve a problem in a new way, that’s creativity.
And it turns out solving problems is pretty fun.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (don’t ask me how to pronounce it) is a psychologist and researcher. His life’s work has been to help people achieve happiness — a “truly satisfying state of mind.” In his research, he found out people are most content when they’re in what he calls a “flow state.”
A flow state is when we lock our full attention into a difficult problem. Not just any problem, though. It has to be something we’re confident we can solve if we put enough effort behind it. (He wrote a great book about it.)
If the problem is too easy, you’ll get bored.
If it feels impossible, you’ll give up.
But that middle ground … that place where you really have to work to find the solution … there’s nothing like it. And that’s where creative people do their best work.
Unfortunately, a flow state is not always easy to attain. To be reliably and productively creative, you have to arrange your life so you can consistently achieve flow.
Here are three practical ways to become more creative more often.
Most of us have had this experience.
We wake up at two in the morning, struck with an earth-shattering idea. We go to work on it in our delirium and can produce some really interesting work.
Maybe not useful, but usually interesting.
And though it can be wonderful when it happens, that kind of inspiration is not sustainable if you want to produce creative work consistently. The most productive creatives I know construct their days to be fully aware and awake when it’s time to get to work.
Here’s what to do.
Do what you have to do to sleep well. Put away your phone early, buy a fancy pillow if you like, and create a wind-down routine.
You want to be well-rested when it comes time to solve those difficult but interesting problems you’ll face the next day.
Moving your body makes you more creative. Even if it’s just a short walk, you’ll return to your work with fresh inspiration and a clearer mind.
If you don’t exercise at all, or find it challenging to make it part of your life, know it doesn’t take much. Start small, and you’ll see the benefits immediately.
- Eat the Right Foods
Some foods slow you down; others build you up. If you have a carbolicious pasta for lunch, you’ll probably have a pretty sleepy afternoon!
Food affects your brain. If you want to optimize your diet for creativity, I recommend the book Genius Foods by Max Lugavere.
- Take Breaks
Spend all day grinding away on a particular problem, and you’ll eventually run out of energy. Stand up, look outside, or get some fresh air.
For those of us who work at a screen all day, a break means doing something that doesn’t involve yet another screen. Consider getting a little sunshine — it produces vitamin D in your body, increasing your overall well-being.
Mind Your Mindset
Gratitude is a core value at ArtSpeak Creative. We start our meetings with “gratitudes” and “wins.” It sets the tone for everything we do.
Gratitude is our operating system.
When you wake up in the morning, don’t set your mood by looking at Twitter and seeing what the world is angry about today. Don’t fill your mind with everything you’re personally frustrated about, either.
It’s not that you should bury all of these feelings. Acknowledge them first.
But then, try to reframe the situation with gratitude. You’ll instantly feel more creative. (You’ll be happier, too.)
- Deal with Stress and Anxiety
Most of us are aware that, though our conscious mind comprises the thoughts and feelings we’re aware of, our subconscious mind does a lot of creative work. When answers to problems emerge in our conscious mind, they are often preceded by the mysterious workings of our unconscious.
But when we’re in a state of anxiety and stress, our unconscious mind isn’t busy helping us create new possibilities. It’s helping us avoid negative ones.
Stress short-circuits our creativity.
If you’re in the Gen Z or Millennial age brackets, you’ve probably experienced a level of stress far greater than those in the generations before you. (This excellent podcast from Resolution goes into greater detail.)
If that’s where you are … if stress and anxiety are keeping you from doing your best work … go back to gratitude.
And read on.
- Prayer and Meditation
Begin your day in a meditative conversation with God. You know, prayer!
But don’t just anxiously list everything you want God to do for you. Spend this time growing in your awareness of His presence.
I start my day with the Lord’s Prayer, praying slowly and consciously, connecting with each line.
I also like to run in the morning (back to exercise). One reason many of us don’t exercise is we hate the idea of doing something purely physical. But exercise isn’t just about your body. It’s also a way to focus and clear your mind—both your conscious and subconscious.
God speaks to me while I run.
Later in the day, while I’m working, there are times I sense a growing noise inside my brain. It’s an indication that something’s bothering me, even if I can’t put my finger on it.
Dr. Caroline Leaf says, “Feeling is healing.” Time spent in prayer and meditation will allow you to feel what’s really going on in your mind, body, and spirit. It’s a time to acknowledge if we’re struggling, deal with the stress, and redeem the time we’ve been given.
- Midday Check-in
Just like I need to have a meditative conversation with God first thing in the morning, I find my afternoons are best if I’ve taken a few moments to reset.
I switch brain.fm to meditation mode, then check-in with God and myself. Since I’ve started doing that, the second half of my day has become more productively creative than ever.
Your attention is your life. From birth to death, what you’re paying attention to actually comprises your lived experience.
So why do we waste it so often?
Here’s how to be intentional about your attention, not just to increase your creativity, but to enjoy the gift of life more fully.
- Reduce Noise
We fill our lives with noise constantly. Our smartphones (I have one next to me) allow us to fill up every second with visual, auditory, and mental noise.
The pings and notifications from social media, text messages, email, and Slack will run your life if you let it. Silence the noise and increase your creative output.
Which leads me to….
- Get Bored
When most of us find ourselves waiting for even a moment, we immediately pull out our phones and scroll.
Resist that temptation.
If you allow your brain to get bored, it will go to work for you, connecting new thoughts, being creative.
I know scrolling through blogs (like this one), social media, and news sites is technically “reading.” And a carefully curated feed can be an endless source of inspiration.
But I want to suggest you invest more time reading books.
A book’s value density is typically much higher than what you’ll find in a mindless scroll. You don’t have to wade through as much junk to get the good stuff.
And don’t only read what you’re naturally attracted to. Go outside your typical “bubble.” Even consider reading several books simultaneously. You’ll make connections you might not have made otherwise.
- Find Inspiration
When looking for inspiration, we tend to make one of two mistakes.
First, we’ll go to things we’re already familiar with: art we already like, or art inside our “industry.” (Can you imagine if our team only spent time drawing inspiration from ministry graphics? Yikes.)
The other mistake is the “mindless scroll,” letting an algorithm from Google, Netflix, or Pinterest choose what we might find interesting.
Instead, I recommend you seek out inspiration intentionally. Get recommendations from creative people you respect. Go places where someone has done the hard work of finding the very best, like an art museum or a film festival.
And do more than consume. Create. Make something outside your medium just for fun.
If you’re a writer, draw.
If you’re a designer, write.
Paint, sculpt, craft a sermon, or build something out of wood. Whatever you do — or enjoy — do something different. It will help you be more creative in your day-to-day work.
Work with other creative people
At ArtSpeak Creative, we’ve curated a team that works to inspire each other.
Just the other day, someone created a logo with a bamboo brush. Someone else pointed us to a book that’s shaping the way we think about the Gospels. Another person found an online tutorial that’s helping us craft better copy.
Surround yourself with creative people. They’ll keep you inspired.
If you're trying to make a difference in people's lives and want to work with people who are always pushing the boundaries of creativity, we'd like to meet you.
Fill out the form below, and we’ll be in touch.