WHAT IS WORKING IN-FLOW?

I’m talking about the essence of creativity here. Athletes call it the zone. It’s where everything comes together doing what you love and things seem to flow. In Eastern philosophy, it is Zen, a meditative state that relies on intuition over fixed goals. The Romans called it Genius, also meaning to generate. They believed people had a guiding spirit called a genius. A persons ‘genius’ may be apparent through their unique personality and disposition, which perhaps alludes to it being more of a state of mind than a particular skill. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi the author of ‘Flow’ says it is the ‘optimal experience’. 

I feel working in-flow and being creative is about an open feeling of possibility, playfulness, calm, inner joy, time fades away and minutes can turn into hours with no recollection. The rest of your life fades into the background. The next move is determined by the last and you are on your path. Everything you have previously worked on, looked, at and thought has built towards these moments. Creating, Thinking and Making are happening fluidly and easily. No room for your own or others judgement, you don’t have time for that. You are working In-flow. This post is as much about us working in-flow with children as it is about supporting our young people to find their flow.

They could be aiming for something like a short film, animation or digital artwork but working in-flow will determine the end result, how it feels, the colours, composition, nuances of what it really expresses, its power, and it will probably surprise you with lots of Oh that is working, not what I thought would work. It’s noticing what presents itself to you and not pushing for something that isn’t there. Working in-flow is you teaching yourself, autonomy, constant discovery. It’s not something you turn on or off when you want to, you work towards it at all times, look through a creative eye and what worked before may not have the same effect now. Thoughts around ongoing projects or designs come and go when they want to, not just when you designate time to it and this is often when we are calm, not doing much and allowing our mind to flow. Allow ideas and solutions to spring up. It is letting go of fixed ideas and letting them appear from nowhere. It’s intuition which is actually your brain making judgments, synthesising, reflecting, building, producing, developing, integrating, managing, directing, crafting and ultimately creating. You don’t even have to perceive yourself to be artistic or creative but doing something of this nature teaches us more directly about the creative process which is often then applied to other situations and endeavours. Big corporations like IBM recognise that Creative Leadership outperforms any other kind of Leadership characteristics. They are more likely to invite disruptive innovation, are comfortable with ambiguity and experiment, alter the status quo, invent and make business model changes. Creativity is something businesses want. Creativity is a state of mind.

Working in-flow is the place I think we all desire to be, everything just happening and going well, but it can be elusive. It may flicker on and off, be there for one project but gone for the next. Perhaps great artists have reached this ideal state and stay there for a long time. We may want it but not achieve it for years, but are aware of it and strive for it. You could be working in-flow but unaware that you are. If you are working with a child that loves sport then you can spike their interest by talking about this moment of being in the zone, creating chances, thinking on your feet. The moment footballers take that shot, they are totally absorbed. Children have this flow, they play, they naturally learn and are inspired to do things that interest them. We seem to loose sight of it as we get older. It is a way of being that we need to be mindful of.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WORKING IN-FLOW?

Working in-flow supports the individual to self-direct and make decisions instantaneously. 

Working in-flow has a timely nature to it. We want to flow and continue and not stop. Resourcefulness.

Emotional self-regulating in order to overcome challenges quickly and look within one’s self to use all personal reasoning abilities in that moment.

Resilience and Responsibility through Autonomy and the freedom of thought because no one is going to come in and fix this, it is your own challenge, you are the one with the answers within you at that moment. There may be other ways in the future but in that moment your resourcefulness, skill, knowledge is enough. 

Ability to generate ideas instantaneously. Risk Taking. Playfulness and the ability to think What If.

To experience joy in the moment of making. Finding fulfilment in what you do.

To trust in the process and find confidence from the experience of making.

Confidence is very important here and it does not come from a position of skill or how you think others view you. You are confident that these are your decisions and this is the best you can be at this moment in time. You are comparing and analysing, forming judgements, adapting, synthesising information and drawing on experience, holding aims and objectives in sight but ready to shift and change these slightly if it serves the project. You are working flexibly and all of this is going on in the background of your brain allowing the next step to happen automatically. It often takes the conscious brain more time to comprehend what you have done and why. It’s like you very cleverly working on autopilot. Not controlling the work but letting go and seeing how it forms.

WHEN ARE WE NOT WORKING IN-FLOW?

We all have moments of not working in-flow and it is important to recognise when these emotions come. You may have a, I can’t do this moment, or it’s impossible, which can turn into resistance and why am I doing this, I don’t want to do it anymore. Working in-flow does not have time for negative self-talk. 

