The Creative Flow State… OWN IT!

Flow State
Flow is something that is spoken about by aspiring zenists, Feng Shui practitioners, archers, golfers, chess players and those addicted to computer games.

In the flow state time passes without being noticed. Activity is effortless. You may not remember all the details of the state. There’s nothing interfering with your brain and the activity. Quite the opposite, you’re perfectly synced with the activity. You ARE the activity.

Creative flow is when you’re developing something or creating something and it’s a period of very high productivity. You’re in an optimal state where you are accomplishing much more than you usually do per minute, and there’s no boredom or sense of “work” being done. It may be fun, or there may be no sense of fun at all. You can be so focused that you become whatever you’re doing.

This state of optimum creative flow happens often for me as I’m writing, and I’m glad it does. Over the past year I’ve written over a million words at my blogs and web sites, not to mention comments and questions at other blogs and through email. I’ve learned about the creative flow state just by needing to enter it on a daily basis. I’ll do my best to pull everything together that I’ve learned and share it with you here.

Last year I decided to blog full time. Before that I’d always just been happy to have the flow state visit me when it came. I thought I was just a lucky recipient of it. I didn’t think that I could initiate or control it. I played soccer for many years and on occasion I’d have flow occur during a game. During those amazing experiences, it was as if I was two levels beyond everyone else. My passes were crisp and my timing impossibly perfect. This state usually visited me once per game for a few seconds, a minute… or, if I was extremely fortunate it would last most of the game.

I thought the creative flow state was just like that – when it came, it came, and I had no influence on it. Now I know differently. Now I know how to OWN the creative flow state. It’s available when I want it to be. Or, more appropriately, when I need it to be. Gaining entry into the state when it is needed is an almost god-like power. Imagine being able to choose when you enter the state and for how long.

Owning the creative flow state is not as hard as you might think. Like anything, there are antecedents that, once in place help foster the development and then prolong this awesome experience.

How to OWN the creative flow state?

1. Go to your Cave and create the atmosphere conducive to flow. You, like everyone else that creates, have a preferred place to work where you can control the environmental conditions like air, noise, chair, table height, space around you, and the rest of it. Only you know what you need in your cave to make you happy and productive. If you’ll be there for hours you will want to arrange sustenance to keep the energy flowing. For me, pretzel rods, Coffee, Red Bull, cashews or pistachios (no red dye), cold fruit juice,  and a big water bottle does it. My cave has a toilet, air conditioning, fan, stereo and a place on the floor with a thin mattress and pillows in case I need to get cozy with my notebook on the floor for a change of position and perspective.

Ensure you have your creative instruments in supply and close at hand, exactly where they should be. If I’ve got a project that doesn’t require the notebook (rare) I need those thin lined markers (blue, black and red) and a ream of blank white paper so I can draw sketches, write symbols, text or whatever else – color coded in a way that only I could figure out.

Ambiance. Depending on what you’re doing you’ll want to choose the right music. Eighty percent of the time I’m in the cave creating I like to have something on. Other times I want absolute silence as I’m working on a very detailed idea which demands silence.

Ensure everything is exactly as you like it. The purpose of this is reducing the extraneous distractions that can pull you out of the state and into mediocrity. All it takes is one stray thought to germinate in your mind about not having the ruler where you thought it was and all hell could break loose as you systematically fly through every drawer, closet, pocket and puppet to find it. Nothing destroys creative flow faster than thoughts about why something isn’t the way it should be.

Use the restroom before you begin. Take a mental inventory. Anything else that isn’t quite right? Fix it before you sit down. Usually this is when I crank up some Prodigy, English Beat, Beastie Boys, Pixies or Chili Peppers to rev me up. I need to be in a special state of mind to get the creative juices flowing. Nothing less than absolute euphoria works best for me. Upbeat songs rattling the walls works best, but I can be considerate and use headphones when it’s in the interest of social harmony.

2. Inform others that for x number of hours you won’t be available. That means people are in other rooms of the cave, not yours. That means turning your phone ringer off. SMS beeps off. Flash phone messages off. Browser messages off. Instant messengers off. Email notifications off. Close your blinds if you’re in an office. Kick the dog out, and feed the piranha.

