I am a great believer in the flow state and working in the zone. This is one reason why I am an artist. Because I constantly enter this flow state whilst painting. I am also good at finding flow in my day job, because it’s a job I enjoy, which challenges me enough, so that I get lost in the process.
Recently, I came across a good book called Finding your Flow by Sarah Gregg. Now, I believe that I'm already pretty good at finding my flow. As I just mentioned, I get into flow quite regularly. However, what I discovered in this book were some fantastic journal prompts.
If you have read any of my blogs before, you probably know that I also love journaling. Any form of journaling. So, it was no surprise to me to discover elements of the journal prompts with which I was familiar. It started with gratitude.
Now, I have tried gratitude journaling in various forms throughout the years. It has crept into my bullet journaling a few times and it is not difficult to write just three things you are thankful for at the start of a day. But for one reason or another, I just haven’t kept at it.
But this flow journaling I have kept writing for several weeks now. And I love it.
Why is this?
The first part of the journal page was gratitude. But only the first part. After mentioning the benefits of waking up with positivity, Gregg then goes on to the next part, focus.
Focus on flow
Writing out your focus for the day was also not a new idea to me. However, in order to create more flow in your day, it is useful to actually take the time to focus on whatever creates that flow for you. Whatever activity that may be. Be it reading, writing, painting. And to make time for it in your day.
Of course, we all have busy lives, and there are things that need to get done. But once that has been attended to, there is time left to focus on your flow.
What got me about this part of the journaling exercise was that there were two sections to write out your focus for the day. One section for the important day-to-day activities which need to get done. The other for the activities which bring us flow. These Gregg calls high-value priorities (what needs to get done) and high-flow priorities (what gets you into flow).
Prioritising your time is important. But making time for fun hobbies and enjoyable activities is something which can take quite a mindset shift for some people. It is only possible if you learn to love yourself first. This can take many years of soul searching for some, because we are so often told that we are not good enough at a young age. Take your time and believe in yourself.
I have always believed that downtime is important and try to make the most of my spare time. However, to me that looked like creating an art business and always hustling in my free time. Completing these journal prompts really helped me see that, what I was beginning to realise anyway, you can’t just keep hustling.
The rest of the journaling exercise
After finding your focus for the day, both in the things which need to be done and the things you really want to do to get into flow, then it helps to be able to schedule them into your day. A simple morning-afternoon-evening schedule helps break down a day and you can write out what you are going to do in each part of the day.
Whilst I found this useful, as I like to have a schedule, I do tend to work very early morning shifts, and would often find that the evening part of my schedule was empty (or on some days, my afternoon, if I decided to take a nap).
I am also quite a spontaneous person, so although I would write out a schedule, almost immediately after, I would change up my order of doing things. Perhaps I am just perverse like that.
However, sometimes the schedule helped me to keep on top of what I was doing. When I was having a focused day.
Your ideal day
The third part of the journal prompt was to ‘script your ideal day.’ Now, whilst I really liked the sound of this, I think I am too much of a realist to believe that any flights of fancy I write down will come true. (I am on the fence about the law of attraction. Maybe if I believed it a bit more it would work for me). So, my ideal day which I wrote down was nearly always too mundane or basic.
After I completed the blank prompts at the back of the book and went on to do my own, I cut out the ‘ideal day’ part, just because I found it too similar to the schedule.
This was meant to help you get into ‘total flow’ by writing out what will happen and focusing your attention on the best way you will be working, not unlike an athlete who visualises their ideal performance in order to succeed.
But I am not an athlete. And although I understand that where you put your attention is where your focus your life, sometimes I like to drift through life. Maybe I will revisit this. But I find the forward focus to be sufficient for now.
At the start of this year, I dialled back a lot of my content creation and art making to focus on me. Previously, I was making a YouTube video every week and pumping out paintings at a rate which was not letting me enjoy the process so much anymore.
I mainly paint with encaustic wax. This is a really fun, intuitive medium which lets me explore the flows of molten wax and tease out images from them.
However, I love all art media, and enjoy combining different things with my wax art. I made a whole series of these ‘wax and…’ videos over on my YouTube.
Recently, I visited a local art exhibition and was amazed to see, for the first time in real life, an acrylic pour painting. I had seen these online before, but standing in front of that huge flow of paint was very inspiring. I had a cheap kit to get me started on this journey and I messed about with it for a morning. And I was totally in the zone.
Because I was very much an amateur, these first attempts were not the best. But I combined them with encaustic wax and made a video about them here:
Next, I took my acrylic paints which have been sitting at the bottom of a drawer for ages and decided to make my own ‘proper’ acrylic pour painting.
Mixing a little water and PVA glue to the paint, I tipped way too much paint over this small box canvas. It was the messiest, most unplanned artwork I have done in ages. And it was so much fun.
I didn’t measure out correct proportions of water, glue, or paint. I didn’t know where the paint was going to flow or how it was going to mix. I did, luckily, put down a plastic sheet to protect my carpet. But my fingers were slathered in thick gloopy acrylic before I was finished. Glad I didn’t try to film this one or my camera would have been too.
Why did this work so well?
Well, perhaps, mainly because I decided not to film it. It was a piece of art just for me. I was not planning on doing anything with it or trying to sell it. It is going to be hung in my bedroom to inspire me.
One of the other benefits of this system, I found, is that I have rediscovered the joy of reading. I always enjoyed reading. But recently, my focus was scattered, and I found it difficult to make time for reading. Now, because it is always on my list of high-flow priorities, I always make time to read a chapter of my latest book or more if I really get into the flow.
I also made time for board and card games at weekends because it is also important to have fun. These always get me in flow.
I also enjoyed the meditative qualities of sand art pouring slowly through water as I tip the picture upside-down and watch new landscapes evolve and flow.
The last part of the journaling prompts was to reflect on what went well and what could be improved. This long-form journaling has been missing from any other journal writing I have been doing recently, and so I found this a nice place to review the day.
When I get to this, it can be tempting to begin planning the next day ahead, but that is what the morning focus is for. Instead, I discover what lessons I have gained from the day, such as ‘online time will always take longer than you think!’ And other insights such as ‘scheduling works!’ And the important one ‘I don’t need to fill in the complete list of priorities if I don’t have much to do!’ As well as ‘get the main thing out of the way first – eat the frog- helps!’
I find this last point to be a very difficult one to put into practice in my day-to-day. As I work early mornings, it is not easy to do any important thing I may wish to do first thing, as there just isn’t time. (I physically could not get up any earlier than I do). Mentally challenging art projects must be completed on days off. And that works fine for me, now that I am focused on flow.