Last Updated on September 22, 2017 by karwisch

Have you ever become hyper-aware of a particular muscle group in your body? I have. Around 8:00 pm last night I started being acutely aware of my forearms.

Here’s what I have been doing differently for the last week:

  • Typing more and using my mouse in weird positions until my office is set up again
  • Started driving a stick shift again after years of driving automatic
  • Waving  a leaf blower around my yard
  • Moving lots and lots of medium-sized, medium weighted boxes
  • Playing a new game with my son where he chases a large teddy bear around the house and I animate the teddy bear
  • Playing guitar for the first time in years

It was today when I was blowing leaves around my yard that I got a distracting burn in my flexor digitorum superficialis. All of a sudden I realized that the discomfort was just enough to pull me out of my flow state. Prior to this, I hadn’t realized I was in a flow state because I wasn’t doing anything creative that needed it. It bothered me that my flow state would be fragile enough to be defeated by forearm pain but it was exciting to know that I might have another avenue into the state of flow.

So what did I do? That’s right. I continued to push through the discomfort, not so that I could get the leaves into a pile but so that I could experiment with my flow state.

What is flow?

If you aren’t familiar with flow state, here is a quick definition:

In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time. – Wikipedia

Purposeful Discomfort

So why would I continue to do the activity for the sake of re-attaining my flow? Because I couldn’t believe that blowing leaves around the yard would allow me to enter flow in the first place. I did not realize that I enjoyed blowing leaves because today was the first time I have ever done it.

If we compare leaf blowing with leaf raking, they are for me two entirely different beasts. Apparently, leaf blowing puts me in flow, where leaf raking puts me in the opposite state of flow where I can do nothing but be overly aware of the flow of time and have a mild displeasure about the activity overall. I call this being “in my head.”

Why does this matter?

For an improviser who is also a writer, flow state is heavily sought after and deeply prized. Getting myself to the right place for flow mentally and physically can at times be easy, and at other times elusive. To find an activity that achieves this while simultaneously discovering that my forearm pain pulled me out of it was both exciting and frustrating.

I turned the leaf blower back on and began again. Boom… right back into the flow, then, bam, forearm pain, and back out again.

It wasn’t until about 15 minutes into this practice that I found I had accepted the pain as a warmth instead of a warning sign. This time I slipped into the flow and stayed there until my wife let me know it was time to greet our son home from his first day of riding the bus.

I headed to the street to watch for the bus feeling oddly in tune with an activity I would have assumed I would detest. I love happy accidents.

So, what sorts of activities get you into a state of flow? What pulls you out again?

 Photo by Jack van Tricht on Unsplash