3. Label a motive for starting this creative project. It might be very clear, like – if you don’t finish this fifty page paper by five in the morning, you’ll fail Psychoanalytic Theory 6020 and need to repeat the class. Notice how you spontaneously enter the flow when you absolutely MUST get something done and you’re completely out of time and excuses?

A strong motivation is the number one factor for inviting a creative flow session. In college that student mentioned above was me. I left projects to the last minute and then completed them with amazing speed, efficiency and quality.

I did my best work that way, so why change the equation? Now it’s a little different as every night is a mental deadline for some blog article to be written. I enter the creative flow state daily for hours, banging out articles like there was no tomorrow.

If your motivation isn’t so clear, make it crystal clear so you know exactly why you need to create a masterpiece over the next few hours. I keep defining the why until I feel very confident about the need for the project. I like to picture little things that will come later as I blog toward greatness: Dinner with Tim Ferriss, or maybe a playful wrestling match with my favorite NFL cheerleader.

4. Brainstorming. I brainstorm first – scribbling fragments of ideas all over some blank A4 sheets of paper. I am just chicken-scratching what appears to be gibberish to the rest of mankind, and honestly I can barely read it myself – but, it’s part of the process. If I slow down to write it nicely then I lose the speed at which things pour out of my head. Sometimes i use the computer to write because I can type faster than I can write with a pen. But then again, sometimes the strict format of text on a screen is too limiting and I need to see it on paper, diagonally, curving around the edges, in different sizes, shapes and colors.

5. Planning. Plan the chapters of your project or the general outline of what you want to create by choosing from the bits and pieces you just brainstormed. It is a masterpiece and you’ll know after looking through what you’ve written if it’s comparable to Ludwig Van’s glorious 9th, or not. You may need to brainstorm some more. Brainstorming might take ten to thirty minutes. Planning might take another ten minutes. Usually I’m so excited by the time I have half an outline together that I need to either force myself to slow down and finish the complete plan – or, run with it immediately and finish the plan as I go. Sometimes I’m so tweaked about getting started and seeing it come to life that I don’t finish the planning. But, that’s just me.

Flow begins out of this euphoria, this sense of purpose, the confidence in my writing and the manic desire to create something amazing.

Usually I don’t catch myself realizing that I’m in the creative flow state for hours after it begins. At some point inevitably I’ll need to use the restroom or drink a coffee and I’ll notice that a chunk of time passed. When I wrote my first book, I wrote over 10,000 words at one sitting. It was like being on auto-pilot. Time just flies when you’re focused!

For me, the first session is basically a huge right-hemisphere memory dump from my brain in “Vern-logic” digital format. I spill everything at once almost like a brainstorm, but I’m fleshing out details in the general ideas, usually corresponding to paragraphs that will form in the project later. I type like a fiend until my wrists, fingers, elbows and neck hurt.

The first spill is never a completed masterpiece. The left hemisphere needs to make Vern-logic sync logically with a critical mass of readers that will be reading it. Word substitution, spell checks, graphics and page formatting takes place next.

I’m never in a creative flow during any editing process. It’s something that doesn’t come natural to me. Dumping it all in the flow state is easy, it’s just like breathing. Editing it is seriously difficult work that I wish I could call on a flow process to help with.

Anyone have a remedy? Outsourcing, yeah, I know. I know.

Owning and extending the optimal creative flow state is an amazing skill to put in your bag of productivity tricks. It’s simple really, requiring nothing more than an optimal environment, confidence in your skills, and a really strong and lucid purpose and motivation for tackling the project.

When you own the flow, you’ve got it all. Try it and let me know what you think.

Best of Life!

Vern

(Last Updated: 28 December 2016)

Flow while exercising:

Flow, pseudo-flow, and mind-tweaking during exercise >

Training for My First Ultra Marathon – 50 kilometers

I set a goal at the beginning of the month that was a bit optimistic, maybe doable, but I’ve already revised the goal and added another month to it so I don’t leap forward in my usual gung-ho style and hurt myself. I’d like to really ramp up my running over the next year and don’t need any major injuries.

I want to run my first Ultra-Marathon of 50 KM by the end of October.