You may have very strong ideas of the outcome and push too hard for something that is not really working. It’s not about excepting everything as being enough when it isn’t, it’s more that if you are working in flow, your autopilot brain will tell you if something isn’t working and come up with another plan that does work. You will be working intuitively. Skilling up may be what is required, I look on this more as a break from working in-flow. The work will tell you what it needs and you will learn a lot of skills quite organically.

HOW CAN YOU CULTIVATE CREATIVITY IN YOUNG PEOPLE?

Working in-flow or being creative comes from the individual but it can be guided. You can’t teach it in a traditional sense, but you can be mindful of it and you can nudge others into thinking more creatively. It’s really just thinking, but it is a freeing of conventions and what has gone before. Creativity and originality often go hand in hand, but it doesn’t need to be never done before by anyone, just never before by you, your original thought that has flowed from the set of circumstances you work in. You can facilitate children to develop their own thought patterns. You don’t need to know the answers yourself or even be a confident creative yourself. You can steer, guide, enable and nurture if you know what you are looking for and I think this holy grail of creativity is Working in-flow. Using technology is a great place to start a creative journey and it’s all accessible to us now. Starting out with just a smart phone and a few apps is achievable for us all now. There is something about using technology creatively that is freeing and experimental in nature. It doesn’t have many many years of history behind it like Fine Art traditions. I feel no-one can really tell you that you are doing it wrong, it’s still such a new medium to work in and this makes it exciting and accessible to young people.

SUPPORTING CHILDREN TO WORK IN THEIR FLOW

I am going to go through five main themes that will explain how to get to this creative mindset and I will speak of them with reference to film and video but it can be applied to all media. It takes time to get there. You may recognise that you already have lots in place or feel it is quite different to your experience in working with children, but either way, I hope you can reference the themes like a map and giving direction when needed. I will talk about resistance a bit because this is what will pop up at some point especially with teenagers, and I want to give you some ideas around this. We have to work through emotional stuff and build self-regulation skills with young people and I think this is perhaps where all the value is if you are working one to one with a child. This is where the growth is, in developing a creative mindset with our young.

AUTONOMY

They can only find their flow if they invest in it. They may feel they have to measure up to your expectations in some way, this can be a hard one to shake and takes time. Try to step out of the arena more than you normally would, hand this project over to them. Stay away from value judgements and overpraise. Positivity is important but make sure its not to do with your opinion and you being the boss and crediting their work. Don’t say stuff like: wow thats amazing…. I really like that…..you are good at that…. you are doing so well. Do say stuff like: I can see you are really thinking through this problem….how did you do that…..what do you think of it so far……don’t forget to take breaks…..what will you do next…..you have worked really hard on that today…. I’m here if you want to talk through anything. Praising effort is different to praising the end result or a value praise where you have made it clear you think the outcome is wonderful, these comments are less useful to autonomy because by agreeing with an outcome or saying it is great you can make some children feel like they are boxed into doing the same again and that can make them less likely to experiment and take risks in the next project. This is why autonomy is so important. It’s what keeps creatives going, progressing and diving in deeper to their projects. I’m not saying you will never have those WOW that is amazing moments, just hold off from it being everyday terminology and make it count when it really is incredible.

