The Best Sounds for Achieving Flow State (Hint: It Might Not Be Music)
We’ve covered the science of flow states in another post, and delivered some tips there on how to achieve this optimal condition for peak productivity (or creativity).
One of the steps we recommended in that piece included finding to perfect soundtrack to help focus your energy.
But as a company that prides itself on highest-quality audio, we felt this particular ingredient to flow merited its own complete post.
A lot of other advice out there rushes through this step, only suggesting classical or orchestral music of a certain type – that does work for most people.
But our customers aren’t “most people.”
They embrace a fuller spectrum of experience (and that’s why we love you).
Yes, Music Helps Promote Flow, But…
Music is effective at promoting flow for a few reasons:
- By immersing you in specified sound, it drowns out distractions and regulates mood
- By resonating with the brain in particular ways, it boosts concentration
- By getting you “high” on neurochemicals, it primes the brain to stay hyper-focused
Instrumental and classical soundtracks are often cited as great genres for fostering flow, because they are designed to support focus without demanding too much attention.
The lack of lyrics avoids triggering thoughts of memories that can distract from flow.
The structure of instrumental music also tends towards compositions that blend harmony, rhythm and melody in ways that settle the mind. And studies have shown dopamine increases in the brain when subjects listen to classical tracks.
So, yeah, these type of tracks definitely work, for clear reasons.
But brains also have a way of surprising us.
…Individualized Playlists Often Work Best
Different tasks may benefit from different types of music or sound, when it comes to promoting flow state.
If you’re working on a creative project, softer instrumental or ambient tracks might help you to dissolve into the sort of ethereal vapors that you need to pull from, to enter optimal flow.
An analytical task, linked to research and strategy, might be better matched to music with a steadier rhythm, for boosting concentration.
Crunch time? Or seeking to distract a telekinetic demon, while trespassing in his dark underverse?
Maybe then it’s time to bust out the Metallica.
And Then There’s Non-Music: Other Soundscapes for Achieving Flow
Flow is about quieting much of the mind. Music isn’t the only sound source with the power to do this effectively.
- Nature sounds: Ocean waves, waterfalls, rain and thunder, and forest ambiances can create a soothing environment for arriving at flow. (Go to the bathroom before putting on the waterfall sounds).
- Binaural beats: These are designed to promote relaxation and focus by subtly altering brainwave patterns. They can also make you sleepy, though. So pick the right kind of binaural track.
- Podcasts or audiobooks: For some, stories or conversations in the background can help induce a flow state. Gentler examples will probably work better here, such as 9 hrs of Proust.
- Video game soundtracks: This is a big one, although it’s kind of a cheat answer, since it’s still music. Let’s not worry about that. In a nutshell – video game soundtracks are specifically engineered to enhance the gaming experience, without distracting from gameplay. For obvious reasons, they can also work amazingly well for promoting flow. Here’s one to try.
- Ambient public noise: If you excel at working in a coffee shop, ambient noise might help you enter flow more easily. For a decaffeinated version, get jazzy in the rain on YouTube.
- Chanting: History and science show that chanting can be an excellent way to enter flow. Definitely try this at an IRL coffee shop. Enter flow and set trends. You’re that good!
In all seriousness, not all of these methods will work for everyone, but it's often helpful to have a longer list of options to choose from.
Your flow state preferences will be unique to you, and finding the right formula is as much about experimentation as anything else.
What works today might feel stale in a month. Explore various genres and sounds (when listening on your award-winning earbuds from Status 😉) to set you up for long-term flow state success.