My family and I were on a canoe trip on the Mexico–United States border.
We were supposed to launch the canoes into the Rio Grande about three miles from our destination, but Africanized killer bees had become a recent problem at the launchpad, so we had to put in our canoes another two miles downriver.
I wasn’t worried about the two additional miles tacked on to the afternoon. I had it made, because in my canoe, I had my two-time varsity athlete stepson with me. Being overly competitive and overly confident people, we declared that we would lead the other canoes up the river.
I was in the back at the helm, steering the canoe, and my stepson was in the front, paddling as fast as he could. To steer a canoe, you tilt your paddle in the water in the direction you want to go. Tilt toward the left, the boat goes left. Tilt your paddle right, the boat goes right.
Ten minutes into our trip, I couldn’t get the hang of it. I would tip the paddle in the water too much, overcorrecting the canoe, which led us to the Mexican side of the river, and then I would overcorrect and lead us back to the US side. From a bird’s-eye view, you could see us zigzagging back and forth across the Rio Grande, getting nowhere fast.
The other canoes flowed past us with little effort. My sister threw me a knowing smile that she was going to beat us. Dammit! It took us an extra forty-five minutes to get to the landing pad. My arms were sore, I was sweating like crazy, and obviously, I was not cut out for water sports.
The zigzag of plotting, overcorrecting, and expending time and energy eventually landed us in the same spot as the rest of the family, but they expended zero energy, and we had a red-hot sunburn. You know why? Because we weren’t in flow.
Featured by Entrepreneur Magazine: Top Book for Trailblazing Entrepreneurs
Here are five ways to find flow in your personal or professional life, using a creative mindset.
Find Your Flow
Sometimes you zigzag from one extreme to the other, back and forth across the Rio Grande. Sometimes the dizzying zigzag is happening in your mind, and time, energy, and confidence are lost in the commotion.
How do you find flow and stay in it? Matthew McConaughey says, “It takes a lot of effort to be this relaxed.” It takes a lot of mind power to go with the flow. What if I dipped my paddle into the water a little less? What if we didn’t paddle as if our lives depended on it just to beat my sister? What if we just simply and literally went with the flow?
Flow asks us to be willing to detach from the outcome with a creative mindset. We could have floated downriver and probably made it to our location, with no problem, but my pride and competitiveness got in the way, blocking me from the flow.
Flow doesn’t ask you to do anything; it particularly doesn’t ask you to overdo it. Notice when you are over anything: overcorrecting, overthinking, overdoing, overachieving, or overwhelming. In all of those cases, you aren’t connected to your vibrant self, and you certainly aren’t in flow.
Be with New Experiences
Imagine that your boss assigns you to a new client project. You immediately start to question, “How long is this going to take? Remember last time? I was here all weekend. How am I going to get this done when I have so much else to do?”
Your mind goes wild thinking of all the reasons this is going to bump into your weekend plans, and it’s only Tuesday. Your mind throws you into a self-induced state of overthinking about how this type of situation has gone in the past, and you spend precious time and energy predicting the future in your mind. You’re no longer grounded at the moment. Instead, you’ve created scenarios of “How come?” and “Why me?”
When presented with an unknown experience, the mind fills in the blanks, but it’s pulling on energy from the past. That’s the tainted energy that tells the mind, “We’ve seen this movie, we know the ending, and it ain’t pretty.” Your unwillingness to be with a new experience blocks flow and a creative mindset from entering the room.
Mind versus Heart
Let’s try something. Fold a piece of paper in half. On one side of the paper write “My mind tells me” and on the other side write “My heart tells me.”
Think about an upcoming experience that you are nervous about, something you think may not go your way, or won’t go as planned. Get into the victim side of these emotions on purpose. Pull up the low-level feelings so we can play with them.
Under “My mind tells me,” write down all of the negative and nasty ways this future experience will turn out. Pour it out. Be sad and disappointed on purpose, and really get into the depths of your victim mentality. It won’t feel good, and you may start to laugh at yourself, because, yes, it’s silly to see the thoughts and emotions you have been telling yourself in your head written down in real-time.
