Flow

Photo by Solen Feyissa

A body at rest will stay at rest unless acted on by an external force. Likewise a body in motion will stay in motion unless acted on by an external force. This principle of inertia, as paraphrased from Newton’s first law, has many parallels with human motion, with human activity, as well. There is an energetic cost to enter any meaningful activity. This cost is analogous to shaking off the dust or warming up. Getting to the point where things are moving smoothly, a point where one falls into a natural rhythm takes time. There is no way to get rid of this warm-up period. Understanding this buy-in, the time sink required at the beginning of the activity, is critical for designing the day productively. 

Activities such as running require a period of acclimitization until one begins to feel the rhythm in their legs and their breathing begins to smooth. Initially every step is an effort, often the jolt of the road or track is jarring and unpleasant. But over the next several miles the collision of the foot and the ground becomes more fluid, the blood redistributes to key muscles and organs, and the mind begins to fall in line with the new rhythm. After two or three miles the mind slowly clears allowing focus on a single thought. The same is found in swimming where the a rhythm must be found that aligns with the movement of the water, a coordinated dance between the strokes, kicks, and breaths. It is critical to embrace this buy-in period, to push through this warm-up to get to the flow state. Too many workouts end just after the flow state is established. At least during a workout, the benefits to the cardiovascular and muscular skeletal system are still won during the warmup period. In other activities the buy in period is simply a period of time of low objective productivity, a preparatory period for things to come. 

Writing, true writing, not just putting words on a page, but communicating a complex idea with clarity and simplicity in a relatable and integratabtle fashion, is a difficult task to do well.  There is a high buy in cost in that there may be an extended period of time at the beginning of writing where there is little productivity as ones mind begins to craft arguments, meld world into sentences, and smooth sentences into paragraphs, all with a unifying theme. Writing, like coding, or complex data analysis, is difficult to pick up with small pieces of time. Writing with five minutes here or there will take longer and leave a worse product that writing in dedicated blocks of time. The cost of writing is then the exclusion of distractions for extended periods of time. 

The flow state, regardless of activity must be protected. Once this flow state is achieved, there should be few things, if any, that takes one from the flow state. The productive day should be designed around achieving and maintaining these flow states at predetermined times. One final cost of buying into the flow state bears mentioning. There are days, sometimes even weeks or months where the flow state is hard to achieve, where every foot strike is a physical and mental effort, where every sentence is achieved more with perspiration than inspiration. And that is okay. That is part of the game. That is part of life. There will come a time when the flow state comes easily again, and it will have been worth all of this effort.

Be purposeful about achieving flow. 
Guard the flow. 

Published by JR Stanley

I am an MD, PhD student, training to be a physician scientist, with a deep interest in science, faith, and living life as an adventure. Join me as I entertain ideas from new findings in science, evolving interpretations of faith, and experience life one day and one adventure at a time.

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