Coloring: A surprising way to get into "flow"

Adult coloring books.  I know you’ve seen them. You probably even have one yourself.

Well, I have to admit, I’ve been sucked into adult coloring myself, and with some surprising results. Over the past few weeks I have really enjoyed the slow, focused attention it takes to color in one picture. I love taking my time to color one page, shading and blending colors together. Shade green here. Add yellow there. Bits of blue and purple on the edge.

This has been the first time in years that I have spent hours creating art. In the past I used to paint, quilt, and throw pottery, among other creative things. As life progressed and obligations increased I devoted less and less time to being creative.

Coloring is opening the door for me to get reacquainted with the beauty and joy that comes with being in a flow while creating art.

Have you experienced that flow? That being in “the zone” when doing something creative, challenging and enjoyable?  The kind of enjoyment in an activity where you look up at the clock and hours have flown by. You didn’t notice what was going on around you; you were in tuned and focused on the activity. You feel energized and excited, blissful.

Psychologist Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly first defined and studied the concept of flow experience. In his work he noted that some artistic individuals (composers, authors, artists) would describe a state where they were no longer connected with themselves (a loss of self-consciousness) and could fully and would get lost completely investing in a creative, challenging activity. In this amazing TED Talk Dr. Csikszentmihaly describes several factors that exemplify a flow state:

 1. Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated.

2. A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.

3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well we are doing.

4. Knowing that the activity is doable – that our skills are adequate to the task.

5. A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.

6. Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes.

7. Intrinsic Motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

To experience a flow state Dr. Csikszentmihaly notes that there must be a balance between skill level and challenge level. For example, an adult putting together a kid’s jigsaw puzzle (high skill, low challenge) or a beginner painter attempting to paint a family portrait at sunset (low skill, high challenge) will not likely create a flow experience. It may lead to boredom or anxiety. 

Finding a balance between skill and challenge (high skill/high challenge) will create flow.

What opportunities do you have for flow experiences in your life right now?

Flow can come in many forms. Be open to whenever and wherever you experience it.

Drawing, painting, collage, crafting, scrapbooking

Writing music, playing music, playing an instrument

Writing short stories, poems, a novel

Gardening, preparing planters for spring or putting bulbs in earth

Stacking rock cairns while on a hike

Photographing nature or your family

Dancing, choreography

Yoga, running, rock climbing, skiing

As you continue to define your intentions for this New Year, what changes or additions can you make in your life to create more flow experiences (a sense of ecstasy, inner clarity, a sense of serenity and the experience of timelessness)?

Share this post with someone you know that might be interested in bring more flow to their life. Let me know if you want to talk about flow activity ideas - I'm here to help! 



Adriana Joyner, LMFT is a Sacramento Area therapist specializing in counseling for people healing from trauma and abuse, and gender support for those within the LGBTQIA community. Her office is located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (916) 547-3997 or email