What is Flow State and how to achieve it
Time flies when you enjoy what you do. You lost track of time and nothing else mattered in this world, just you and the task in hand. You were in the Flow State of mind, in your zen, meditation or whatever you call it.
I am a great enthusiast of C Wilson Meloncelli’s Flow coaching and his career as an ex British Champion in MMA has shown a great example how to get into Flow and stay there. Looking deeper and getting into the practice of his approach of Flow I have observed various points of importance, and so I will be exploring them in my article.
Time flies when you have a good time doing what you love the most in life.
When we watch sports athletes and the way they execute at every performance. One wonders how they concentrate so well and what goes through their minds during the peak moments, which makes them champions. Not only is Flow State used by athletes but also by artists, cooks, writers, monks and practically anyone who enjoys what they do so much that they do it so effortlessly without a sense of time.
There’s no magical potion or spell to get into a Flow State, it is a process created by a certain skill set, determination, willpower and execution. Yes, there is a secret process behind it, how to trigger it and stay in this state of mind.
You might think that all you need to do is relax on the beach and you will be in a Flow as soon as you get that pina colada and chill. Well, my dear friends, that is not at all how it works. Your brain is happiest when you achieve the unachievable, which means by working hard, by overcoming your limits either physical or mental. When you voluntarily do something to achieve a higher goal set for yourself. When you have achieved that impossible task, that’s when you are the most satisfied in life, whatever that may be, athletes make a great example of Flow.
If you think back on your life, you will remember how happy you were when focussed on your task in hand, no distractions, only the goal and going with it. Unfortunately, that is not what happens in most cases, often we are distracted by other stuff going on at that moment, including our mind being the worst distracter. Lack of concentration, willpower, focus and procrastination are the reasons why you are not satisfied with your life. Don’t despair, I have a solution for you and it is a well established one.
“Experiencing flow makes activities intrinsically rewarding, which enables the development of skills related to activity by encouraging increased commitment. Moreover, the balance between skills and challenges required for experiencing flow provides an optimal level of challenge that develops existing skills” –frontiersin.org
Getting in the Flow
Begin by decluttering your space, put the phone away or at least silence it. Organise your workplace and get into a mentally calm state of mind. This is the moment when you begin to exercise your willpower, for some people, it’s weaker than others but I promise you that if you exercise it often enough it will grow like a muscle, goal setting and achieving in future will become an easier task. This is when controlled breathing and meditation comes in handy because it takes time to get in the Flow zone.
You should always try to get into a Flow State when you are feeling energized and mentally active rather than feeling sluggish, tired and unmotivated because that will never work out. It is important to put the body in a calm mode so that you won’t have to focus on your physical but rather actively engage the brainpower with the process. Many people find the best time to do it is mornings, then you are more likely to be refreshed after a night’s sleep.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems have to be in balance to function at our best. The body sends energy back to your muscles and leaves your prefrontal cortex hungry. Consequently, you switch to an autopilot mode in which you can not think rationally. Therefore stress is inherently incompatible with self-control and willpower. To be mentally clear, we need to ensure that the autonomic nervous system does not have any imbalances.
Heart Rate Variability is a biochemical indicator for willpower and self-control. Low HRV is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and depression. It is necessary to recognise and eliminate these disruptors. Below are a few issues that raise the HRV:
Troubled sleep, constant tiredness
Unhealthy food choices
Smoking and Alcohol Consumption.
Sleep deprivation can induce depression, which may contribute to unhealthful habits such as smoking and binge eating. The further depressed you are, the more likely you are to indulge in unhealthful activities.
Here is a fast way to increase the strength of your willpower anytime you need to avoid temptation or work hard without getting interrupted. Just slow down the breathing rate and be mindful of any breath for 2-3 minutes. If you do so, you’ll consider it a lot easier to suppress the urges and remain focused. Such an exercise will help you to get closer to the state of Flow if practised consistently.
Exercise is a miracle medicine for our bodies as well as our spirit.
Feeling mentally inactive is an unhealthy state. Our sedentary and fast food lifestyle has done considerable harm to our heart’s health. We must reverse the harm, and exercising is the secret to maintaining our wellbeing. It is a good idea to put on your running shoes and go for a run, jog, go on long walks, swim or any of your favourite activities..
It is a good idea to listen to your favourite kind of music while you do physical activities, it will help you to get in the Zone and stay there for longer periods, it is also helpful when you are working on a particular project and need to focus. Music should be calming for the mind, something that helps you to concentrate depending on your task in hand.
Theta brain waves, why are they so important
Daily, we experience a beta brain wave, that is when we are in our usual waking state and acting with reason and logic. Our Prefrontal Cortex, specifically the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, is of great significance in our usual Beta state. This is the part of the brain that allows us to examine and challenge our actions, which can be very helpful in many situations. To enter a Flow State you will have to disconnect the reasoning mind and connect to Transient Hypofrontality or in other words temporarily slowing down the frontal part of the brain which keeps you in beta state.
When a person enters this type of brain wave it’s also called Theta wave.
Theta Brain Waves are most often observed in sleep or during deep meditation. This means that the reasoning mind and brain has entered a deep relaxation state. This is when the unconscious mind gets into active work and a person can gain a deep insight, inspiration, vivid images appear out of nowhere and you gain a deep sense of being connected to your self-power.
- Too much Theta Waves result to: ADHD, depression, hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattentiveness
- Too little Theta Waves result to: Anxiety, poor emotional awareness, stress
- Optimal Theta Waves result to: Flow State, Creativity, emotional connection, intuition, relaxation
- Theta Waves can be increased through: Depressants
Meditation has a beneficial influence on our Heart Rate Variability
According to a report meditation is highly helpful in coping with depression and anxiety. Yale University School of Medicine researchers revealed that smokers who engage in mindfulness meditation exercises have reported changes in their HRV and have ended up smoking fewer cigarettes. The parasympathetic system also referred to as the rest-and-digest system, speeds down the heart rate and places the body and mind in a balanced state.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written a book about the Flow State method, and the model he described can be seen in the image
A flow state can only be obtained if the task is stimulating enough to keep your brain engaged, but at the same time, you are competent enough to handle the challenge without it being too difficult. Make sure you know your goals, there is no point getting into a Flow if you have no clear goals where you want to get. This is why athletes know exactly where they need to be, they have their stepping stones to reach their goals, and so is anything else in life.
Csikszentmihályi ‘s books propose that improving the time spent in the flow makes our lives happier and more successful. Flow interactions are expected to lead to positive outcomes as well as improved results. For example, in teenagers, delinquent behaviour decreased after two years of increased flow through action.
Individuals who have felt the flow identified the following feelings:
- Goal setting – They must be clear and the person must see a path to achieving them by overcoming their physical, mental or technical challenges.
- No special goals or rewards – the participant performs simply because of the activity itself, without seeking any other incentive.
- Completely engaged in the task-focused, concentrated and nothing else matters
- Timelessness – intensely concentrated on the moment, the time starts flying by the minute or the opposite happens and time slows down.
- Intrinsic motivation — whatever generates flow is its reward.
- Knowing that the activity is achievable – that our skills are adequate to the task, therefore not worrying about other possibilities such as failure.
- A sense of solitude – without worry for oneself, and a sensation of rising beyond the boundaries of the ego.
- Great inner insight – knows exactly what has to be done, and knows their capabilities and skills.
- A feeling of joy – a sensation of being above ordinary reality.