You’ve felt it before, right? Your eye caught something special, so you placed your hands on your camera, picked it up and started shooting. You didn’t over think it, you didn’t worry about settings or technical know-how, you allowed the moment to move you, let muscle memory take over and started shooting so fully immersed in your art that time lost all meaning. You relied on your skills to record your images no matter the photographic medium.
Maybe you grabbed your phone. Maybe you loaded a pack of film. Maybe you didn’t even care what kind of camera you had in your hands, just holding one was enough because you knew that this subject needed capturing right now. Losing yourself in the moment, feeling excitement taking over, using every one of your senses took precedence over everything else, because you knew.
You knew that you would do it right.
Afterwards, when you downloaded those files, developed that film or watched that exposure come to life, there were no surprises. You already knew that you’d captured something remarkable. After all, you created…no you lived your art as it was happening. You felt it in your bones that it was good. No, better than good. Fantastic. Spectacular. Amazing. Perhaps some of your best work, and the proof rests before your eyes.
While holding that camera body, you connected to yourself on a deeper level. The moment was electrifying, intense, and rewarding. You created a personal masterpiece, and you’re sure the emotion you experienced while shooting it will overflow into someone else’s experience too. Your extreme concentration paid off and was almost immediately rewarding. You knew you could rock that moment and rise to the challenge. You felt in control of your craft while you gave yourself over to absolute focus.
Welcome to the world of Flow.
There’s an entire psychology behind being present or in the zone, on a roll, in the groove. You might even say you’re on fire, in tune, centered, singularly focused, or going beast mode. All different ways to describe being in a mental state of flow. In modern psychology terms, Wikapedia describes Flow (psychology), also known as positive psychology, as “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. Flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.”
Proposed by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, where he theorizes that people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life while living in a state of flow. In an interview in WIRED magazine, Csikszentmihalyi said that flow was, “Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Csíkszentmihályi says that there are ten factors that go hand-in-hand while you’re in the zone, although you don’t necessarily have to experience them all:
- Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable.
- Strong concentration and focused attention.
- The activity is intrinsically rewarding.
- Feelings of serenity; a loss of feelings of self-consciousness.
- Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing.
- Immediate feedback.
- Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented.
- Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome.
- Lack of awareness of physical needs.
- Complete focus on the activity itself.
In Finding Flow, Csíkszentmihályi tells us that “Flow also happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”
Who knew that getting lost in the moment while creating art was all about positive psychology?! I certainly have had moments like these, although I wouldn’t have defined them by ticking off Csíkszentmihályi’s ten steps.
I first became aware of becoming present with my photography four years ago after picking up my camera again and devoting my spare time to self-expression through images. Across the course of that year, I reignited my passion for creating beauty expressing myself through photos. When I hit the streets of my neighborhood with my camera, I found I could lose myself for hours. My focus was solely on capturing the wonder around me with no worries of the outcome. As I mastered my camera, my skills strengthened, my vision increased. I dove deeper into editing and the more technical aspects of my craft. By the end of the year I was in the zone. By the next year, I’d begun a new career.
Now that I’ve learned about positive psychology and flow, I’m looking forward to recognizing more of my work that comes out of being, and shooting, in the moment. Cause I don’t know about you, but I love it when I’m “on fire!” How about you? Do you get “in the groove” too? When are you most in a state of flow? Do you go there when you’re shooting too? What other activities get you “in the zone”?
Until next time,
Holly ~ Soupatraveler