CHALLENGE

They should feel a stretch of their capabilities to be interested and excited to do an activity. The stretch could be a new medium such as video, or a very different end result to the norm for them. You could set a challenge that is completely different from how you or they would normally work. How can you mix it up a lot? The challenge could be immediate, no time to waste thinking, just do. Think of a challenge as a spur of the moment, quick and experimental. If it turns into something, then great, if it doesn’t, then you have started and hopefully, it was fun. Quality, thoughtfulness and planning are not the priority here. We are handling the materials and experimenting. The drawing equivalent is sketching, enjoying just being there with whatever is in front of you. Great things can happen with working in-flow and not caring. That is the opportunity that you are offering. All about taking risks. A quick challenge is particularly good if your child tends to get trapped in a negative thought or has rigid thought patterns and wants to over plan it, or if they are fairly resistant. They won’t have time to think about it. So a challenge may be pre-thought by you but I would try to make it seem quite spontaneous to them. You could try having camera or phone in your hands (apps already thought about and installed), then set a little challenge fairly briskly and then back off. You are there for them but not giving them time to neg themselves out. How much support they need is up to you and them, but try to hand it over to them more than you would usually. I am very aware of the moments after I give a challenge. How will they respond, this is the key moment. Sometimes I like to give the challenge, hand stuff over and literally run away whilst making a distraction for myself. Will they take it up or not, or seek you out? It’s then in their court. You can get lots of questions at this point. Throw those questions back with things like I don’t know, let’s just give it a go and see, you tell me about that when you have had a go, shall we just get stuck in and have a go. Overthinking is not what we want, it’s about the experience of doing it and thinking on your feet. They often just want confirmation that there is no desired or expected result on which they can be judged. Once they feel confident that there are no major expectations then they may be more willing to get on with it. If not then they may want and need some support starting. If they say No we have two options, we say OK and honour that No. They will still be thinking what if I did do it and maybe more intrigued next time you try. OR negotiate. Some kids and teens will just say No because you have suggested it, so negotiate. Ask for input from them. How could you put a more interesting edge on this? What do you want to do?  What if you start off doing this and it turns into what, where could you take it? you think about an added element. If they continue on this No stance, how about you ask them to come up with an idea on their own and come back to you. Then remind them a few days later and ask if they have had an idea. Make the challenge part of what they do or are already doing, so it is not far removed from their comfort zone. If you feel you are trying to persuade them too much then back off. Leave the idea hanging in the air. It’s out there. That is sometimes good enough to start off with.

How can we weave challenges into our day? Depends on what you are doing but if on a walk in the woods you could say – hey, lets make a video, or I challenge you to make a 5 minute video starting now or Make a video now about our walk but each shot will be no more than four seconds.

You could see if they want to document what they are already doing and take stills to make into animation (very easily done in Google Photos). If they don’t want to take it on, then you could take the photos and turn it into an animation. This is great if they are building something or doing an artwork. They will think a little animation is cool and may want to do it themselves next time. You could see if they want to document their day. 

Start easy, you just want them making digitally, easy but different, this is where the challenge is. It should seem fun and the result unexpected. Actually, don’t worry too much about editing it if it is video footage. I tend not to edit on the same day as I shoot anything. If they take up the challenge and they are diving in, then this is great. Be mindful to let them get on with it without any controlling input from you apart from support initiating something, support their autonomy. You may find a little video just appears or you could ask if they want to edit the footage a few days later.

If you don’t think it’s happening and you have tried a lot of things, don’t worry, approach it from a different angle. Why don’t you give yourself a little challenge like documenting the day and see if they ask you questions. You model engagement in digital creativity. Lead by example. You can ask for their help. Aim for a fluidity to the situation. Not pushing at all but seeing if they will bite. Seeing if they will come to you. Challenges should flow into briefs over time and become more involved but let’s just think about starting off here.

OBSERVE

You can find out a lot more about how your child’s brain works by observing what is and isn’t working for them. What do they get stuck on or frustrated with or shy away from. Being frustrated is often a sign of motivation and is not always a bad thing. Go with the flow with what they excel at and find joy in. If they hate writing don’t suggest they write, find away around it. I find that working creatively improves so many personal skills and Maths and English but it is more long haul and over a longer period of time. To find joy in an activity, you have to feel a sense of freedom in it. Go with what seems to be going well. If they seem to go for experimental editing and post-production then this is where you can go next for challenges or briefs. They may love acting and characterisation, or the sound, or make-up and costume, or filming nature. What does your child bring? This is a great opportunity for some self realisation and discovery. Something will come forward from them and that’s what we want to run with. Don’t bog them down with doing stuff that doesn’t interest them at all. If they hate editing then you may have to be extra supportive here or take it on yourself to begin with. Over time they will probably grasp more skills and if you start editing you will probably find that they come and boss you about and tell you what is best and take over. Don’t forget film crews have a team of people for each job and they are all very different people. Your child can’t possibly take on the entire process. Keep it simple to begin with. Try to fill in some of the gaps for them. Ideally we want to keep moving and gliding through it. This is also a good opportunity to model emotional regulation and working through frustration, using different strategies and coming back to tasks.

Observe the good stuff. Tell them what skills you see in them. Vocalise what you observe them doing and the skills you see they are using. This is encouraging positive self-talk. They will get a sense of achievement that will carry them through when it gets tricky. This supports emotional regulation. What does focus feel like? How does it feel to learn something new? Keep it observational and not a ‘value’ statement. You could say:

I see you working really hard on that, you seem really focussed, how does it feel?

How’s you doing there? Or Hows it going?

