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Instant Flow: How to Train Yourself to Think Creatively

A guest post by Logan Marshall of Free Life Project

The hot Indian sun bakes down as I stand on the riverbank, watching over a group of orphan boys who splash and play in front of me.

I’ve been here before with the boys. They love the water, even when it’s brown and shallow and so hot that hundreds of fish float dead on the surface.

But today is different.

Cold monsoon rains funneled by the Himalayas are rushing their way south past the Indian orphanage where I am staying. And while the boys splash and flop like campy Bollywood actors…I try to relax and enjoy the show. Though the water is deep in places and the current looks strong to me, no one looks worried. They’ve done this hundreds of times I reason. What’s the worst that could happen?

With the sounds of laughing and shouting in the air and the glare of the river in my eyes, I raise my head and gaze across the river. The dark green jungle on the far bank stretches as far as the eye can see. I’m told that elephants and leopards live in that forest…and as I stare into the canopy I slip into a daydream.

I want to see an elephant. A wild one. I hear they can be dangerous, even deadly. But I don’t care. I want to find one and see one. How awesome would it be to–

And then it happens.

“Logan!” a boy cries, “Amir! He’s drowning!” In an instant I am fully present. My eyes shoot across the water, desperately scanning for movement. Twenty meters off shore, a young boy struggles against the current, his arms flailing wildly above the surface.

Without thinking, I sprint to the bank and dive. Crashing beneath the surface I swim powerfully forward, my eyes fixed on Amir’s bobbing head. The current is even stronger than I imagined, but before I know it Amir is in front of me and I latch onto his body with my left arm. He’s flailing, needing air, fighting me. Pulling like the river…

Using all my remaining strength I kick to shore and collapse on the muddy bank…gazing up at the cloudless sky as my heart pounds in my ears.

You Are Your Greatest Asset

That story is 100% true by the way.

It was one of the scariest moments of my life.

For weeks afterwards I imagined what would’ve happened if I hadn’t been there. If I hadn’t reacted as I did. If I didn’t have the physical strength to fight against the current…

Now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with helping you craft masterful writing.

Well, I’ll tell you.

It’s a bit of a stretch I’ll admit, but I thought this would be an engrossing way to convey something CRITICALLY important. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the past few years.

And that’s this: You are your greatest asset.

Regardless of the situation you find yourself in…whether plunging into a raging river or sitting down to write…your ability to focus, think creatively and powerfully face challenges is what makes the difference.

From a writing perspective, your ability to think clearly is the deciding factor. You know that. Sometimes you easily fall into “flow” and can crank out 1000 words in half an hour. And other times it’s an agonizing struggle to write even one coherent sentence.

The difference?

Your current mental state. You.

With this in mind, it’s important to “train” yourself to continually perform at a high level. To establish a set of rituals that allow you to instantly snap into “flow” and create your best work. Even when you’re writing like a four year old with a piece of charcoal. Even when your mind is a spasmodic vortex of unintelligible muck.

In this post, I’m going to give you several rituals that I use everyday. Rituals that work for me.

Take them or leave them…but know this: When it comes to writing and life, you are your greatest asset. Not some shiny tactic, but YOU.

Writing is a creative endeavor. It’s the process of creating something from nothing. If you hope to write something worth sharing, you must train yourself to channel awesomeness on demand.

Here’s how.

How To Train Yourself For Top Performance

Do you find yourself struggling to create compelling content? Do you find yourself routinely slipping into a mental funk where it’s impossible to communicate what you want to say?

If you do, the following rituals will help you overcome this.

While I have a specific “pre-writing” ritual I complete every time I sit down to write (I’ll share that with you in a bit), I first want to cover a few daily habits that allow me to give writers block a swift kick in the ass.

Here they are:

1. Running

Personally, I’ve found that one of the best ways to clear my mind is to move my body. It works every time.

Often I’ll be sitting at my computer feeling like a lethargic sloth on NyQuill…staring at my blinking cursor as I struggle to spell the word “the.”

But instead of just sitting there cursing my inability to write, I’ll put on my Five Fingers and sprint out the door.

When I return my brain will be operating on a whole new level. It’s pretty remarkable. The endorphin rush that exercise creates is responsible for some amazing clarity.

If you hate exercising, my advice is to “reframe” it in your mind. Instead of exercising for the health benefits, exercise to get your best ideas. Use running as a tool to spark your creative ingenuity.

And as a side effect, you’ll also get the health benefits associated with regular movement.

2. Meditation

To quote Master Oogway (Kung Fu Panda anyone?),

“Your mind is like this water my friend. When it is agitated, it becomes difficult to see. But if you allow it to settle…the answer becomes clear.”

Thank you, fictitious animated turtle.

