Flow State

Knitting Nerdcast is my new favorite knitting podcast. It is hosted by Hannah Baker who is the editor of Interweave. The topics are all knitting related but sometimes go down weird rabbit holes that you didn’t even know you would be insanely interested in. I was listening to an episode last week called String Theory when there was a brief discussion of “flow state”. I was really interested in the idea and decided to go down a rabbit hole of my own.

Flow state can best be described as the phenomenon where someone sits down to a project/work and loses all concept of time and is highly productive. It can also be described as “being in the zone”.

Flow state was originally researched by psychologist Csikszentmihalyi who is originally from Hungary. His research stemmed from a question formed in his childhood, what makes life worth living? That question later morphed into Why work on tedious projects that are unlikely to bring fame and fortune? Is the process alone fulfilling and worthwhile enough to drive the making?

We have all been there. We focus on a project so intently that when we look up all the sudden hours have passed. As a knitter and crocheter I have sat down after breakfast to work on a project and seemingly without a moment passing all the sudden it is 3 in the afternoon and I am starving.

Athletes, writers, poets, chess players etc. have all described a similar phenomenon. When things are going well there is a sense of ecstasy. There is no need to think, time becomes meaningless, and things just “flow” out.

Csikszentmihalyi calls this state of high productivity “flow”. He and his team have spent years researching “flow” all over the world and have found that it is not exclusive to artists or a specific location. Anyone can experience flow when they are fully engaged with their work, hobby, or relationship.

There are 8 characteristics of “flow”:

  • Complete concentration on task
  • Clarity of goals, rewards in mind, and immediate feedback
  • Transformation of time (time either speeds up or slows down)
  • The work is intrinsically rewarding
  • The work is done with effortlessness and ease
  • There is a balance between challenge and skills
  • Actions and awareness are merged; self-consciousness and rumination are lost
  • Feeling of control over a task

There are also documented physiological changes during a state of flow. While studying classical pianists Swedish researchers found deepened breathing, slowed heart rates, and the smile facial muscles activated in the pianists that experienced flow. Researchers have also found that after the flow experience people report higher satisfaction with life and greater general happiness.

An “after flow” if you will…get it…sorry I couldn’t help myself…

How can you achieve flow?

  • Avoid noisy environments and places with interruptions
  • Engage in activities that are meaningful to you, challenging, but also doable
  • Engage in an activity you have already practiced
  • The activity shouldn’t be too easy or too hard

Flow sounds amazing doesn’t it? It is important to note that some researchers found that while flow is important it is also just as important to work through the boring stuff and push through the uncomfortable and difficult period of an activity. They have also noted that flow is not always achievable but mindfulness is something open to everyone and has similar concepts. Mindfulness often has the same benefits of flow and to practice it you should look for newness in old and familiar routines and situations.

From all of this I have learned why some of my knitting, crochet, and other crafting projects feel effortless and leave me with a euphoric feeling. I also learned that boring projects, like the plain stockinette stitch shrug I just finished are also important to complete. Looking back on various projects I think brioche knitting is most likely to cause me to “flow”. It is something challenging that I have to focus on but not so challenging I feel frustrated.

Thank you for going down this rabbit hole with me. I would highly recommend the Knitting Nerdcast. I have learned something or been inspired by almost every episode.

Here are the sources I used for this article if you are interested in further information about flow state: https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/ and https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190204-how-to-find-your-flow-state-to-be-peak-creative.

One Comment

  1. Olivia

    Your explanation is perfect. I used to get in “flow state” when I skied. I practiced it intensely and copied really great skiers often following them down the mountain. It was literal “flow”. And then one day it all clicked. I quit fighting the downhill, the imagined speed, and just let my knees get soft, raising & falling with the terrain. I became like water flowing down the mountain. It was and always will be the most euphoric feeling I have ever had. It was pure joy. And I would skip all day, not stopping for food or anything. Alas my knees don’t allow me that length of time anymore but for a little while I get to go back into the flow each year.


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