In neuroscience, the concept of ‘flow’ is currently all the rage.
Flow describes a specific mental state that allows us to focus intensely on a single task or subject matter. In this state, time will actually appear to dilate and slow around us, giving us more time to react and improving our performance significantly. At the same time, we become faster at solving problems and reacting and we can completely block out all distracting thoughts and temptations.
So, what is this ‘flow’ exactly and how does it come about?
Flow is a certain mental state in much the same way that the ‘fight or flight’ puts us into a particular state of mind. In fact, a flow state is very similar to the fight or flight response with the primary difference being that fight or flight makes us more panicked and distracted whereas flow is slightly calmer and more positive.
Both states though are triggered by a sense of danger and importance. When the body detects that it is in danger, or working toward a highly important goal, then it will produce chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine and cortisol. These increase the heart rate, contract the muscles and generally make us more highly alert and ready for action.
The difference is that a flow state also produces serotonin (the feel good hormone) and anandamide (the ‘bliss’ hormone). This makes the sensation far more euphoric and also makes us more creatively inclined. In other words: this is danger/importance with enjoyment and excitement.
Common ‘triggers’ of flow states include surfing, snow boarding and sports. This is any moment when you have lost track of time and what you are and instead begun to move purely through space without distraction.
This can also happen when you’re performing in a band and you become ‘one with the music’. Or when you’re engaged in fascinating discussion and you lose all track of time.
How to Access Flow
So how do you access this incredible mental state and find your flow? The answer is that it requires you to focus 100% on what you’re doing by building up its importance in your mind. Using meditation can help you to generally improve your focus, while practising CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can teach you to change the way you feel about different activities.
Ultimately though, you have to remind yourself why what you’re doing is important and to fully engage in that moment. Only then can you tap into your flow!