Can you move from frantic behaviour to concentration? Can you move from disturbance to instant focus? Can you jump from requests for help to focusing on a job that you are trying to get done?
I can’t! Spinning on that sort of dime doesn’t fit my personality. I need to have time set aside, undisturbed time in order to be able to focus on and accomplish what I am doing. In fact I need to be sure that I won’t be disturbed. If I can’t get that environment, I’ll do my best to cope, but I won’t be feeling comfortable and probably won’t get a lot accomplished.
That does not mean that I wait for quiet times before I spring into action. Sometimes the life around me appears to dictate that noise is the way that things are going to be. I live in a family of extroverts. One can at times feel the uncomfortableness in the room if the volume drops or activity diminishes. And I am speaking here about people who I love.
In an interview HSP author Tracy Cooper, PhD, noted that extroverts need to speak to and explain their actions as they are doing them. The introvert and/or HSP on the other hand is likely to say very little about what they are doing, indeed might even choose not to be around others while they are working.
Physiologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the concept of Flow. In essence it is a state when we are totally absorbed in a task (work, sport, parenting), so much so that we do not even notice time go by. It is a state where we lose all sense of self-consciousness and a sense of total well-being, with euphoria or elation enveloping us, but that we don’t notice this until the job is done. The whole human species is wired for the flow state even if we don’t spend much time there.
For HSPs the desire (perhaps need?) to be in that state seems to be even more important because of our inner life, or inner complexity and sensitivity to the world around us compels the need to process it. And I find that to have a chance to drop into that state requires certain conditions to be in place, whether I am aware of them being there or not, before I engage in an activity….which takes me back to the title of this piece.
Now I am not going to suggest that every time that I’m busy doing something that I am in the flow state, far from it. But all the same if I find myself disturbed by external noise, disturbed by someone else asking me a question, or just constant interruptions, I find it very difficult to focus on my own work. My mind feels like a glass of muddy water. It’s been shaken up and I have to wait for the silt to settle before I can truly focus on the job at hand…..and be pretty sure that I won’t suffer with further disturbances.
My ideal work environment is a room at home with a far, distant view and no one else around, i.e. complete silence and a view to clear a cluttered mind if I am not thinking clearly - yes, even focusing on work for me means that at times I need to clear a log jam in my head.
However, a paradoxically oddity about this ideal work environment is that I can find places which appear to be just the opposite in terms of fitting the bill that I described in the last paragraph, but where I can still focus well. I have sat in the back seats of my pickup truck to do some writing while in between appointments and disappeared into a flow state. I have sat in a busy coffee shop and while not maybe being a flow state, have still found it very conducive to getting work done. With regard to the coffee shop environment (in fact where I am right now), I think that anonymity is what plays into the game. The noise of people speaking and background music, providing neither are too jarring and the coffee shop is comfortable, become white noise, a comfortable noise in the background which appear to support the work in hand. I experience the same on a train, in an airport, in a hotel lobby, all providing that I am by myself and so essentially become anonymous in a crowd, just another face.
Does this mean that unless the volume is just right, the furniture is in the correct place and the walls are painted the exact colour that I won’t get any work done? Consider “Yes and No”. For the “Yes” answer - My introverted, sensitive nature can easily get overloaded if there is too much going on. If this carries on and on, it feels as though that glass of muddy water is continually being shaken, never being given a chance to settle. When that happens to me I just need to stop for a while, and by “Stop” I mean be surrounded by quiet, no more demands, perhaps a distant view to offer perspective and give a chance for my body and mind to settle - that or at least get away and be by myself. Even that anonymity around others can be of help, though solitude is always best.
For the “No” answer - If I can find a middle way balance between some focus time and disturbance, I can get by. It is hard for me to quantify that, but I do know that from time to time I need to take a break or I need a longer focus period. The important thing here is knowing that I will have time to do what I need or want to do, and know that between there will be sufficient quiet time between the disturbance time otherwise the with time the commutative effect of the noise will make the ability to really focus a greater challenge.
This reminds me of meditation. One can’t always get the quiet time that one wants and so one has to be flexible in how long one meditates for, and/or one starts to be creative in how one builds shorter meditation sessions into one’s day. So your meditation practice does not need to grind to a halt because you regular sitting environment is being disturbed, you just need to find ways that you can fit it into your day. However, with time the need to retreat will more than likely arise. A wish to step back from the regular activity of life so that you can focus on what you need to do for your own well-being and nourishment.
Because that is what I find what working in the flow state gives me - nourishment. It feeds me at some deep soulful level. There is a sense of deep well-being. And while I cannot speak for other personality types, that is something that I feel in deep need of as an introverted, highly sensitive man. The need for being able to touch into that space, the nourishment it gives is so deep, that a prolonged absence of it leaves a hole, a wanting, a sense of lack. I need to be able to spend time immersed in an activity, whether work or personal reading, to immerse and disappear into it to find that sense of well being and nourishment.
And what about yourself? As an introvert and/or highly sensitive person how do you resonate with the idea of flow state? Where do you go to find that place of deep nourishment?