June 22nd 2017
Today I listened to a podcast where a neuroscientist talked about ‘flow’. He describes ‘flow’ as that zen-like, high intensity focus that happens here or there. It’s where you’re highly productive and completely concentrated on the task at hand. He’s studied how flow happens to everyone, from Navy Seals to racecar drivers to professional athletes. Flow gives you the ability to make high-speed, almost perfect decisions, and he’s found that it’s linked to creativity and productivity.
He found that when activated, subjects in a ‘flow’ state are 300-500% more productive.
Every now and then, when the pigs fly over the blue moon, I get a bit of ‘flow’. It’s usually when I’m running. It’s infrequently when I’m writing. I’ve written about it before, I just didn’t have a word for it. When I’m running, concentrating on my breathing, and trying to match my breathing to my cadence, I can flow. My mind goes quiet and I can just concentrate on running. And it’s easy.
Sometimes when I sit down to write I can smash out 1200 words of a novel in an hour without really noticing. And it’s easy. Sometimes I can sit at my laptop staring at it for an hour and not write a single word.
I’ve always thought that writing is simultaneously the most easy and most difficult thing in the world. For me, at least. The act of writing is easy. Typing is easy. When I get in the zone, it just comes.
Ernest Hemingway said “Writing is easy. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.” And he’s so right, but it’s getting in front of the typewriter that has always been difficult for me. And I’ve always given myself a hard time about it. Particularly because of how easy the actual act of writing is.
Compare it to running…
Running is hard. If you want to do it well, fast, far, you have to train, and you’re limited by your body. I’m running a half marathon on Sunday, right, and it’s physically impossible for me to run that half marathon in an hour. Well, it’s not impossible, but it’s hard. And that’s why you train.
By comparison, writing is easy. Or is it?
What the neuroscientist said was that creativity needs training too. The brain is a muscle in the same way that your quadriceps or your hamstrings are. And you need to train your brain just like you have to train your body.
I’ve historically given myself a hard time for not sitting down to write more because I’ve seen no excuse. I can’t give myself a hard time over not doing a half marathon in an hour because that’s difficult. Writing is easy. Right? Maybe.
To start writing I’ve gotta move from the sofa to my desk and open a computer. To do a half marathon I’ve got to run as fast as I can for 13.1 miles.
The neuroscientist trains people in achieving ‘flow’. It’s how athletes, or racecar drivers, or navy seals maintain high levels of concentration for hours.
I’ve always thought of that kind of thing to be a bit of mumbo jumbo, wiff waff. There’s lots of reasons I can’t run a 60 minute half marathon. There’s not many good reasons why I can’t sit down to write. Right? But I’m starting to think that maybe there’s something to it. Maybe what you eat and how you think can affect your state of mind.
Apparently it’s all about muscle training, brain or legs, and I shouldn’t give myself a hard time, and I should just breath more and focus and concentrate. Apparently.
This blog didn’t really turn out how I planned it. There were more articulate points that I wanted to make, but couldn’t figure out how.
Until tomorrow, flow more.