“I don’t believe that when you get into a creative place, you’re giving up thinking. You’re super-thinking – better and with more parts of your mind than you do normally.”

That is a comment by social psychologist, teacher and author Susan K. Perry, PhD from our interview.

She added that there is a ‘busy mind’ aspect of our thinking, which “means you’re fragmented, you’re unfocused, distracted, too many things on your mind.

“You want to get to a place which is both loose, relaxed, and focused.

“What I found in my studies of flow are that two things you need to do to get to this place where time stops and you can be most creative, are to loosen up, and focus in. It’s a paradox, obviously, to be loose and focused at the same time. And they overlap, and one may come before the other.”

From my (text) interview with Susan Perry.

You can also listen to our podcast interview: Susan K. Perry, Ph.D. on writing.

The author of “Flow – the Psychology of Optimal Experience” and a number of related books, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced me-high chick-sent-me-high) says we can facilitate the conditions for this quality of optimal functioning, and that it may be found in a wide range of careers and activities.

For his doctoral thesis on “how visual artists create art” he studied photos taken every three minutes as artists created a painting. He says he was “struck by how deeply they were involved in work, forgetting everything else.

“That state seemed so intriguing that I started also looking for it in chess players, in rock climbers, in dancers and in musicians.

“I expected to find substantial differences in all their activities, but people reported very similar accounts of how they felt. Then, I started looking at professions like surgery and found the same elements there – a challenge which provides clear, high goals and immediate feedback… They forget themselves, the time, their problems.”

Deep play

A related concept has been explored by Diane Ackerman, a poet, essayist and naturalist who teaches creativity at Cornell.

In her book “Deep Play” she talks about being able to “play anywhere that is set off from reality, whether it be a playground, a field, a church or a garage.”

She says “Deep play doesn’t have to do with an activity, like shallow play. It has to do with attitude or an extraordinarily intense state… Swept up by the deeper states of play, one feels balanced, creative, focused…

“Deep play is an absence of mental noise — liberating, soothing, and exciting. It means no analysis, no explanation, no promises, no goals, no worries. You are completely open to the drama of life that may unfold.”

From my article Creativity and Flow Psychology.

Getting into flow

Ackerman and other writers and psychologists are describing a quality of awareness and creative expression from that state of mind, that is relatively free of critical thinking, judgment and agendas. Of course, all of those may at some point enter in and be important for creative accomplishment, but more consciously flowing and doing what we can to get into the ‘zone’ can help us be more creative.

In a new post of hers, Susan Perry also notes the creative value of play.

She says, “Forget about the goal and find the fun. This is the most crucial key to entering flow. Put all thought of audience aside for the time being and find something pleasurable about what you’re trying to create.

“If it’s not fun, figure out why not and make it more engaging for yourself. There’s nothing trivial about fun, as I’ve found in my talks with great creative individuals. It’s one of the many motivators that bring them back to the work they do, day in and day out.”

From article: 5 Keys to Unlock Your Creative Motivation, By Susan K. Perry, The Creativity Post, Mar 22, 2012.


Writing in Flow, by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.

Deep Play, by Diane Ackerman.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The image reminds me of this state of flow; it comes from the book Miyelo, by Viggo Mortensen – a series of large-scale, panoramic photographs of a Lakota Ghost Dance.