Some Background

  • I played soccer from 7 years old until 18.
  • I raced (running) competively, bicycled competitively, and ran triathlons and biathlons competitively for a total of maybe 10 years after high school. I’m 48 years old now.
  • Until recently I hadn’t run past 15 miles. The other week I ran 16 miles and it felt great up until that point. Great, meaning I was able to keep going and push through the pain without too much trouble. At the sixteenth mile the soft tissue behind my knees hurt too much to continue.
  • How do I make myself run 15+ miles?
  • I don’t stretch. I need to stretch a bit because after 15 miles I think my legs were feeling much too tight.
  • I’ve done mostly short trail runs and step climbing sessions of 40 minutes to 2.5 hours over the past 10 years. Running started in earnest about 2 years ago after stopping riding my bike.

So, after listening to Sage Canaday’s video about periodization training I decided to go on a 9 day cycle, like he does. I’ll do a hard workout – quality workout he calls them – and then take 2 easy days, then another hard workout, 2 days, etc. I’ll do 3 difficult days during the 9 day cycle, and 5 days easy, possibly 4 easy depending how difficult my long run is to complete.

Here’s the breakdown for this week:

  • 9/16  – easy 6-7 miles
  • 9/17 – fast run up mountain trail for 700 meters elevation gain and 11.5 kilometers. This is a lactic acid threshold run for 90% of the run. Involves some power-hiking up steep sections.
  • 9/18 – easy 6-7 miles
  • 9/19 – easy 6-7 miles
  • 9/20 – lactate threshold / tempo run with 1 minute rests between 1.25 km laps around the park (flat – no elevation gain).
  • 9/21 – easy 6-7 miles
  • 9/22 – easy 6-7 miles
  • 9/23 – long run of 12-20 miles – depending how I feel.
  • 9/24 – rest, nothing
  • 9/25 – easy 5-6 miles
  • 9/26 – fast run up mountain trail like above.
  • Repeat, adding couple miles during each week to the easy runs to increase overall mileage.

We’ll see how this plan goes. Ideally I’ll remain uninjured and be able to complete my goal in late October of running my first 50 kilometer ultra-marathon. I’ll do this around our local park. It’s flat and will hopefully be a cool day!

Have YOU run an ultra yet? How did you go about ramping up training to help you get to 50 kilometers or more? Accepting advice…!

Apple Watch vs Suunto Ambit3

Apple Watch Melon Color Suunto Ambit3 Sport Blue

Runners will find this review useful if considering a sports watch purchase in the near future. Here I compare the Apple Apple Watch vs. Suunto’s latest, the Ambit3.

I don’t think there is any doubt that the Suunto Ambit2 and Ambit3 are the most popular watches for ultra-runners and many other serious amateur and professional athletes across the globe. I see the watches on the wrists of ultra-runners, explorers, triathletes, and cyclists all over the world. Suunto makes great watches. No doubt.

Enter the new Apple Watch, due for release in early 2015 but revealed yesterday at the latest Apple Event. The Apple Watch is not strictly an athlete’s watch, but it contains many of the functions top-level and amateur athletes appreciate in a watch – HR monitor, accelerometer, caloric expenditure, GPS when paired with iPhone, etc. It is also customizable and the functions will expand with time as Apple developers write amazing applications for it. Over a short time Apple will also refine the watch to meet the needs of more users – hopefully athletes like us.

This post compares the Apple Watch to the latest Suunto Ambit3 in specifications and I give an opinion on which watch might be best for you and me, since I am in the market for a sports watch that can do what these two watches offer. I compare each watch on major issues related to running, trail running, ultra-running. This comparison will not be helpful for cyclists, swimmers, or other sports – just running.

The Ambit3 has these models:

  • Ambit3 Peak Sapphire and Peak (both in black)
  • Ambit3 Sport Sapphire and Sport (black, blue, white)

The difference between the watches is that the Sapphire versions have a Sapphire quartz bezel that is more scratch resistant than the other versions.

The Apple Watch has these models:

  • Apple Watch
  • Apple Watch Sport
  • Apple Watch Edition (solid gold case)

Honestly, I wouldn’t get the Apple Watch, or any Suunto Watch. The next watch for me is Garmin…


1. Durability. Without having experimented with the Watch, I’m going to say that the Suunto watches are going to last much longer with rugged use than the Apple Watch. The band, the watch frame and face, are all just considerably more rugged than Apple’s Watch, which is as much geared toward fashion as it is the sports functions. Apple’s Watch is so much more than a sports-watch, and this is reflected in its design. If you are rough on watches – don’t even bother with the Apple Watch unless you have deep pockets and don’t mind continually breaking them. The Suunto is of course waterproof, but I cannot say that for the new Apple Watch, as they didn’t mention that at all yesterday.