What are you thinking about there? Do you want to share? I can’t work out if you are puzzled or tired or focussing. What do you think?

I think all these phrases are open ended. It will encourage their feedback and them enlightening us and feed into their autonomy as a creator. We are so used to diving in to support or just get things done. Just hang back and spy on them a bit. Look at their body language, mood, focus, frustration level, do they have to touch and handle everything, do they vocalise as they do something, do they want to plan and draw or dive in, are they being very experimental? Get extra clues from them that may help with future Challenges or Briefs. Don’t assume they think like you. Observe.

UNIQUENESS

Everyone is unique and this is best explored working one to one or in small groups. Discovering how you work creatively as a younger person is a real advantage. What is already in flow? What surprises you about them? or have they surprised themselves? It’s nice to find something that works out quite well when you don’t expect it. Do they already have some kind of expertise or strong interest? We may not at first see a trait as positive but in the right setting it could be what raises them up. For instance my son seemed to have all sorts of problems with noise at school, but it turned out he had a very heightened sense of hearing and a strong ear for sound, great if you are doing sound editing. His sense of sound is unique and is an attribute to him. I think the trick is to work positively and flexibly with their traits. If they like order and planning then this is an attribute and their skills should be called on. If there is a tendency for more rigid planning then you could try to make this skill more fluid by suggesting they plan for change, but ease into this sort of re-direction gently. How do you plan for spontaneousness? What are the bare bones of a plan and what can be left to intuition? Whatever their uniqueness, traits, personal skills, go with it and extend and make more fluid. They are more likely to run with an idea if there is some comfort in it for them and thinking about what they bring gives us ideas on how to approach projects. I have thought before I should be working on making some weak areas better with my child, but with us, this has only ever lead to dead ends and frustration. Too much pushing will hinder creativity. Creativity springs from our uniqueness, it doesn’t patch in the weak areas.

IDENTIFY EMOTIONS

Support and Identify emotions. Separate emotions from the creative practise. Guide them to explore what emotions are going on without stating what you think. If frustration is rising you could say something like… You have been really focussed for hours, how are you doing? How does that make you feel?  or just ask them if they think they need a break. I strongly recommend coming away from creative work when frustration kicks in. It probably is because of tiredness and thats when negative thought patterns rise. Sustained focus is exhausting. Often you can go back into an activity a bit later and easily pick up where you left off or detect the problem immediately with fresh eyes. Creativity and working In-flow is something that we aim to encourage and there is an ease to this we want to maintain but sometimes you have to skill up to get to where you want to go and this should be made clear to them and separated from the creative process. Being frustrated is part of gaining skills and becoming more accomplished, creative people are usually very skilled. Frustration needs to be managed and supported by adults before it turns into negative self-talk. Discuss with them some ideas to get around the frustration. You may want to suggest a ‘skill break’ or some time researching techniques on Youtube. You could ask them what they think the problem is and what will they do next. You could discuss coming away from the activity and having a snack or they may choose to power through, but at least they feel some comfort in the acknowledgement that they are working through this difficulty.  Validate, recognise, support problem solving and move through it fairly swiftly with any negative emotions. We don’t want to be stuck in this mode too long. Working in-flow has a timely and swift nature to it. I believe the creative process and all of the strategies here will support difficult emotions, but it does take time. Let’s separate working in-flow and creativity here. Working in-flow is a particular mindset of creativity. Its where all our skills and capabilities converge in a very present and mindful way and everything flows. Not many people work in flow all the time. It is something to acknowledge and aim for. There are many more facets to creativity and working with emotions, Art Therapy for instance. Working in-flow is perhaps more about the process and how our brain functions in this state of being. I paint and work with emotional themes but I have this on a different level in my brain, it is sectioned off, I can use experience and emotion and sync back into it like a memory. I try not to be that emotion when I work though it, I try to be in-flow. When you first start the process, the emotional difficulty and creativity are likely to collide. Young people are at the beginning of discovering how their brain works. This process will support that. Support them to separate themes in their head; ideas, process, skill, intuition/direction, belief/limiting belief.

