KOCH: Crafting improves ability to enter the “flow state”

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Photo by Jenna Koch

Doing activities like crocheting can increase people’s access to a “flow state.”

It was the start of midterm season and instead of studying up on child psychology for my education classes or finishing “Frankenstein” for class, I took up crocheting. I did so because I was itching to make clothes of my own and I’ve been loving the knitwear of spring 2021 runway collections. When I come up with an idea for a new project, nothing, not even midterms, can prevent me from starting it. 

After just a week of crocheting, I built up something far more valuable than custom-made clothing — a longer attention span. I crocheted for hours, with music or a movie in the background, and seldom lost my focus. 

While hyperfocusing on a halter top, I began to crochet during class. At first, I scolded myself. I needed to focus on lectures and discussions to prepare for midterms, not my newest tank top design. However, I realized I was actually paying more attention to my classes than I was before. 

Crocheting is something I can do with my hands while I keep my mind focused on learning the class content or participating in a discussion. It’s like a fidget spinner for college students. 

Everyone should take up a similar hobby, especially those with attention or mental health issues like depression. Creation is apart of what makes us human. I would encourage anyone to take up a skill that not only engages that creativity but also builds up their patience and work ethic. These hobbies could include creating clothing, baking, making ceramics or making jewelry. Anything works, as long as it involves many small actions that all lead to an end product.

According to a survey by the University of Wollongong Australia, 70% of crocheters believe it has improved their memory and concentration. Crocheting, as researcher Pippa Burns puts it, is a form of self-care. 

This is because crocheters access a state of mind called the “flow state.” Coined by renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the flow state is something almost everyone has experienced, whether they’re aware of it or not. Csikszentmihalyi describes it as a sense of “ecstasy and clarity” while focusing on a task. It’s the psychologist’s way of saying someone is “in the zone.” 

Teachers are now using methods to get their students into the flow state and corporate higher-ups are trying to figure out why their employees aren’t reaching it. These professionals are taking steps such as adding more variety to the work or school day, encouraging creative thinking and even changing their room setups to help their students and employees enter a state of flow. Most experience the flow state naturally, but like most things, it’s also a skill. 

Cultivating it can lead to higher levels of concentration in other aspects of one’s life, better quality work and an overall sense of well-being, even while not in the flow state. According to the Harvard Medical School, the perfect ratio of engagement and concentration needs to be fulfilled to reach the flow state.

I am not so sure crocheting leads to a sense of ecstasy, but the feeling of completing a project is one like no other. It’s not often these days that we get to enjoy a physical fruit of our labor. I become so engaged with such a repetitive task because I’m motivated by the outcome.

Producing a physical item such as a crocheted hat, clay bowl, or home-made loaf of bread helps create a reward at the end of our experience. Neuroscientist Kelly Lambert describes this in her book “Lifting Depression,” by stating “What revs up the crucial effort-driven rewards circuit — the fuel, if you will — is generated by doing certain types of physical activities, especially ones that involve your hands.” 

She added that working with our hands could help alleviate depression. I have noticed that in times when I feel anxious, picking up my crochet hook and yarn always helps to calm me down. Lambert stresses that these activities should engage our hands, but not our minds. Doing so creates a time for our minds to relax and even can create a meditative experience. 

Additionally, taking up new hobbies helps us to overcome the fear of failure and build confidence. Adding novelty and variety to our lives can be incredibly beneficial, even if it is difficult to start at first. 

Accessing the flow state through some sort of manual labor is the perfect psychological cocktail (can I say this or should I say “mix” or “combination”) to bring more happiness, concentration and knitted sweaters into our lives.

This story was written by Jenna Koch. She can be reached at jenna.koch@marquette.edu