The Good Old Days of Concentration
A few months ago I started to think about my school days. I would get home, dig out all of my art materials, make a huge mess on the floor and sit scrunched up in a ball until I couldn’t feel my legs. I’d be up late working on something that I was 100% immersed in. I’d loose all sense of time, not even consider any basic needs (like sitting comfortably) and I’d be lost in my own world. I was hooked and couldn’t get enough of it!
Why do I find it so difficult to achieve this state now?
I realised it had been a long time since I was able to concentrate like this as well as getting fully lost in what I was working on. This set me off on a mission to look at lengthening my attention span, questioning social media addictions and digital distractions, which led me to find out that the state of focus I was looking for is actually known as Flow State.
A Bit More Research into it
I started to look more closely at flow state (named by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in the1970s) and wondered how I could reach this Goldilock zone of creativity and make it a regular part of my working week. I was desperate to reach this state of concentration again!
Johan Hari explains more in his book Stolen Focus about how fragmented attention effects the reward part of our brains. Hari sets out 3 simple rules to achieving the flow state.
The task need to be:
- Something meaningful to us
- Stretching our abilities
- Have A Clear Goal
These three rules are a great start to outlining your important task, looking at what needs to be done and what will be achieved at the end of it. I also think there's a lot to be said for creating an environment that encourages ‘single-tasking’ to focus your mental energy, as well as removing digital distractions and external comparisons. Having faith that your idea will work and then just working on it, no shame or input from anyone else.
Applying This New Idea to My Studio Practice
My long term goal is to stretch my attention span and to reach flow state more regularly with my work, I’m conscious of using Hari’s rules to set up the right conditions to work in a flow state.
I set the environment first, remove any distractions and work out what the task will involve and understand why it’s meaningful to me. I dump any swirling thoughts into my notepad and allow myself a clear headspace to start.
Creating (and sticking to) boundaries to avoid distraction has been a huge shift for me, allowing my attention span to lengthen by cutting out quick content and focus longer on reading books or magazine articles.
One surprising thing that I've noticed recently is that I’ve started to achieve flow state when I’m writing my blog posts now too. My writing confidence is increasing and I enjoy working on and finishing posts to share with you.
What do you get lost in?
If you have a friend who might enjoy this kind of discussion, feel free to share this with them or if you have any thoughts on this subject please do leave a comment or drop me an email. To keep up with the latest blog posts, join my monthly round up here.
Edited extract from Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention by Johann Hari, published by Bloomsbury. The Guardian
Stolen Focus book by Johan Hari
How To Do Nothing: Resisting The Attention Economy book by Jenny Odell
Losing Yourself in Flow State TED talk by Diane Allen