Of course identifying emotions is not always about negative emotions. We need to remember what it feels like to be in-flow, or when something works or we are just very content. We need to store these emotions up like a resource to draw on later. Build a bank of these states of being. These feelings spur us onto the next thing we do. I remember sitting editing a video and my son came in and I was aware he was looking at what I was doing but not speaking (unusual for him) he then said that I looked really happy and I thought, yeah, I am, I have really enjoyed this editing and I don’t think I would have been aware of that unless my son commented on it. The moment would have been lost and I would not have that added self realisation. It’s great if we realise it ourselves but a little nudge is often needed. What’s also great is if they see you being creative in whatever you are doing. Modelling language and ways of thinking around doing things can be effective. I sometimes give a bit of a commentary on what I am thinking when doing something and try to make phrases available for them. I may model how I am struggling with something and how I deal with it… I may validate how I feel frustrated or its not happening at the moment, I’ll come back to that later. Kids can live by the minute and modelling completing something and going back to it is worth noting and modelling. 

21st CENTURY SKILLS

It’s important to identify what skills are happening and being explored. You’d probably think with working with technology then technical skill and operating things would be a major part of it but I don’t think I have mentioned this at all. If everything else is in place, this will just happen. I find the personal skills, sometimes called soft skills to be the major players here. I am referring to these as 21st Century Skills. Perhaps these skills will override the importance of certificates and qualifications in the future. I’m talking about stuff like: initiative, taking responsibility, self-awareness, problem solving, decision making, anticipate eventualities, flexibility and taking on new ideas and being open minded, negotiating, conflict resolution, communicating effectively, critical thinking. Executive Functioning skills are a big part of it also; planning, time management, organising, prioritising, focus, persistence, memory, initiating tasks and emotional regulation. The final outcome is a small part of what is going on. What has happened in the process? At the end of a working session, if appropriate, and at the end of the project, its good to run through what skills have been worked through. It could be that what they have done is technically very accomplished, we would definitely not ignore this but there would have been some soft skills gone into this. Name them. Its quite possible that the young person has done something quite amazing but they just cant see it or are very critical and at the other end of the making spectrum, the outcome may be not quite what you think they are capable of but the soft skills that went into the work and the confidence has become what that project was about or that they were just so happy to do it and work in-flow. See the value they have found in the project and talk about that. It is easy to get caught up in our value judgements of what we thought the project was about or what we hoped they would do. Try to steer away from this mindset. Did they flow with getting everything done in a timely manner, solve problems, direct people, self-regulate emotions? You could ask what was best about it and what was most difficult and try to get them to identify and reflect on what happened and perhaps add a few more observations to their comments. This is often enough to begin with. When they become more confident you may then go onto discuss what they would like to explore in the future. It’s very important to round things up and reflect but timing is also key. It can be broken up into a few chats in the space of a week after the project. Time to realise what you have done and how you feel about it is needed. You could come back to chat about the project at a later date to see if opinions or thoughts have changed or moved on also. If there is resistance to this reflection chat, wait and try to get it in naturally to a conversation where it fits.

Final Thoughts

I have started this off thinking about what is working In-flow in relation to Creativity and it has become a bit of a working framework. A path to creativity as I see it and have experienced it myself and in working with young people and digital media. I hope it gives you some ideas in how to start off and what you are aiming for and how to talk about it along the way. The main concepts here of Autonomy, Challenge, Observation, Uniqueness, Identifying Emotions are to be tackled when they naturally surface and I believe they are all routes into acquiring 21st Century Skills. There is no specific starting place, no step one, two and so on. It happens as the occasion comes up. Organically.  

Sharing is caring!

14 Replies to “HOW TO ENCOURAGE CREATIVITY AND WORKING IN-FLOW WITH KIDS, EVEN IF THEY ARE TEENAGERS (Film & Video)”

  1. Generally I do not learn article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced
    me to try and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me.
    Thank you, very nice article.

  2. Your style is unique in comparison to other people I have read
    stuff from. Many thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity,
    Guess I’ll just bookmark this site.

  3. My brother recommended I might like this
    blog. He was totally right. This post truly made my day.
    You can not imagine just how much time I had spent
    for this info! Thanks!

  4. Right here is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic.
    You understand a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I
    actually will need to…HaHa). You certainly put a fresh spin on a
    subject that’s been discussed for decades.
    Wonderful stuff, just excellent!

  5. I got this site from my friend who shared with me on the topic of this
    site and at the moment this time I am browsing this web page
    and reading very informative posts at this time.

  6. Magnificent website. Lots of helpful info here. I’m sending it
    to several pals ans also sharing in delicious. And naturally, thank you on your sweat!

  7. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Regardless, just wanted to say great blog!

    1. Sorry about Dominic, I hate it when that happens. Thanks for your kind words and I’m glad you found it interesting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *