Looking for a Creative Breakthrough? Tell Everyone to Leave You Alone.
Right now more than ever, creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs are feeling what I call "Lone Wolf Syndrome."
They say things like:
"I have to get away from the noise."
"When I work I have to put my phone on airplane mode so I don't get notifications."
"I schedule when I do my emails, instead of checking them every minute."
"I don't really enjoy 'going out' right now."
However, I don't think they themselves would say they feel lonely at all. Here's why:
I, too, am the type of person whose best work stems from long periods of time left alone to immerse myself in my creative element: books, podcasts, travel, music, whatever I need. I fall into a flow, a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975; "In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time."
During my experiences in flow, the creative personas in my mind get the time and quiet they need to stretch their legs and take form. They speak to me and there's nothing to distract me from hearing them. The longer they speak, the more profound they become. I begin to connect the dots between my chosen inspiration, the subject matter, and all the variables of potential. I start to see the patterns in my client's business and where we would need to alter the trend line with surgical precision to achieve the desired outcome. The past, present and future are no longer linear to me — instead I see common loops in behavior and likely outcomes. This is my ideal creative zone; my very best work happens here. However, when interrupted by a notification on my phone or a knock on the front door, flow stops.
Csíkszentmihályi's research found that "Whenever information disrupts the consciousness by threatening its goals we begin a condition of inner disorder... a disorder of the self that impairs its effectiveness." Translation: everyday disruptions actually send our internal self into chaos, halting creativity.
Disruptions are the "off" switch to flow.
The best creators and innovators of our time have either knowingly or unknowingly discovered that in a social media-laden environment, creative breakthroughs are simply less likely. We live in a landscape whose profitability is built on distraction; from targeted ads to endlessness rabbit holes of content to cubicle-less offices, there's always something lying in wait to steal our consciousness. The solution? Intentionally manipulating your environment to leverage the correlation between you — the creator — and the quality of your content by being as ultimately present as possible. These people aren't taking a step back because of an outright desire to be less social or less involved; they're trying to line up what they need to induce a flow state — and stay there.
This is why you see entrepreneurs, athletes, and experts spending intentional, focused time alone, on their craft.
It's tempting in the face of greatness to say things like "the stars really lined up for them," but in reality, we are looking at the possibility that exceptional people just align their own stars.
We're witnessing flow.