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3 Questions That Will Immediately Ramp Up Your Creative Flow

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If you’d like to learn how to ramp up your creative flow so you can produce your best work, sign up for the free 90-Day Master Class hosted by the founder of Addicted2Success.com, Joel Brown.


While creativity has long been co-opted by the arts, anyone that’s been in business, built a new product, or pitched a new sales deck knows that creative thinking and execution aren’t only for the painters and poets but for everyone that wants to or–as so often the case as an entrepreneur–needs to think and work differently. At the heart of creative work is not talent, inspiration, or the hope of an epiphany; it’s flow.

Flow is that state of performance in which we do our best work. Free from distractions, ultra-focused and challenged, our brains engage our work at its deepest level; ideas come, time flies, and the world around us seems to disappear. This is the zone to which athletes aspire, and the Groove for which artists hunger. 

Flow is a state of creativity and productivity that exists in the liminal space between work and play and if you want to think better and produce stronger results in any context, it is to Flow that you must look at.

Flow is not a hack or a trick. You can’t just turn it on or off, but you can create it, anytime and anyplace. In a 1996 article in Wired Magazine (Go With the Flow), writer John Geirland quotes Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as describing Flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” He should know; he discovered the idea.

A prolific and creative man himself, Csikszentmihalyi was the man who first identified this phenomenon. His 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, introduced and explained it to the world, and it deserves better than a short article boiling it down to essentials. But there are conditions in which Flow occurs, and if you can get there intentionally, you will get to that state of optimal performance faster.

“Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.” – Lao Tzu

Here are three questions I ask myself to get to Flow:

1. Am I Focused?

Flow depends on focus and that’s an increasingly rare commodity. Our attention is a resource and among driven people and high performers, it’s often put into overdraft by the belief that we can multitask. Of course we can multitask, but study after study shows we don’t do it well and if you want to get to Flow, it’s not about doing as much as you can while paying as little attention as possible. There’s next to no return on investment for paying that kind of attention.

Flow is about peak performance and doing your best work, not a hack driven by a desire to accomplish the mediocre. If you want to do your best work, the work that will distinguish you from others, it must be given your undivided attention. That means turning off the distractions completely, making yourself unavailable, and doing one thing only for longer blocks of time. 

Flow requires attention and time, and won’t be placated by half-measures. The emails and texts and social media can wait. The upside is that those can also benefit from Flow. Save them for blocks of time in which you can give them your full attention and you’ll make fewer mistakes and do more than just distractedly mail them in.

2. Am I Challenged?

One of the more interesting ideas is that Flow occurs most reliably when you are operating at the vector where skill and challenge meet. Our best work is not done when it’s an easy match for our skills; that rarely holds our interest long enough for Flow to occur.

Our creativity needs challenge, it needs something to push against and a problem to solve. But one must not overpower the other. If the challenge, relative to our ability to pull it off, is too great, we start freaking out and we’ll lose the focus that’s so important and burn through our attention resources long before we get into the zone or groove. If the challenge is insufficient, we’ll get bored and then too we lose focus and start looking for something that feels more significant.

Asking ourselves if we are sufficiently challenged is a good way to re-calibrate. If the answer is no, find a way to add challenge to the project. How can you make it even better, take it deeper, or accomplish it in half the time? When challenged, we focus and bring out the best of what we know, and what we can accomplish. Want to bring out the big guns? Pick a bigger fight.

“You’re thinking too much, just let it flow.” – E. Paluszak

3. Am I Nervous?

In The War of Art, a book about fighting the resistance that is always present in any creative work, author Steven Pressfield talks about the presence of fear in the creative process, reframing it from a negative to a positive: “Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

In other words, fear is a compass and anyone doing work that matters should be suspicious if there’s no fear and nothing at stake. Years ago I was a comedian, performing routinely for audiences of 1000 to 2500 people. In those 12 years I learned to identify the fear as a reliable indicator of the possibility of Flow. My best shows were not those in which I felt perfectly comfortable but those in which I had the most to lose. The nervousness focused my thoughts and energies and put an edge on my performance that wasn’t there when I was just going through the motions. I thought faster, I improvised better, I put more in and expected to get more out.

When I find myself outside the riptide of Flow I ask myself if I’ve really got skin in the game, if there’s a way I can increase the risk, be more vulnerable, or put a little more on the line. It’s not for the sake of risk, but to draw out the best of me that otherwise need not show up when there’s nothing to lose. If there’s nothing to lose there’s also nothing to gain.

You don’t need to study Flow or know how to pronounce the name of the man who brought such clarity to the idea. But you do need that state of optimal performance if you’re going to do your best work, the work that sets you apart from those who think they can get along just fine without it, distracted, unchallenged, and without the nerves that come from taking on something a little bigger than themselves.

Flow brings focus and draws out the best of our skills and pulls us toward innovation, unexpected results to bigger problems, and the kind of results that make our work stand out from a crowd too willing to settle for half-measures and the good enough.

Have you ever been in flow? If so, share how it felt with us below!

David duChemin is a best-selling author, award-winning photographer, and leading expert in the field of creativity. His podcast and book, A Beautiful Anarchy helps him share his message with tens of thousands. Fuelled by his endless creative hunger, he has built a seven-figure business with the goal of inspiring others to realize that the creative life is for everyone—not just artists. David spent the last twelve years travelling the world as a humanitarian photographer and creativity workshop instructor on all seven continents. His adventures have taken him through winters in Russia and Mongolia and a summer on the Amazon, as well as months among nomads in the Indian Himalayan and remote Northern Kenya. Drawing on a successful, twelve-year career in comedy, David brings a dynamic and engaging presence as a presenter in workshops, on camera, or on stages for corporations like Apple and Amazon.

