Ever wondered what it would be like to become like Bradley Cooper in the movie Limitless? Imagine a world where you could consistently enjoy unbelievably high levels of personal well being and life satisfaction. Imagine being able to consistently deliver at your peak mental and physical performance. A world where you could sharpen your senses, increase your productivity by up to 500%, develop razor-sharp focus, memory and concentration, and where creative ideas flow seamlessly from one to the next.
This state of ultimate human performance is called the state of flow. Flow is real but a common misconception exists that it is reserved only for athletes, musicians, writers, and artists. The fact is most of us have experienced flow to some degree or another through the course of our lives but very few of us understand how to enter a state of flow and unleash our potential for peak performance consistently.
In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time. – Wikipedia
Flow is commonly found among adventure sport athletes like surfers, base jumpers and rock climbers. During flow, they become fully engaged and in complete harmony with their surroundings. They are powered by a force that comes from deep within and surrenders to intuition. Time seems to slow down and fear disappears. Athletes, comedians and jazz musicians refer to it as ‘being in the zone’. Buddhists refer to it as ‘mindfulness’.
Research indicates that people who enjoy the highest levels of personal well being and life satisfaction are the people with the most flow in their lives. Research has further shown that top executives are 5 times more productive when in a state of flow than when out of the flow. That means they are 500% more productive than those around them while in a state of flow!
Imagine the possibilities for your life if you could consistently create this kind of flow!
The Neuro Anatomy of Flow
Scientists refer to the state of flow as Transient Hypo frontality. During this state, the thinking part of our brain, called the prefrontal cortex slows down temporarily. This allows other parts and functions of our brain to become more dominant.
- Transient means temporarily
- Hypo (opposite of Hyper) means to slow down
- Frontality refers to an activity in the area of our brain called the prefrontal cortex
The prefrontal cortex is an extremely powerful part of our brain which handles complex logical decision making, the inner dialogue (or inner voice) in our mind, as well as our sense of self and ego. When we are in flow, this part of our brain shuts down temporarily to allow an exchange of non-essential energy. When this happens, our perception of time which is derived from the prefrontal cortex also changes. We are no longer able to separate past from future or present and we enter a state called the ‘deep now’.
By entering the deep now, we can dramatically improve our mental and physical performance. This is because most of our fears and anxieties are not located in the present time. They are usually associated with things that happened in our past which we want to avoid from happening again, or things that may happen in our future which we would like to steer around.
When we enter the deep now, anxiety disappears, and our stress hormones begin to flow out of our system. Our nervous system, as well as our sense of self, resets at this point. Self is a network and collection of systems that are all linked together. When parts of the network start to shut down, the overall network collapses. As a result, our sense of self and identification with the mind disappears. The inner voice that criticizes us and holds us back from taking action disappears. We become present on the task at hand and experience this as a liberating feeling of freedom.
This, in turn, results in increased levels of risk-taking and creativity because we are no longer bound by our fears and self-limiting beliefs.
The four mind states
Besides flow, there are three other mental states, namely negative spiral, current reality trap, and stress & anxiety.
- Negative Spiral State is
This is possibly the worst state to be in! It is a miserable state fueling negativity where people are unhappy in the now and do not have a clear vision of their future. This state is characterized by very low points in life and if left unchecked it can lead to depression or ultimately result in suicide.
- Current Reality Trap State
This is where most people are at. This is also referred to as living in a comfort zone. These are people who are happy with their life as it is now but lack clarity or any great vision or plans for the future. Operating on ‘autopilot’ and simply going through the motions means there is nothing to look forward to and no real purpose or meaning to life.
- Stress and Anxiety State
People in this state have a clear vision for the future, big drive, and ambition but they’re not happy or fulfilled in the now. This is typically an area where beginner entrepreneurs struggle to get out of. They become so focused on their big dreams and vision for the future that they struggle to remain present in the now. People in this state do not appreciate the journey, they are only fixated on the destination. They aren’t’ able to appreciate the little moments in life and often become disconnected from those around them.
- State of Flow
This is where the magic happens! In the flow state, you are pulled forward by big goals and a clear vision for the future, yet happy with where you are now. You consistently enjoy unbelievably high levels of personnel wellbeing and life satisfaction. Every decision, every thought and every creative idea you have flows seamlessly and effortlessly from the last. This is the ultimate state of human mental and physical performance.
At any given point in your life, you will generally find yourself vacillating between any of the first three states. None of these states are optimal but most of us stay stuck here and don’t ever manage to enter the flow state.
In my next post, I’ll discuss 7 ways to create flow in your life…