If you are searching for the answer to a writing related problem, don’t just force yourself to “think harder.” In my experience, writers block typically strikes when you are in a state of mental agitation.

Yes, it could be said that writers block CREATES agitation, but the opposite is also true. It’s one big vicious cycle.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, I’m sure you’ll attest to the fact that your best writing comes from a state of mental quietude. You don’t have to “think up” your best ideas…they just spill out onto the page.

With this in mind, one of the best ways to initiate “flow” is to quiet the mind. To remove the mental distractions that prevent you from accessing your creativity.

How?

One word: Meditation.

I only recently started meditating, but I’ve found that it works wonders for my writing. It’s almost as good as running.

Here’s a simple way to do it:

  1. Sit comfortably in a quiet place.
  2. Breath naturally. Don’t try to control your breathing.
  3. Focus your attention. Direct your total attention on the tip of the nostrils. Be aware of the incoming and outgoing breath–on the sensation of air passing through the nostrils. Try to not let this focus waver. If it does, bring it back to your breath.
  4. Let go. Meditation isn’t the practice of stopping thoughts but merely the practice of becoming aware of them. By removing resistance and letting go of trying to control them, they fade away naturally.

Your only job here is to watch your breath. At first, you may be faced with many thoughts and a seemingly untamable mind. But if you persist, if you simply direct your attention back to the breath every time it wavers, you can reduce the frequency and intensity of your mental chatter and begin to cultivate a calmer, more peaceful mind.

Try it. You’ll be blown away.

3. Eat clean, healthy foods

While most people understand the power that diet has to shape the body…few fully grasp the impact it has on our mental clarity.

But it’s huge. And it’s scientifically proven that a poor diet actually decreases brain function. Junk food, junk brain.

So please don’t go eat a Twinkie or a Pop Tart and then complain that you can’t concentrate. Take care of your brain. Allow it to function at the highest level by providing it with the nutrients it needs to do its job.

Make a salad, grab a handful of nuts, chop up some fruit, grill a piece of wild salmon…you get the point.

Eat right. Write better.

4. Super Hydrate

Few people know this, but the first symptom of dehydration is not thirst. It’s fatigue. And being tired drastically limits your creative capacity.

With this in mind, it is critical that you “super hydrate” or flush your body with enough clean water on a daily basis. More than you think. At least half your bodyweight in ounces.

When the water flows, the writing flows.

5. Get enough sleep

Finally, if you want to write at a high level it’s vital that you get enough sleep. Sleep is essential to our physical health and our mental wellbeing.

Studies have shown that over 70% of American’s are sleep deprived and this is wrecking havoc on their mental clarity, creative output and overall happiness.

Sleep deprivation leads to irritability, moodiness, weight gain, impaired memory and a whole slew of other health problems…all that directly influence your ability to think creatively.

Rest well. Write well.

I know that these strategies may seem like the same old hashed up advice you hear every day, but that’s not the point. The point is to get you to link writing ability to specific rituals that promote physical and mental wellbeing. Rituals that boost performance.

As Jonathan Fields puts it,

“Spend as much time working on yourself as you do working on business. Knowing that the single biggest limiting factor in business is not what you know but how well equipped you are to handle the psychological demands of growing an epic business and telling an extraordinary story.”

So true.

Instant Flow: Your Pre-Writing Routine

Okay, you’ve got the big stuff under control. Now let’s get specific.

If you don’t have a “pre-writing ritual” that you complete every time you sit down to write, I highly recommend you start one. Not only will it allow you to write at a higher level, but it will also boost energy and “condition” your mind to think creatively.

This is what I call instant flow. It’s extremely powerful.

My 60 minute pre-writing ritual looks something like this:

  1. Run in the park for thirty minutes.
  2. Guzzle a bottle of water.
  3. Take a shower.
  4. Meditate for 10 minutes.
  5. Eat something healthy.
  6. Start writing.

I do this every day. It’s automatic now.

This ritual sets me up to be super-ready to start writing and make things happen. It gets me in an energized, relaxed and highly focused state of mind. It allows creativity to just spill out onto the page.

If you are struggling to create consistently high level work, I recommend you adopt a specific, positive energy management ritual like mine.

You don’t have to copy mine exactly, but make sure you fill it with powerful activities. Things like…

  1. Taking a shower.
  2. Eating clean, healthy food.
  3. Running.
  4. Drinking water.
  5. Looking at your “vision board.”
  6. Laughing.
  7. Journaling.
  8. Practicing yoga.
  9. READING great writing.
  10. Talking to someone you love.
  11. Reading inspirational quotes.

…you get the idea.

Make it personal.

Make it specific.

Tap into instant flow.

Final Thoughts

In the end you have one job: get your ass into the seat and write.

