Don’t Worry About Self-Discipline: Get into the Flow State

FlowDo you wish you were more disciplined? Do you feel like you have to beat yourself up in order to do your best work?

Flow vs. Force

For most of us, simply pushing ourselves to be more disciplined just isn’t effective. It’s not that we’re lazy, but driving ourselves with self-discipline just doesn’t work that well.

If you’re like me, you’ll much prefer finding the flow rather than forcing the process. Here’s the 3-step strategy I often use to get into the flow state.

3 Steps to Get into the Flow State

1. Define the problem or task.

Define the problem or topic you want to work on well before it needs to be done and spend some time talking to people about it. That’ll get your mental juices going.

In those early conversations you’ll have a chance to put the idea into words and monitor your internal responses. Sometimes a conversation will lead you along, and other times even as you describe the topic you’ll feel that it rings hollow and isn’t worth pursuing.

2. Create a deadline.

Once you have a topic that “has legs” and has stood up through some conversations, find a way to create a real deadline. Booking a talk on the subject or agreeing to write a blog post or an article for someone’s journal does this quite nicely.

“I’ll have it to you on September 15th!” Bingo! — you have your deadline.

3. Let your subconscious do its work.

Now, with the concept and a deadline in place, take some time to sleep on it. Really! You might read a bit about the topic and write some notes now and again, but mostly just let the ideas percolate. (I’m convinced that my best percolating happens while I sleep.)

Take these steps and you’ll find that one day — miraculously in time to get it done before the deadline — you’ll be ready do the work. And out it will naturally flow.

Flow = Sheer Happiness

Flow is the experience of tuning out the extraneous and letting your intense focus pull you along through the creative process. It doesn’t happen every day but when it does, it’s worth the wait!

And that’s a far cry from beating yourself up for lack of discipline.

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Create a Process to Access Your Flow State

The next time you have a writing project to do, experiment with ways that you can find the flow energy that pulls you into the process rather than forcing yourself to get to work.

Start by articulating the idea. Share it with others. If it holds up in conversation, create a deadline and then step back to let your subconscious work. You’ll know when you’re ready to write.

How would you describe your flow experience? And what are your tricks for accessing it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

For more on flow, check out this TED Talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.