I have recently been tucking into Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience . As you might expect from the title, the point of the book is to develop an understanding of what makes a happy, fulfilled life. I love reading psychology in all shapes and forms, and I have really enjoyed this book.
One of the things it discusses early on is the importance of enjoying the journey of life, and not allowing ourselves to forever focus on some dim and distant goal. Some people find this easier than others. I know plenty of people who live in the moment, and spend very little time worrying about tomorrow, the future, or illusive distant goals. I also know plenty of people who spend all their time focusing on a single future goal, such that they forget to enjoy where they are.
I guess the whole point of ‘flow’ is finding a happy balance. But that’s not what this article is about…
So, what is this article about?
Reading and writing are the ultimate ‘flow’ activity
Well, one of the things that jumped out at me is the fact that reading is considered, almost by default, a ‘flow’ activity. There are various criteria for ‘flow’, but a focus on the key ones would include:
- the activity must have rules (for example the laws of grammar),
- the activity must take up all your concentration such that troubles or worries fade from consideration,
- the activity often causes a distortion to the passage of time, or causes you to forget time,
- the activity is so pleasurable that you would do it even without any obvious reward such as money.
If anything, writing is even more of a ‘flow’ activity. The main reason I would suggest this is in relation to the skills involved. Another aspect of ‘flow’ is that it should be challenging enough to stimulate us, but not so challenging that it frustrates us. Feeling frustration drags us out of ‘flow’.
While reading does require skills, such as an understanding of words and basic grammar, it does not require these skills to the same level that writing does. Arguably, writing is harder, if you want to do it well. Writing forces us to continually learn new skills, to evolve our understanding, and this drives a greater sense of achievement, another vital ingredient of ‘flow’
As a reader, you just buckle up and enjoy the ride. When you finish reading a book you certainly feel a sense of achievement, but writing a book is a whole other world.
The importance of goals in the highly subjective world of writing
So, let’s move on to the title of the blog piece, and the crux of why we are here. Writing is subjective, and one of the dangers of subjective, is that it is really hard to measure your success.
Yet another aspect of ‘flow’ is the enjoyment of the journey, and the focus on achievable goals along the road to what we untimely label as success. One of the biggest dangers for writers is that we are always looking for some distant goal just out of reach. Our aspirations start small; to finish a short story perhaps, or to write a full length novel, and then to get it published, and yet these successes are often dismissed by our biggest critic, ourselves.
We often fail to acknowledge our incremental achievements.
And goodness help us if we get a negative review! Or two!
To achieve flow, we need to divorce ourselves from outside measurements. We need to decide for ourselves what success looks like, what a good book reads like, and ultimately whether we have done well against our own personal measuring stick. Without this, we will lose faith and potentially abandon an activity that we love, simply because we failed to quantify upfront how we would measure our success.
Why I love a good psychology book and why I will always read them.
One of the things I love about reading a good psychology book, is that they never fail to make me reevaluate my life. I bought this particular book for work related reasons, and because it is important to me, that not just myself, but my team, enjoy their work. For example setting goals and properly scoping work to include clear measures of success is essential to job satisfaction, along with ensuring a healthy balance between the complexity of the task and the individual’s skills.
The fact that the insights I gained by reading this book also impact my personal life, and within that my writing life, is a bonus, and the beauty of a great psychology book.
If you have never thought about it before, then it is worth taking the time to consider how you will measure your success as a writer.
Celebrate the little wins, and the big wins. Take time-out, pause, and look back with pride on what you have already done.
Be open and honest with yourself about what writing success looks like, but most importantly, be realistic. Writing is subjective, and that’s why goals, specifically small achievable goals that can keep you motivated along the way, are so important.