All About Flow States — and How to Achieve One
Have you ever found yourself so completely immersed in an activity that you lose track of time, and the world around you?
Remember that game when Kobe (RIP) dropped 81 points on the Raptors? He couldn’t miss.
He was in a mental (and physical) zone, where he could do no wrong, at the peak of his prowess and in pursuit of his goals.
Or watch these two Tetris champions go after the 2018 World Title. They hardly even blink!
In case you haven’t heard (but you probably have), this frame of mind is called a flow state, and it's a powerful tool to harness when you want to perform at your peak.
But What Exactly Happens In A Flow State?
Coined by pioneering psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a flow state refers to the optimal state of consciousness where we feel and perform at our best.
Flow states are often modeled through examples from athletic and mental competition, but the science applies to any situation where we are fully absorbed in an activity.
In a flow state, your brain releases several neurochemicals:
The Chemical Formula for Flow
|Brain Chemical||Function in Flow||Associated with|
|Dopamine||Motivation||Reward, motivation, pleasure, mood regulation, cognitive function.|
|Norepinephrine||Alertness||Attention, alertness, focus, stress response, energy boost.|
|Serotonin||Mood Regulation||Mood, appetite, sleep, memory, learning, social behavior|
|Endorphins||Relief||Natural pain relief, euphoria, stress reduction, emotional bonds.|
These chemicals contribute to heightened focus, motivation, and happiness. Additionally, your brain's prefrontal cortex, responsible for self-consciousness and self-doubt, becomes less active when you’re in flow, promoting further immersion into the task at hand.
Taken together, these chemical and situational conditions are what draw us into flow, priming us to focus deeply and accomplish amazing things.
How To Set Yourself Up for Flow
There’s no quick fix for entering a flow state. They can occur naturally, which can feel incredible, but you probably didn’t come here for the advice to “wait around” for flow.
Kobe? Obsessed with practice. Those Tetris guys? They probably didn’t rely on natural skill (or blinking) to get that good at the game.
And, in both examples, there were rules in place that helped corral human attention into a smaller subset of specific tasks (ball in hoop, line up blocks).
To pursue a flow state, consider taking the following steps to position yourself for success:
- Eliminate distractions: Clear your workspace, turn off notifications, and minimize interruptions. If flow is your destination, back away from everything that is anti-flow.
- Set clear goals: Define an objective and break it into smaller, manageable tasks. Flow states tend to show up when you aim at a precision task.
- Prioritize tasks: Focusing on your most important or dependent tasks first can help promote flow.
- Practice mindfulness: Being present, engaged, and less prone to distraction helps to achieve flow states.
- Know thyself, and thy rhythms: Understand when you’re most likely to get into a flow state, based on the time of day, your own natural rhythms, and other individualized factors.
- Find the perfect soundtrack: We’ve got a whole other post dedicated to this, but the first step to flow for many people is to throw in the earbuds and queue up the right music (or non-music).
You didn’t expect us to write a whole post about flow, without mentioning the power of immersive audio to promote it – did you?
Audio and Flow State Are Often Closely Linked
“I live my daydreams in music.”
—Einstein (OG Flow Stater)
Music and audio have been shown to have a profound impact on our ability to achieve a flow state. The right sounds can help drown out distractions, regulate mood, and create that immersive environment that is most conducive to deep focus.
Research has shown that music with a steady beat, ambient sounds, or even white noise can boost concentration and productivity. Earbuds or headphones are often the first tool aspirant flow-staters reach for when they need to concentrate. Storytelling legend Stephen King has said in the past that he blasts Metallica when writing (sometimes for up to six hours in a row).
“For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction. If you continue to write, you will begin to filter out these distractions naturally, but at the start it’s best to try and take care of them before you write. I work to loud music—hard-rock stuff like AC/DC, Guns ’n Roses, and Metallica have always been particular favorites—but for me the music is just another way of shutting the door.”
—Stephen King, On Writing
If it worked for luminaries like King and Einstein, maybe it’s worth us trying, too.
Now, Go and Flow Like Kobe, King, and Einstein
If you're finding it difficult to concentrate, try some or all of the methods discussed here today.
Flow states are about feeding your mind and body what they need to align completely with your present purpose.
Maybe that’s easier said than done. We’ve tried to help with our advanced noise cancellation technology.
Explore different sounds, genres, and audio experiences. Create the perfect personalized environment that enhances your focus and productivity.
Most importantly, find a way to key in on the enjoyment lurking within any key task you plan to undertake.
That’s our take on it.
Now go forth and find that flow ✌️.