Flow State: What It Means and 5 Ways You Can Use It to Improve Your Life
Originally published on Dope Yogi https://dopeyogi.com/flow-psychology-yoga/
The brilliant psychologist, Mihlay Csikzentmihalyi, coined the term “flow” in the 1960’s. He describes it as a state where "people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at a great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it."
Flow is a heightened state of consciousness that silences our inner critic, accelerates the path to mastery, and cultivates immense joy. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to genesis is no longer relevant, because with flow, you can get there in half the time.
Flow is that runner’s high that kicks in after 15 minutes of pounding pavement. It’s surfing down the translucent tube of a Big Kahuna wave. It’s matching breath with movement in yoga class. It’s losing yourself in conversation where 3 hours pass like 30 minutes? That’s flow.
It’s Focused mind. Time warp. Graceful action. Richness.
Flow, Neurochemicals, & Battling Disease
Flow recalibrate the body. Not only does it skyrocket the most addictive and healthy cocktail of neurochemicals, it also detoxes all stress hormones from the body. This creates space for deep healing.
Steven Kotler, of Flow Genome Project says, flow appears “between the midpoint of boredom and anxiety.” Like Steven Kotler, I also battled Lyme disease, which is an autoimmune disease where mind, body, and soul are out of flow. One reason many Lyme warriors never fully recover stems from ignoring the emotional root and neurological components.
Kotler claims flow helped him recover completely. When I began making time for flow in my life I also saw my health improve dramatically.
In his book, Stealing Fire , Kotler talks about the four cornerstones of flow inknown as (STER).
So, how do you find this elusive state?
If you want to build flow in your life, pick an activity that contains three imperative components: a goal, immediate feedback, and a challenge.
For instance, to find flow in your favorite yoga class:
Set a goal – i want to jump back from crow.
Receive immediate feedback – if you fall on your face, engage your core more
And a challenge – this pose will not be too easy or too difficult
Here Are 5 Tips To Harness Flow
1. Create a Distraction Free Zone at a Peak Time
Turn off your email and phone notifications. Set a timer for at least an hour. Create a rich environment. Perhaps somewhere with natural light, color, and quiet. Plan this activity at a peak time, ie: what time of day are you most productive?
We’ll use writing as an example. To hack flow through writing, write at your most productive part of your day. For me, the first five waking hours are my most creative and focused. If I am writing on my computer, only Word is up. One task at a time!
2. Mini Meditation or Breath work
Do at least 5 minutes of meditation or breath work before your flow activity. Although meditation and breathwork are not flow states, they are the foundation for all flow states. In order to flow, you must meditate.
3. Stay Present
This is why meditation is imperative to hack flow – it teaches us to stay in the present moment. When your mind begins to wonder, gently escort it back to the present moment. Once you find flow, you won’t need to do this, because you will be so absorbed in your activity nothing else will matter.
Steven Kotler says, “Flow follows focus. The state can only show up when all our attention is focused in the right here, right now.”
If you run, you have experienced excruciating resistance, fatigue, and/or burning muscles in the first 15 – 20 minutes. If you’re able to stay present through these sensations, continue running, and push through, suddenly your energy skyrockets.
An element of risk must be present in order to hack flow. Whatever you are doing cannot be too easy. Extreme sports athletes are excellent risk takers.
Every time a surfer rides a wave, wipeout is a possibility. Every time a snowboarder makes a massive jump, broken bones are a possibility. Creative work involves risk too. Every time you create something, you run the risk of disconnect with the audience and/or being vulnerable.
Add risk to your flow activity. Challenge yourself.
5. Flow More
The more you allot time for flow, the easier you will find flow. This is why companies like Patagonia allow their employees to surf during the workday. Their managers understand that the biggest ROI is getting their employees to flow at work. When employees practice flow outside of work, they gracefully return to flow at work.
And flow fosters immense happiness, creativity, and productivity. What manager doesn’t want that for their employees?
Recovery is imperative component of flow that is rarely mentioned.
You cannot stay in flow all day, or even every day. Take time to rejuvenate. After peak experiences take notes and journal on insights you gained. Next time you will go deeper.
Whether you are physically tired, mentally drained, or coming down from a mystical flow experience, schedule time for extra sleep, meditation, or nothingness. These time outs are just as imperative as flow or a business deal itself.
As a recovering overachiever, I’ve had to learn this the hard way. After years of over working, exercising, drinking, cleaning, and everything in between, a slew of illnesses sucker punched me like Muhammad Ali’s bee stings. If I had listened to my body’s clues, I wouldn’t have veered far away from flow. And perhaps wouldn’t be writing this article.
CEOs or inventors are never working when they solve a huge problem or invent a new technological device. They are showering, running at sunrise, or gazing out an airplane window. So as eager as you may be to find flow, it’s imperative to step back, change the scenery, and surrender to the moment. Rest.
Lao Tzu says, “Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.”
Whether you need more happiness, creativity, productivity, or healing in your life, flow can get you there.
During the crux of my Lyme induced chronic insomnia, I returned to yoga and writing. At night my thoughts spun round and round, like an endless carnival carousel. When I began practicing yoga and journaling everyday, it created space in my mind, body, and spirit. I experienced bliss again. I let go of my obsession of healing myself, and in this newfound space, serious healing began.
My monkey mind went silent. Hours passed in what seemed like minutes. Action poured out of me with grace and ease. And the ordinary became extraordinary.