2. GPS. The Suunto Ambit3 has an accurate GPS and has three ping levels that help extend battery life: 1 sec, 5 sec, 60 sec. You can buy the “Ambit3 Peak” and get the barometric / altimeter sensor that will give you elevation and atmospheric pressure which fuses with map data for elevations to give you a supposedly more accurate reading. The Apple Watch doesn’t have any GPS at all, you’re supposed to pair it with an iPhone for that function. The Apple Watch and the Ambit3’s other than the Peak use GPS to match up with elevation records of maps in a database.

3. Elevation Gain. The Ambit2 was shown to have a very marginal accuracy regarding gain by one Youtuber (Bush Channel Ambit2 Error). He performed a detailed test including calibrating the unit and climbing to different peaks that had their official elevations noted. Sometimes the Ambit2 was off by 50 meters after just having calibrated it. That’s ridiculously poor accuracy. Better accuracy was had by a Garmin GPS device he was comparing it to, which wasn’t a watch, but still. I wouldn’t rely on the Ambit2 elevation gain or maximum readings. I’d love to see a new test of the Ambit3 in this regard. Hopefully they’ve solved the problem because without accurate elevation readings, a run up and down the mountain will be off considerably by hundreds of meters over the hours. You’d be better off to use the maps online. The Apple Watch has an altimeter, but it has yet to be tested for accuracy.

4. Readability and Customization. I ran for years with a crummy display on my Timex Triathlon watch. If I’m not in direct sun, I have a hard time reading the display fast enough. I want to see it instantly, whatever the ambient lighting conditions, not spend seconds trying to see what lap I’m on and what my time is. Both the Apple Watch and the Suunto Ambit3 series watches have excellent readability, though in bright sunshine the Suunto Ambit3 is going to reign supreme due to the superior contrasty screen.

5. Heart Rate Monitors. Both the Apple Watch and the Suunto Ambit3 use bluetooth connectivity to pair the units with heart rate monitors (HRM). I am assuming the Apple Watch does because again, it wasn’t mentioned in the “reveal” which really, revealed little. Though it isn’t known which HRM is more accurate, they are probably going to both be acceptable. One highlight of the Apple Watch is that it has a built-in HRM that takes a reading while it is on the wrist – chest strap is unnecessary. Now, you’re going to want to use a chest strap for your runs because I think the wrist monitor is going to be a bit flaky and not nearly as accurate, but let’s see how it plays out with future iterations.

6. Battery Life. I don’t think battery life even matters until one watch has so much capacity that I don’t even think about it any more. As it is – 1 to 3 days of battery life using the GPS function means I have to think about it. That’s not ideal. I don’t want to plan for a run and think for a minute about whether or not I’ll be able to use the watch or not because it isn’t fully charged. That’s the sad state of battery technology right now, but it will improve over the next few years. I consider the battery life on both these watches to be marginal and unacceptable, but then what choice do I have? Other than using the GPS constantly, both the Apple Watch and Suunto Ambit3 give decent battery life for simple functions. Funny enough, the 9/9/2014 Apple Event which introduced the Apple Watch – didn’t mention battery life at all.

Just as important as battery life is the time it takes to charge the watches. I haven’t seen any good data on that yet. It would be significant if either one could charge substantially faster than the other, or, offered easy to exchange batteries for extended (superhuman) athletic efforts over the course of days or weeks. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 boasts this new technology that allows it to charge to 50% in just half-an-hour. An ultra-runners watch with that would be nice!

7. Apps. The Apple Watch will have many more amazing applications developed for it than the Suunto just because the apps can not only collect data, but they can run on the watch itself in graphical form. The difference between the displays of the Apple Watch and Suunto Ambit3 series is night and day. Again, no mention of resolution on the upcoming Apple Watch. There is no comparison as far as the potential for cool applications.