Once complete, close your eyes to recenter and take a few deep cleansing breaths to release that lower-level energy. Move into what your heart tells you about the upcoming experience and pour out all of the thoughts and feelings of what could happen when you listen to your heart.
My heart tells me…
“It’s going to be okay.”
“Let’s try it out.”
“I believe in you.”
“It will be fun!”
“You’ve got this!”
Notice the difference in energy between what your mind versus your heart have to say about an experience that hasn’t even happened yet.
Who would you rather listen to?
Who are you going to trust?
Who speaks kindly to you and has your back?
Move into Recharging Energy with a Creative Mindset
Loving thoughts replenish energy. Fearful thoughts diminish energy. Just like zigzagging across the Rio Grande, flow doesn’t flow in resistance; it desires kindhearted and replenishing energy.
Creative people practice flow by choosing to move feelings from destructive energy to recharging energy. This is why they start warming up with sketches or doodling. Sometimes they look lost in a daydream, but in reality, they are summoning up their flow to be present at a moment’s notice.
Flow is a full-body experience of letting go of the thoughts that don’t align with your highest and best thinking.
If you are stuck in low-level energy, then the first step to shifting is to have the courage to get to a neutral emotional space. Neutral is the acceptance of what is present, right now. Release judgment of how things have gone in the past and all of the feelings and stories that come along with past experiences. Then, take a few quick breaths, and clap your hands to signify the end of something old and the start of something new. This is a great way to get into the present moment with a creative mindset.
Deep breath. Clap. New beginning.
Once your feelings are neutralized, you can move up the emotional scale and be willing to accept that you are the creator of your reality. Be willing to try on a new experience, willing to release any resistance to the task at hand, and flow into higher-level feelings. Practice up-leveling your flow by choosing outside of your comfort zone.
Build Your Flow Capacity
Flow loves to play, be silly, and look silly. Release any judgment that you are cool. Don’t try to be cool; it doesn’t work.
Practice flow with others. How? Let everyone merge ahead of you on the highway. Say hello to everyone at your local bodega. Smile at people you see on the street.
Another great way to get into flow: make it a point to ask yourself, “How do I want to feel at the end of the day?”. When an experience occurs, a thought will follow it. Ask yourself, “Is this thought draining me of energy or creating energy?” You’ll receive a quick “Yes” or “No” from your body, and shift accordingly. Continue to choose from creative versus destructive energy, and zig and zag until you stay popped longer. There’s no right or wrong way to flow, but the easiest way is to let go of the inner resistance of thinking you “know” how it’s going to go.
Creativity loves novelty; it sparks ideas. Try on something new to create and spark flow. It doesn’t have to be a big event. You can buy something new from the grocery store you’ve never tried before (dragon fruit, anyone?). Join a sports team with no experience. Join an exotic dance class. Write a poem. Subscribe to a coffee of the month club. Canoe the Rio Grande. Get that creative mindset flowing!
You may think, “Lisa, buy dragon fruit? Really? I don’t have the confidence that this is going to give me flow.” Here’s the thing: you don’t need confidence to flow. Confidence is a paradoxical strategy to “get ready.” What you need to pop into any creative mindset are courage and commitment. Not confidence.
It’s in the Doing
Here’s the thing about flow: it’s an action. Flow is not something to be inspired by; it’s in the doing that you create flow. You are the inspiration, the vessel for creativity.
Generating flow on purpose creates agency in your life. You master this creative mindset and you, my friend, are a self-aware guru.
Your clear overflowing mindset is what dreams are made of. You have the golden ticket; you have the creative flow.
You’ve had career and business success.
Meet Your Clarity Coach
Lisa Guillot is a certified transformational life and leadership coach and branding expert. She helps her clients find their Clear Vision and bring it to life through her Clear Vision Framework. Her clients include senior-level executives of Fortune 500 entertainment and media companies, leaders in marketing and tech, and ambitious entrepreneurs.
Lisa is the founder of Clear Vision U, a mindset and personal brand training program, and Be Bright Lisa Coaching. She is also the host of Find Your Clear Vision, a personal branding and mindset podcast.
Lisa and her family live just outside of Chicago.
This article is adapted from the best-selling book Find Your Clear Vision by Clarity Coach Lisa Guillot.