It takes a bit of trickery, but it can be done.
This description of the state of flow resonates so much! I am curious about the difference between "being in the zone" and "zoning out". I think they are in fact different, and there's a whole taxonomy of substates and related states we could be identifying.
For instance, when I paint in my studio, I enjoy listening to audio - podcasts, books, music with lyrics. It seems to engage my language centers so that I don't think in words while I paint. (I could never listen to them while writing.)
I also teach an AP art. I often find my students with ADHD are the absolute best at generating ideas, and in critique they are great at finding connections in other students' work that those students didn't see at first. These students struggle to engage their PFC for executive function and time awareness. What I see in my ADHD students when they seem distracted, miss deadlines, and don't turn in work, seems like a glitch of sorts. They lose their executive function.
When I meditate in the morning, I think that down-regulating my PFC actually helps it to function in other times of day. Meditation has also helped with interrupting thoughts, which feel to me like an over-active PFC. Anxiety also feels like a PFC which is using more metabolic resources than is helpful. I need to move those resources elsewhere, and meditation really helps to do that.
Repetitive actions like crochet (Thanks Kathryn!) and meditation feel to me like they do something different than listening to audio while I paint, or "watching" tv. Distraction seems different than choosing to be in a different state. I don't know enough about the brain science, but I can't wait to check out some of the books and articles people have listed here.
Thanks for a wonderful article!
“Watching” really repetitive formulaic tv (law and order, reality relationship shows) helps me get into some weird mental state that sounds a lot like this. I don’t exactly watch - just have it on and sort of know what’s going on. Often I am simultaneously crocheting or playing a dumb repetitive phone game.
I feel like my answer sounds weird or wrong. In the past I had a lot of shame or resistance around how much “bad tv” I “watch”. And definitely sometimes I have to turn it off completely to tune into my own mind. But there’s this sweet spot where it actually really helps me get into a state that fosters my own creativity rather than interrupts it.
As a busy working mother, I seem to be able to enter into this state in the early morning. And it must be accompanied by a ritual of poetry and coffee. There must be something to poetry and early mornings. My mind is loose and so much more capable of moving beyond conditions of knowing and controlling.
Thank you for this newsletter! One of the things I do to deepen my own creativity is to play in my sketchbook in the mornings before I am fully awake... that is before my inhibitions come online so to speak. I find it helpful.
Perhaps when on reaches their “runner’s high” all possibilities for multitasking are shut down. Physically, the body shifts into “survival mode”. Mentally, the brain goes into a similar survival mode, which makes the impossible problem being pondered suddenly solvable.
I’m not one for running or biking with headphones plugged in. Physical and mental single-tasking has brought on big ideas and unexpected solutions.
Thanks for posting this, Annie, and the discussion, everyone. There's so much in all this that talks to me. I've been studying the creative process in myself for about ten years, with the help of science and readings such as these.
This was a helpful summary - I really appreciate the level of communication here. Thanks!
Another good one here Annie, thank you.
I’ve often thought of this myself as how dreaming, meditation, sex, creative flow, physical flow, etc are all very similar and in fact more ‘normal’ states of mind than what tends to be regarded as ‘higher’ and normal, i.e. fully awake and engaged in analytic thinking.
I've written a lot about my own experience with this
perhaps especially in this piece about fitness and creativity:
Painting and making paper sculptures while mind wandering as letting go of thoughts and entering the Flow.
Fascinating. How does this relate to the creativity that can come after walking or taking a shower or doing the dishes which also feel like they may turn off the frontal regions of the brain?
Great read as always!