The Flow state of mind. Have you experienced it?
A few weeks ago I published a post with some ideas about getting into the flow state of mind (In Search of Flow). There was enough interest in that post that I thought I would dive in a little deeper.
I have experienced the flow state of mind myself many times. It’s such an incredible feeling that I want to help you find ways to get there too.
Of course I write about what I know personally. This post is the first of a pair that explores my own experiences with flow, and attempts to dissect how to get there.
Today we’ll explore Flow in Journaling.
Here’s the video from our weekly office hours if you prefer that format instead.
Set the Stage For Your Journaling
In my last post I offered some ideas on how to set yourself up for flow success. Basically, you need two things:
- A distraction-free environment
- A chunk of dedicated time
My perfectionists might be starting to fidget here. It really does come down to these two basic requirements, you don’t need to get fancy. I’ll challenge you to just give it a try.
In my last blog post about Flow I dove into these requirements a little more, so look there if you want more detail. But let’s explore how these requirements play into journaling specifically.
Morning Pages: Best for Flow
The kind of journaling you do is important. If you’ve been following my posts for a while you’ll know that I regularly practice the Morning Pages style of journaling.
I’m bringing this up here because in Morning Pages you write for approximately 30 minutes at a time, which is a long time to write. When writing for flow you really do need a chunk of time, so journaling styles that are quick may not be the best approach here.
In morning pages you sit and write three pages of 8.5 x 11 paper (three sides, to be specific). You write on every line, longhand, with an actual pen. This is not typed journaling, for best results it has to pen-on-paper writing. The goal is to jump in and go, without stopping to think. Your pen stays ahead of your thoughts.
There may be other kinds of journaling that you currently do that you prefer. All journaling is good journaling! Morning Pages is the type I do personally, and I can speak from experience that you can indeed get into Flow using this method. You do what works best for you!
Writing in the Morning: Get Ahead of the Distractions
I’m a Night Owl. I love the deep, dark hours because they’re quiet and usually distraction-free. Even so, I don’t journal at night, I always do it in the morning. I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. But I willingly get up earlier than I want to, every single morning, so I can get myself onto the page as quickly as possible.
Why? You get ahead of the distractions if you do your writing first thing in the morning. Just like late nights, early mornings usually have the advantage of being quiet.
Also why? Because once you’ve experienced that flow state of mind in your writing, you’ll want to go there as often as you can. It’s seriously that good and that powerful.
Journaling Distractions: External
This is fairly obvious. If you’re just getting into Flow and someone interrupts you, boom, Flow is gone.
The idea is to get from the start of writing to the end of the third page as quickly as possible with zero distractions. So, you’ll need to figure out what those potential distractions might be.
In our house it looks like my son who likes to play Minecraft when he first gets up. We have a deal now that he can’t use his mic to talk to anyone until Mom is done writing.
Sometimes the dogs want to go out, so I try to get them to go out when I first get up. It doesn’t always work, but I try.
I definitely need coffee in the morning so my morning routine revolves around getting that set up. No coffee = me being distracted.
Maybe it’s clutter on your workspace, or maybe your chair is uncomfortable. Maybe your hand is fatigued because you need a more glide-y pen. All these things can seriously affect your flow in journaling potential.
Journaling Distractions: Internal
This is the biggie.
You know when you wake up early and you’re too groggy to think about what you’re doing, so you just do it? Think along the lines of brushing your teeth or putting on a pot of coffee. You know how to do those things, so you just do them.
When you get onto the page as early as possible in the morning you can get ahead of your Internal Critic. This is the biggest and most insidious distraction of all.
I think Night Owls have an advantage here. If I’m still groggy when I start to write I’m much more successful at keeping my head out of my writing. So don’t use “I’m just not a morning person” as an excuse to avoid writing in the morning. It’s an advantage! This is the best reason to write in the morning.
Keep that pen moving and stay away from external distractions. This is how you can manage that big Inner Critic. If you can silence that voice of self-judgment and just let the pen move, this is when the magic happens.
Your Inner Critic can show up in a number of sneaky ways. One of the sneakiest is in judging whether you’re journaling “correctly”. Pfft. Just write. The “right” writing is just to move the pen. That’s it, that’s all. Catch and squash any judgments as they come up.
By the way, it really helps when you know you will be shredding your journaling pages afterwards. No one is supposed to read them, not even you. Shred those babies.
Like a Rock in a River
I’m not someone who meditates regularly but I certainly have done my fair share. Maybe you have a regular meditation practice and can see the parallels here.
I used to go to this great yoga studio many years ago, and one of the instructors had a wonderful end-of-class guided meditation. Her meditations where the only ones that really got me anywhere close to that state we look for when meditating.
This instructor was great at talking us through distracting thoughts. She would say something like, “Like a rock in a river, let your thoughts just float on by.” If you’re reading this and you know who this person is, please let me know! I’d like to thank her and cite my source.
This is what we’re looking for when we notice distractions. Of course, it’s great if we can eliminate distractions altogether but that’s not usually possible.
It’s much more powerful – and practical – if we can manage the distractions when they do come up. Notice them and let them float away. When you’re journaling you might write, “My kid is yelling at his computer again,” and then proceed with your thoughts. If you can sharpen that skill, then you’ll have something very practical and useful available to you.
Maybe that distraction turns your writing to a new direction that ends up being fruitful. You never know. Don’t judge, just go with it.
Flow in Journaling: How It Feels
In Morning Pages you sit and write for three straight pages, non-stop, as quickly as possible. If you do this without any distractions you may just find what I call “The Magic of the Third Page.” This is also Flow. Same thing.
For this to happen you need to have a firm distraction management plan in place. Try to eliminate as many distractions as possible, and get on the page early to get ahead of your Inner Critic.
Notice those distractions when they pop up, and let them “float on by”.
When you’re in the flow state of mind in your writing, you won’t notice it until you’re done. I wrote about this in my post called, “Journaling Chronicles: Third-Page Smackdown.” Basically, I had such a great flow happening that morning that I had major epiphanies on the third page. I needed a firm talking-to, so I gave myself that speech on the page.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself writing something that you never expected. I have forgiven people on the third page, I have come up with amazing ideas on the third page too. You can dream on the third page and find practical solutions to how to get started towards that dream.
This flow in journaling doesn’t happen every time, but when it does you’ll be motivated to keep coming back for more.
It’s truly the most amazing feeling.
Oils to Strengthen the Process
Ooh, friends. Essential oils are stellar to help anchor this process.
Frankincense in particular is so good at helping manage distractions. I’ll write more about this in an upcoming post about flow state of mind in practicing and performing (spoiler alert: I always use Frankincense on stage). There is a good reason why Frankincense is a great oil for meditation.
But I think you can use whatever oil you want to help you get into writing mode quickly. In my previous post “Your Diffuser: Your Work-From Home Productivity Hero” I explored how you can use oils strategically to trigger a desired emotional state with a specific aroma.
Don’t underestimate how powerful this is. Aromatic triggers work very quickly and are very effective.
Basically, if you use the same aroma every time you write, this can:
- Reinforce the writing habit by aromatic association, and
- Make a solid connection between the desired emotional state (flow) with that specific aroma.
So, if you experience the flow state of mind in your writing and you used a certain aroma at the time, you can help get back to that emotional state by using that same aroma again.
Have you experienced flow in journaling? Are you struggling with any part of this? Comment below! Your experience will be a huge help to other readers, and maybe we can help you troubleshoot if you’re stuck.
Happy writing, friends!