Lately I have been pondering the whole thing about the experience of “Flow” or “The Zone”, and how come it makes us feel so wonderful and awesome and might it in fact be the diametric opposite of the zombie like state that many hours of vacuous staring at a screen can induce?
Pretty early on in my journey of art I discovered that although there are times when I have to make a huge effort just to get myself to show up and DO the work or art, there are also other times when I can’t wait to get down to it and I can immerse myself for hours and it feels effortless, timeless, and well, as if some kind of power were just flowing through me and onto the paper or canvas. After such a session I am left with a huge sense of well-being, relaxation, fulfilment and peace. This, I have discovered from poking about on the internet, is the experience of what artists (and also musicians, writers, sportsmen, dancers and many others who love what they do) call the experience of “Flow” or being “In the Zone”. Flow is not necessarily something that a person can just conjure up whenever they feel like, it is more a case of something that happens when the conditions are right for a particular person at a particular time. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, a Hungarian psychologist, theorized that it is necessary for the level of challenge and the level of interest in the task to have to be balanced in order for one to experience ‘the zone’ According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
In other words you have to really WANT to be able to do a particular aspect of art and then you have to go at it at the point where you are stretching your ability and in an area that is interesting to you. This could well explain why many artists tend to reach a plateau in their work from time to time….it’s either because they are not pushing the envelope enough so something has become boring or old hat to them, or else because they are trying to force themselves to do something that is too far out of reach of their current skill levels. There are two solutions to this, either back off and regroup and try a different way of doing it (a way that is more FUN!) or, push on and keep showing up, until, one day…there you are, in the zone, your 20+ hours of practice got you there!
Well, maybe some of that is a bit over simplified – But the overruling point is that we need to be challenged and engaged at exactly the right levels in order to gain satisfaction from what we are doing.
So much in modern life does not do this, so many of us are ruled by time and the demands of modern society – you need to have this (buy it, buy it NOW, not next week!!)or earn this much,or do this to be happy…..We are bombarded with opinions, trivia, emotional blackmail and the general fabulousness of the lives of people we only know in the most superficial of ways on social media or wherever we are seeking human contact. Our perception of reality has become, unreal. What do we do? Well, there’s a reason so many people take up a hobby to deal with the stresses and strains of modern life….GET IN THE ZONE, my friends! 🙂
What’s YOUR opinion on this? Have you experienced ‘The Zone”? If you have, do you experience it regularly and does it act as an antidote to the other things you have to do in life? Do you have any tricks or ways of getting in “The Zone” that you’d like to mention? Do you think it is possible to get addicted to being in “The Zone”
If you read this far – Well done! and thanks for reading this! Comments are, as always, most welcome!
(The picture above is a water-color painting…painted mostly “plein aire” one very Zoney afternoon at my in-laws old house – It’s called “Peggy’s Pond”.)