Hooters Hall

Finding Flow in the Warp

Direct warping one of my rigid heddle looms

When I first started weaving I hated warping my looms, especially my old table loom. It took forever to thread the warp through all the wire heddles and I always seemed to make a mistake.

I saw warping as a tedious chore that was a barrier to fun. As a result I ended not weaving as much because there was always the warping to do first. Weaving mainly on rigid heddle looms where I could use the speedier direct warping method gave me a bit of motivation but ultimately I still saw warping as a boring chore.

I continued to not weave for several months because I couldn’t be bothered with the chore of warping but then the cognitive dissonance grew too uncomfortable to ignore. I was either a weaver or I wasn’t and if I was a weaver I needed to warp my looms.

So, I challenged myself to think about warping differently. Not as a chore but as the foundation of my weaving. I thought about all the design decisions I could make about my warp and how this would affect my weaving. I thought about the task of warping how I could make it more efficient and minimise errors.

The most important step I took was to set time aside just to focus on warping my loom. Instead of thinking “I’ll get this warping done then I can spend more time weaving”, always thinking ahead of the warping, I dedicated an afternoon just to warping my loom with no plan to do any weaving. I was focused on the here and now of the task, not what might be after it was completed.

I used this focus to break the task of warping down into smaller goals e.g. measuring my warp, threading my heddles, winding the warp with even tension, tying on. I knew what I wanted to achieve for each goal and I began to see the repetitiveness of the task as an opportunity to finesse my technique rather than a tedious hurdle.

My focus was so complete I lost track of time and spent an enjoyable few hours immersed in warping my loom. I found flow.  

The mental state 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. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and the resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.”

Wikipedia

The concept of flow is explored and explained in detail by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Having flow activities in our life makes us happier. A quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that resonated with me is:

“The problem arises when people are so fixated on what they want to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present. When that happens they forfeit their chance of contentment.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Flow isn’t found just by doing activities that you enjoy or find relaxing. Most people have the majority of flow experiences at work and it is rare, if not impossible, to find flow chilling out on the sofa watching Netflix. The reason for this can be found in the four conditions that must be met to find flow.

  1. The task needs to be something we have a chance of completing.
  2. We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.
  3. The task needs to have clear goals
  4. The task needs to provide immediate feedback.

When we experience a flow activity the reason why it leads to enjoyment and increases happiness is due to four experiences common to all flow activities.

  • Flow activities lead us to act with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.
  • Enjoyable experiences allow us to exercise a sense of control our actions.
  • When engaged in a flow activity concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.
  • The sense of the duration is time is altered; hours pass by in minutes and minutes can stretch to seem like hours.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research and book explore the concept of flow and how it leads to happiness and resilience to negative experiences in more detail and although some of the social commentary is a bit dated (the book was first published in 1990) it is worth a read if you are interested in the psychology of happiness and understanding flow experiences.

Here are some more quotes that I highlighted while reading Flow.

“To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

We grow up believing that what counts most in our lives is that which will occur in the future”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

So, how does this relate to mindful making? My exploration of mindful making led me to investigating the psychology of flow because I wanted to understand why flow was important to human experience, how it could be part of my making and what made an activity a flow activity.

With my knowledge of flow I find I’m approaching my making with a new focus for even the most mundane tasks and preparation. Aside from the personal benefits for mental wellbeing I think this benefits my making. I have an internal motivation to achieve my making goals and build my skills. I also think that training myself to anchor my making in the here and now naturally improves the quality of my craft.           

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