The other functions are generally the same, as far as my needs go. Some of you will want to have a detailed look at hardcore reviews of the Ambit3, like the one by DC Rainmaker (Suunto Ambit3 review). There will undoubtedly be thousands of reviews of the new Apple Watch coming out at the turn of the year. If you want to compare things like which watch will allow you to run against a virtual competitor, or help you attempt to predict the weather based on atmospheric conditions, etc. you can check out those reviews. As new apps are released functionality of both units will change, but the watch by Apple will have (by far) the more advanced and more useful apps.

Apple would probably do well to come up with a very rugged device, and quickly. Their sport model looks the same as their basic model and probably isn’t reinforced at all – it just has a different band. They’ve never done so, with all their products, but it’s an area that, at least in the athletic arena, would help them crank sales considerably. Imagine an Apple Watch functionality and nice screen paired with the rugged durability of the Suunto watches? Makes me sweat just thinking about it. I’d buy a watch like that for $600. Maybe considerably more.

My Ultimate List of Sports Watch Functions:

  • always on GPS, altimeter, accelerometer, screen
  • monitors blood glucose, electrolyte levels, vitamin levels
  • alerts me to cancer or some other major issue
  • monitors white blood cell levels
  • no HRM chest strap needed
  • 1080p video – at least 720p
  • takes a mobile SIM card
  • one month battery
  • waterproof

A watch like this, I would spend $1,000 to own.

Would you buy the ULTIMATE WATCH for $1,000 USD?

What features would you need for that price?


My First 15+ Mile Run Since I Was 17 Years Old

As I get started on my goal to begin running ultra-races on the trails I’ve begun pushing into new territory. Yesterday I did a long run – 15.5 miles. It might be the first time I’ve ever run that far, but I seem to recall a run around 15 miles when I was in 11th Grade in High School thirty-one years ago. Memory is a bit foggy!

Yesterday I was going to run for two hours and see what happened. I haven’t run on the flat for that amount of time that I can remember, but I sometimes do a double lap run up the mountain and it takes 160 minutes, well over two hours. That is a steep incline, and really, it’s only difficult going up, the downhill is a nice relaxing ‘flow’ experience, more than being a physical effort.

I had one Gatorade for the first three laps. Then for the fifth and subsequent laps I carried 2 water bottles.

One lap is 1.25 kilometers. It’s completely flat, just two little bumps not even a meter high in elevation. There is a very slight grade up and down which also probably don’t register as more than a meter elevation change. It’s quite flat.

I ran the first eight laps or so, slowing only to drink some fluid once or twice during each lap. I felt great, no issues in any of the joints or muscles. I kept going… I made 8 laps in the first hour. That’s 10 kilometers, 6.2 miles. Not bad pace, and probably the pace I want to try to keep up for as long as possible when I do attempt the 50 km run/walk at the end of the month. Breathing was at one breath in for 2-steps, one breath out for 2-steps. At some point fat burning kicked in and I was tempted to just go 3-3 on breathing, I felt so good.

When the second hour rolled around I was still feeling good. I had some general joint pain and muscle fatigue in the quads mainly, but I felt like I could push through it. I was at 20 km in two hours. I didn’t think I could hold that pace, but I thought I could probably do the rest of the 50 km in four more hours. So, at lap 16, I figured I’d just keep going until something broke. There was half-a-chance that I could push it the entire distance that day. I hurt, but the hurt was dull and not altogether unknown. I’ve pushed through running when it hurt. Not as much as I have cycling when it hurt, but the pain is familiar. At least it was years ago.

At lap 20 I was 25 km into it, 15.5 miles and soft tissue behind both knees hurt like hell. They hadn’t cramped, but it was like a pre-cramp or something. I knew then I should have been eating and drinking more sugar and salt, but I hadn’t thought making 50 km would be remotely possibly yesterday so I didn’t plan in any way for that.

The 20th lap was pure hell as I struggled with it. I ran for a bit – which eased the pain for 300 meters, but then it came back anyway. I can’t remember ever hurting the tissue behind my knees like that except during very long bike rides (80 miles+).

I went to the car, sat down and shut down the Timex Ironman watch and wondered about the new Apple iWatch coming out and whether it would meet my needs as well as the Suunto Ambit3. Wow. 25 km. The day was perfect. The weather absolutely perfect as far as Thailand goes. There was a very fine drizzle of rain. The clouds blocked the sun. The air was a nice 85F. I didn’t sweat profusely. There were lots of people at the park, some were counting my laps as I went by. None of them were ever right, but it was fun to hear them trying to guess what lap I was on.