Inspiration doesn’t strike all the time so you want to be sitting with your pen in hand when it does. While creativity is elusive, it can be enhanced, giving you the absolute BEST chance for clear thinking and epic content.

It might be a metaphorical stretch, but great ideas are like Amir thrashing in the brown water of an Indian river, seconds away from disappearing into the current. You may be sitting in position, but are you mentally clear and ready to act? Are you daydreaming about elephants or are you fully focused on the task at hand?

Prepare physically, mentally and spiritually for the work before you. Condition your mind to perform at the highest level…

Then dive in.

Logan Marshall is on a mission to help aspiring writers change the world with their message. If you’re one of them, check out the cinematic trailer to his upcoming blog.

Join the A-List Blogger Club, the insanely useful training for all stages of blogging. Click below to find out more.

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18 thoughts on “Instant Flow: How to Train Yourself to Think Creatively”

  • Phil Rob says:

    You’ve written the complete opposite of what I would advise:

    1) Be a couch potato and read a book
    2) have a nap
    3) eat chocolate
    4) super hydrate – with white wine
    5) stay awake at night thinking about your story

    That’s how I get inspiration anyway.

  • Marcie says:

    These are excellent tips for being properly prepared for writing. I had thought about some of the things you can do to prepare based on my routine, but your routine tips are right on target.

  • Nat Walka says:

    Love Phil Rob’s post, but prefer Logan Marshall’s suggestions – sorry Phil. Without realising it until now, Logan’s tips already work for me and it’s great to now have these helpful hints all written down in black and white to inspire me for next time. I totally agree with the fact that an uncluttered mind is the best way to find creativity. I realised this when I took a year off many years ago to travel the world. Without the humdrum routine stresses, daily rushing to and fro, and ‘noise’ constantly in my head, my mind settled down and then amazingly opened up and my creativity soared – I had to start a journal just to capture it all.

    Of course, these days unfortunately I can’t just run off to travel the world every time I find my creative nirvana state, but I recognise the need for calm, clarity and turning down the volume in my head to get the grey matter bubbling. Thanks Logan – a great story. PS. I hope you find your elephant. Keep searching, it will be so worth it. :)

  • That story is not true, I am sorry. Stopped reading when you claimed that.

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instinctive_drowning_response

  • Casey says:

    Thanks for these suggestions. I look forward to implementing some of them soon.

    Best wishes,

    Casey

  • Linda Johnston says:

    Thanks for your suggestions Logan. I too, did not realize that I am already using some of the strategies you suggest, however, I did not equate proper diet and good hydration with helping the creative juices to flow.

    I found your story very compelling and inspiring. Thank again.

  • Martina says:

    I use kind of the opposite flow, but may try incorporating some of those into my “routine.” Silence is my best muse. But, no matter what system you develop, ultimately you must “get your ass into the seat and write.”

    Martina

  • Bonnee says:

    These are some really great and basic tips here, and it’s surprising how many people don’t automatically follow them. I find that any type of exercise is great for clearing the mind, I walk/run when I can, though it’s not part of my pre-writing schedule. I’m mostly a sit and do it girl, but if I find myself blocked, I know that staring at a blank screen and waiting and getting frustrated isn’t going to help me, so I will go and do something else. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Oh, how I wish my day looked like yours- the daily jog, the writing…

    I’m home with our toddler, teaching part-time, writing, and blogging. I’m not writing/blogging enough, and find it hard to find the time & energy for it, yet it revitalizes me when I do.

    I appreciate the reminder to take care of myself in order to foster creativity.

  • Sometimes I’m lucky to find 20 minutes to look through notes I have piled on my desk, pick an idea and start to either research it or write something. It starts my mind working and then the piece begins to take
    shape while I might be doing other things. Everyone has to find a pattern that stimulates their ideas. BOTTOM LINE–sit down at the computer. You get nowhere unless you do that. Thanks for your ideas.

  • I really enjoyed this! Those pieces of advice all make total sense and are key components of what I would consider an overall wellness plan. I like how you related it to writing!

  • Liz says:

    I’m a daily walker, about 4 miles every day, and this has helped me with my writing. It’s think time and it stimulates my brain. My shortcoming is that I will often get so engrossed in my work that I forget to eat, so I’m not perfect yet :-)

    The moral of the story, I think, is that you should try to do all to the things Logan points out in order to boost your creativity. I’ve never thought of myself as terribly creative but you can train yourself. It just takes some conscious effort.

    Liz

  • Orenthal says:

    Too long, didn’t read.

  • Peach says:

    Very well written with great examples!
    I love how your intro really grabs reader’s attention.

    Consistent is the key here
    Following these tips inconsistently will not get you help.

    Thanks for reminding me to exercise. :) it’s been long overdue..

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