Do you remember the last time you felt completely lost in something? Maybe you felt like time seemed to fly by or even stand still. How about this: can you recall a moment when you felt ‘in the zone’ or completely in your element, as though you could do no wrong? If so, then you know what it means to operate in a ‘flow’ state. The idea of ‘flow’ is nothing new, but what scientists are learning about flow is changing how we think about what it means to be happy and healthy. Many now argue that reaching a flow state is key to optimizing our brain’s potential as well as achieve new levels of productivity and fulfillment.
What Is a Flow State, Exactly?
It’s easy to experience flow, but harder to explain what it is. This is a pretty good definition: flow is complete absorption in the current moment. It’s when you’re completely present to an activity, where your mind is challenged, and at the same time in a state of autopilot.
You can achieve a flow state in limitless ways, but there are common examples that everyone can relate to. Musicians often talk about getting ‘in the pocket’ while onstage. This is a moment where their conscious thought slows and they become a channel for the music. The same can be said for athletes. Basketball players who get ‘on fire’ enter a flow state, and seem to make every shot. Flow takes many forms, but it’s generally thought of as a peak state where the mind and body perform at their best.
So, what are the benefits of being in a flow state?
Consider this testimonial. In his 2015 Ted Talk, author Steven Kotler gave an astonishing account of his recovery from a serious health issue. According to Kotler, when he was at his worst, he was almost completely incapacitated, spending the entire day in bed, unable to function, and bracing for the end.
Being a lifelong surfer, his friends implored him to come out surfing with them once, even if he could only last for a few moments. Kotler was reluctant, but eventually agreed. After getting on the board, which he struggled to do, Kotler said something remarkable happened: his brain entered an altered state of consciousness. He could feel intensely that he had entered a flow state, where his mind was suddenly in a place of optimal functionality. His sense of time seemed to slow down; he felt clear, and suddenly the weight of his sickness seemed to vanish. He said that the experience made him feel alive, and although it didn’t last long, Kotler soon found his way back out onto the waves, even in his functionally-impaired state. As the months passed, Kotler said he started noticing his health improving until the point where he returned to a state of almost complete normalcy.
Kotler is quick to note that surfing is no ‘cure-all’ for anything. However, his story does reveal the transformative power of being in a flow state. According to Kotler, his adventures on the surfboard helped him reach a state of mind that boosted his immune system and released critical neurochemicals which strengthened his overall health.
Flow State Key Benefits
Reaching a flow state may have the following benefits:
• Heightened Creativity
• Increased Productivity
• Boosted Energy Levels
• Elevated Mood
• A Feeling of “Release”
• Increase of Neurochemicals: norepinephrine (noradrenaline), dopamine, anandamide, serotonin and endorphins
How To Find Your Flow State Of Mind
If you want to experience a flow state more often, you don’t have to wait for it to find you. People who spend the most time in flow intentionally put ‘flow triggers’ in their life. In other words, they build their routine around activities that help them more easily find the flow.
According to Kotler, extreme sports athletes are the best in the world at reaching flow. He argues that the element of danger forces them to enter a flow state, whether or not they consciously realize it.
But you don’t have to skydive or race motorcycles to find flow. There are many ways you can find it for yourself. After reading these guidelines, see if you can generate your own ideas to find flow in your life.
1. Start Taking Risks — You might be the type of person who is naturally a bit of a daredevil. Maybe you already enjoy activities like snowboarding or surfing that have an element of danger. But here’s the good news: if that’s not your style, you can also hack your flow state by taking social risks. If you’re shy, maybe try making a joke in a meeting or talking to a stranger of the opposite sex. The great thing about flow is that your brain can’t tell the difference between real and perceived danger. Whatever feels like a risk to you can trigger flow. The reason for this is that risk forces us into a state of being fully present, where our mind is occupied on the task at hand. This is one of the prerequisites to finding the flow state.
2. Engage Your Senses — One of the fastest ways to tap into flow is to engage your senses, ideally several of them at once. Whole body exercises like kayaking or swimming are great examples. This is the psychological phenomenon known as ‘deep embodiment.’ When your entire body is engaged with an activity, then your brain moves into a more instinctive mode known as ‘hypofrontality.’ What this means is that the conscious, decision-making part of your brain slows, and you enter a more reactive phase that is conducive to flow.
3. Mix it up, Change Your Routine — Novelty and complexity are two great flow triggers. When you run through your normal routine, your brain is basically on auto-pilot. But when your brain is confronted with new environments, you become present-focused. If you want more flow in your life, one of the best ways you can find it is by trying new things and going new places. This doesn’t mean you have to backpack around the world. It could be as simple as taking a new route to work, trying a dance class, or checking out a new restaurant.
4. Flow is a Game-Changer for Your Mind — The study of ‘flow psychology’ is a fairly new field in scientific research. However, experts like Kotler are reporting incredible findings about the power of flow. Some research suggests that flow can increase productivity at work by 500%. It also can boost performance in other areas, including creativity and problem-solving. If you want to learn more about flow, check out Steven Kotler, and watch his incredible lecture about how to hack your inner flow state.