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Success Advice

Mindful Productivity: How Top Achievers Combine Focus and Balance

By being aware of your emotions, thoughts, and surroundings, you can work with your internal and external environments

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Mindful productivity

Your big-dream goals matter … but not at the expense of your health. (more…)

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Change Your Mindset

The Art of Convincing: 10 Persuasion Techniques That Really Work

The knack for persuading others can act as a catalyst for change, open doors, forge alliances, and effect positive change

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Persuasion is not as complicated as it may sound. In fact, it is something that we have been practicing since childhood. Do you remember convincing your parents to let you skip school, asking your teacher not to assign homework, or persuading your boss to give you a day off? Well, these are just small examples of what persuasion looks like. (more…)

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Success Advice

5 Steps to Leveraging Industry Speaker Events for Career Advancement

Jumping into industry events is a smart move for your career, but there’s a knack to it

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Jumping into industry events is a smart move for your career, but there’s a knack to it. It’s not just about sitting in a room full of people. You’ve got to find the ones that fit your career puzzle, dive in while you’re there, and then make the most of what you’ve learned afterward. (more…)

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Success Advice

Overcoming Plateaus: 6 Powerful Strategies for Breakthrough Success

A plateau is not a full stop; it’s a comma that allows you to pause, reflect, and shift gears

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how to overcome obstacles for success

In the pursuit of personal and professional growth, plateaus are inevitable. They appear when progress seems to halt, despite your continuous efforts. But remember, a plateau is not a full stop; it’s a comma that allows you to pause, reflect, and shift gears. This article provides six powerful strategies to overcome plateaus and achieve breakthrough success.

1. Find Out the Root Cause

When facing a plateau, there is likely something causing you to sabotage your progress. Identify the root cause. What is sabotaging your progress? Examine your daily routine and how you spend your time. Are you wasting time on unnecessary activities? Or are you taking on too many tasks that you can’t handle?

Often, adding more tasks overloads your already tight routine and distracts you from focusing on the most important tasks. Therefore, often eliminating unnecessary activity will work to overcome plateaus. However, be cautious of not doing things right, such as tasks you have not yet undertaken or missing something. What actions do you need to take or improve to achieve your goal? Are you avoiding them, or have you not started yet?

2. Never Tolerate Problems

Once you’ve identified the root cause, never tolerate problems. If you tolerate them, you’ll end up staying stuck. You get what you tolerate. Once you recognize the problem you’re facing, never tolerate it. Instead, address and improve the situation.

3. Focus on a 100% Solution and 0% Problems

To overcome a challenge, it’s essential to plan how to get through it. Yet, people often find themselves asking, ‘Why is it bad?’ or ‘What is wrong with it?’ Questions of this nature limit our thinking, leading our brains to generate responses like ‘Because you’re not good enough’ or ‘Everything is wrong with you.’ These limited answers tend to resonate with the situation and drag you down further.

Instead, ask empowering questions without limits, such as ‘What is not perfect yet, and how can I turn things around while making a more positive impact?’ By asking unlimited empowering questions, you’ll shift your focus from the problem to the solution. Additionally, you will also notice that asking empowering questions can expand available options and allow you to see from an angle you couldn’t see before.

Focusing on problems rarely yields positive outcomes. The key to positive results lies in concentrating on the solution. The next time you face adversity and notice getting caught by unresourceful thoughts, snap out of it and direct your focus to a 100% solution and 0% problems.

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” – Henry Ford

4. Cultivate Success-Driven Traits

Identify the traits you need to have and get rid of to become the person you aspire to be. Consider your specific goals – for instance, attracting positive relationships. To achieve this, note down the traits you need to embrace, such as being open-minded, gentle, healthy, and treating others the way you want to be treated.

Cultivate a positive mindset. Simultaneously, get rid of traits like criticizing others, having a short temper, and engaging in unhealthy habits like taking drugs.

Learn from individuals who have achieved similar goals. Study their traits, both the ones they have and those they’ve consciously avoided. Implement these traits to align with the person you want to become.

Once you have your lists of traits to embrace and eliminate, diligently follow them. Place the list on your desk or the door of your room, ensuring you read it at least once a day to reinforce your commitment to these traits.

5. Track Your Habits

Carry a notepad to track your habits throughout the day, especially those contributing to plateaus, as well as your new habits or traits aligned with achieving your goals. For instance, if your root cause is excessive internet use, record instances of mindless scrolling on social media. Note when you engage, the emotional state prompting it, and the approximate duration.

Calculate the total minutes wasted at the end of the day. This habit tracking makes you aware of the emotions triggering these behaviors (stress, boredom, and frustration) and the time wasted.

Additionally, track positive new habits, like reading good books and exercising. Document what you’ve learned from the book and the time spent exercising. This practice helps you build new positive habits by enabling you to compare today’s results with those from yesterday or a week ago. 

Moreover, consistently sticking to new habits for around 18 months transforms them into lifelong habits. Even if you take breaks, you will find yourself naturally returning to those habits.

6. See Obstacles as Opportunities

Every obstacle can be an opportunity to turn things around. If the economy is in a downturn, it’s time to recognize it as an opportunity to thrive while everyone else is struggling and focused on the problem. If someone makes fun of you or causes you trouble, ask yourself, ‘What can I learn from this experience?’

Alternatively, consider that the person underrating you is setting low expectations, which are easier to exceed. If your business receives a bad review from a customer, see it as free feedback that guides you on how to improve and take your business to the next level.

Always try to see different angles that others may overlook. This perspective can reveal aspects you might be missing. When you view a problem as an opportunity, it has the potential to foster growth.

In the journey toward success, plateaus are just temporary pauses, not dead ends. So, keep moving, keep growing, and make your breakthrough.

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