Often, when we talk about high-performance, we inevitably talk about flow, that elusive state in which the muses of our imagination seem to come from nowhere with the simple intention of guiding our hands, stoking our inspiration, and granting us the ultimate gift: sustained, laser-like focus. It is the ability to enter and operate in that flow state that separates the great from the elite. While athletes create pre-game rituals that last hours in hopes of finding flow, creatives often design morning routines and repeat mantras to propel them into highly focused and productive days. The challenge for most of us, it seems, isn’t so much knowing what to do when we’re in a state of flow, but rather, how to get to it in the first place.

Imagine being stuck at your desk for hours, uninspired and unfocused, until suddenly it clicks. Almost out of nowhere, you find the right word, the right answer, the perfect design. The mountain of tasks that plagued your to-do list surrender at your feet and the stress begins to melt. You’ve done it, entered the promised land, the land of flow.

Hours pass. It’s dinner time, but the last thing you want to do is leave now. After all, haven’t we learned that the greatest sin of high performance is to leave anything on the table? No, no… We must squeeze out every drop of this magical state and take it for all it’s worth. Finally, the midnight oil has been burnt to a crisp and you walk away from your work drained yet triumphant. Or so you think…When we walk away from our work drained, dazed, and confused, we internalize those feelings. That all-nighter where you worked until you literally couldn’t anymore? It may have yielded production, but the brain drain you felt when you walked away followed you back to your desk the next day.

Many artists and entrepreneurs think of beating their head against the wall in search of inspiration as a rite of passage. There is still a strong undercurrent in our society, particularly amongst entrepreneurs, that continues to celebrate and glamorize the grind. Just like with conversations around how much sleep is best to have each night, there is an unspoken competition around who can stay in the pressure cooker, working the longest and the hardest. But anyone can learn how to outlast the others. The real discipline comes from walking away before you’re cooked. It takes a cool, Hemingway-like confidence to tell the muses, “We’ve worked enough today. I’m sure I’ll see you around tomorrow.”

So the question remains, for athletes, creatives, writers, producers, and thinkers alike: When you find your flow today, will you have the discipline to walk away before it’s all gone?

Teele Tomson

The article was written during the project “Navigators on creative seas”, co-funded through Erasmus+ Programme.