There were three dogs at the park I must have run by 12 times. They never barked or chased me.

All in all, an amazing day of exercise. It is now the following morning. I’ve had 10 hours of sleep and my legs are tight. Hamstrings, and calves. I tried to run with a forefoot strike for the entire distance yesterday. I think I feel MUCH less sore than I would have with heel-strikes. Heel strikes kill my knees quick.

I ran in the Nike FREE 7.0 v3 I think they are. Maybe V2. They are very light, very flexible in the forefoot. I had no cramping in my feet during the run or while laying in bed last night.

Such a great experience. Looking forward to my first ultra-distance run in about 3 weeks.

What about you? Have you set your sights on any big goal recently???

Elite Athletes! Apple iWatch or Suunto Ambit3?

Though not a fan of the blue Ambit3, I do love these watches. Whether or not I buy one depends on how much more functionality I can get with the upcoming Apple iWatch. Sept 9 is the Apple event.
Though not a fan of the blue Ambit3, I do love these watches. Whether or not I buy one depends on how much more functionality I can get with the upcoming Apple iWatch. Sept 9 is the Apple event.

This is going to be a major question for athletes, serious athletes across the globe after next week’s Apple event. Supposedly, and in all probability, they will be introducing an Apple iWatch. This watch will be more than just something else that tells time, we all have plenty of time-tellers around the house, on our bodies, on our person. This iWatch is supposed to do cool health-related stuff. There will be thousands of applications written by programmers to take advantage of the operating system in the new iWatch. Those applications will go way beyond what the Suunto Ambit3 is offering.

The new iWatch will in all likelihood be waterproof, or nearly so. if it isn’t, there will probably be a waterproof version made soon, within a year.

You might laugh at the idea that the Apple iWatch could take over for your Suunto Ambit2 or Ambit3, but the sensors in the new watches coming out from many companies, already have temperature, heart rate, barometer, elevation, accelerometer sensors and more. What is the Suunto Ambit3? Just a rugged collection of these sensors.

The iWatch will do everything, or near everything the Suunto watches are capable of. It will probably be priced similarly. It will probably have a speaker and allow you to listen to audio music. Your Suunto doesn’t do that. It will have a calendar. It will link up to your computer or phone via bluetooth and upload your workouts and all data collected, just like your Ambit. It will have replaceable bands.

It will do much more than the Suunto watches, even allowing you to have a conversation on the phone in your backpack somewhere in the house, by just talking into your iWatch which relays it to your phone. I don’t think the watches will be SIM capable – yet.

I love the Suunto Ambit3. Still, I’m holding off on buying one because I may not want it after the new Apple watch is revealed. The Suunto watches allow some apps to be written, but the number of developers that are working on Apple products is overwhelming. There will be much better apps on the new iWatch.

Vibrational alerts? This is something a good percentage of Suunto users have wanted for years. The new Ambit3 still doesn’t have them. Will the iWatch have a vibrator? I don’t think so. There probably won’t be enough room in the small watch housing for one. Who knows though? Apple is known to do things “right” so we’ll see what they come up with.

Will the iWatch be compatible with heart rate monitor straps through bluetooth? Sure. Will the iWatch let you run competition against your friends, or yourself? Probably as soon as some cool apps are written. Suunto only lets you set a level to compete against – quite boring.

Will the iWatch be as durable as the Suunto watches? Likely not even close. I don’t know how many times you’ll be able to sweat on one before it dies, but I wouldn’t think it would have waterproofing and shockproofing at a level that athletes are going to be happy about. At least for a year. Once the new iWatch is released Apple will start getting feedback on what else could be added / changed to make it awesome, unbeatable. The health market is a big category that it wants to own. It has released ecosystems for data collection, and the iWatch will feed into that. It would be great if the watch could tell me that there isn’t enough salt in my sweat during a long run – and that I should eat something salty. It would be great if it did blood pressure. It would be great if it could test sweat for a lot of electrolytes – wouldn’t it?

September 9, 2014 is when the new iWatch is to be released. I’ll be anxiously awaiting it.

What about YOU?

UPDATE – the new Apple Watch has been released and we compared it with the Suunto Ambit3 here.