Have you ever felt like you’re “in the zone”? A state where you’re so focused and concentrated that you have tunnel vision, where everything is effortless and you perform at your best?
If you have, you’ve been lucky enough to experience what is called a “Flow State”.
Coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a flow state is a scientific term used to describe an altered state of consciousness where people are so focused that they reach heightened levels of performance with less effort.
Previously only associated with high performance athletes and mystical experiences, science is slowly showing us that flow can be experienced by anyone, anywhere.
Chefs, barbers, actors and actresses, writers, artists, musicians – you name it, across every discipline of high performers you will likely find flow states somewhere in the mix.
Thanks to Steven Kotler and the Flow Research Collective, science is slowly unraveling the codes to flow, and we’re beginning to understand it’s signature, and more importantly…how we can replicate it.
So what exactly IS flow? What are it’s baseline qualities and characteristics? How does someone know that they are in a flow state?
Before we can describe or define flow, let’s backtrack a little and set the foundation by understanding the various states of consciousness.
First, lets begin at your ordinary state of consciousness. Your waking state. The normal state of mind you carry around with you on a day to day basis.
Let’s call this homeostasis if you will. Your baseline status quo of what life is like. Your default mode.
Then, we have something called non-ordinary states of consciousness (NOSC). These are states like sleeping, trance, hypnotized, or even possessed. A “non-normal” state of consciousness different from your default mode.
On the spectrum of NOSC’s (and believe me, it’s a wide spectrum), these experiences can range from highly uncomfortable to highly pleasurable – or ecstatic.
Flow is a NOSC that falls in the category of ecstatic – or extasis….aka it feels really fucking good. Imagine that your body is giving you a fat cocktail of all it’s feel good chemicals at the same time…and that’s what you get on flow.
So to begin with, we must accept that this is an altered state of consciousness where you perform at your best and feel really good while doing it.
So let’s dive a bit deeper. How do you know when you’re in flow? What are it’s qualities and characteristics?
There are about 4 core components –
You get to take a break from the typical dialogue floating through your brain. You step outside of yourself and get a new perspective on things. You zoom out and see the world a bit differently.
In other words, you get outside of your own head. That “inner-critic” shuts off and you experience relief from the constantly running to-do list of the brain.
This is important too, because the more that this voice quiets down, the more that flow takes over. The normal doubt that screams telling you not to do something becomes an infrequent bark that fades into the background.
The quintessential “time flies when you’re having fun.” When you’re so immersed in an activity that nothing else exists and you lose track of time.
When you’re so focused that nothing can distract you, all that exists is the moment of presence that you have with yourself and the activity at hand.
When you’re in flow, time doesn’t exist. Things slow down while seemingly speeding up. You lose track of time and are fully immersed in the present moment at one with your activity.
So now at this point our inner critic has shut off, we’re fully immersed and undistracted and things become…
You’re so tapped in that you know what to do and you don’t need to think about it. Macro movements become a series of micro movements. You have improved awareness of the finer details of your surroundings and can use that information to your advantage.
For some reason, you perform at your best with less effort. You know exactly what to do, and there is zero latency between you and those movements. Everything clicks in a way that conscious thinking can’t deliver.
And last, when the body is operating in this peak state what is the final quality of Flow?
This is where the magic happens. Flow states have the ability to surface powers and intuition that lie deep within us. Answers to problems we didn’t know existed. A source of knowledge that our conscious minds get in the way of.
When all of these gears of flow are in motion you can literally do things you are not normally capable of. This is where the lines of creativity and innovation become blurred, where people find solutions to creative problems they have been working on, when the limits of human capacity are blown out the water.
It’s also where people have the potential to lose their minds and have religious revelations, but that’s for another time….
Flow is richness of experience. The ability to rapidly pull in new information and arrive at conclusions that weren’t previously possible. The ability to tap into dormant inspiration and creativity and create things you never imagined.
So let’s review…
When we’re in flow we get outside of our heads and shut off the inner critic, we’re lost in the moment fully immersed and present, which makes activities effortless as the body becomes flooded with happiness chemicals and this perfect trifecta of ingredients leads to humans exceeding their potential in unimaginable ways!
A flow state is an enhanced state of performance where we’re operating at our highest level. Where we can do more with less friction. Where we can tap into the powers that lie dormant within.
An optimal state of existence where we perform at our best and feel amazing while doing it. A state that produces the happiest people on earth, and is consistent across spirituality to professional athletes to musicians and creatives. A state of consciousness that pushes the boundaries of what we believe to be possible.
Want to dive more into the applied neuroscience of Flow State? Join my Free Course Foundations of Flow. In it I teach you all of the methods to get into flow on command.
Also published on Medium.