Flow States and How To Harness Them
A flow state is where we access creativity, deep insights, and ingenious solutions to problems logic can’t solve. Modern positive psychology also tells us that time in flow is the foundation of genuine happiness and well being. In deeper states of flow we discover a profound sense of oneness and connection between one another, with nature, and sometimes to the mystical or divine. Time in flow deepens our sense of meaning, of purpose, and of genuine spiritual connection. Whether we want to feel better, succeed personally, connect with a higher power, create a better world, or just figure out what to do next, flow is where we find the answers.
Flow is conventionally thought of as rare and elusive state, but it’s really our natural state of being. We naturally seek out flow inducing activities when we need to reset, rejuvenate, or heal. We spend our childhoods in flow, and easily slip into a flow state whenever we are fully absorbed in doing something we love. Do what you love and you will find flow. When you can’t do what you love, love what you’re doing. The right mindset and focus is all we really need to instantly and effortlessly slip into a flow state. Learning to flow is more about remembering than learning, and we can all harness the power of flow simply by reclaiming a childlike spirit of enthusiasm, curiosity and playfulness. To fully harness the power of flow though, we need plenty of practice and a thorough understanding of the strange and wonderful world flow states carries us into.
What's it like to be in a flow state?
In a light flow state ordinary thinking slows. We lose track of time and space. We feel alive and elated. In deep flow, worry, hunger, and pain disappear into the blissful peace of a timeless moment. The world and our very thoughts pass by in vibrant slow motion. Feeling as if we have an eternity to process, plan and react, perfection comes with ease, yet hours flash by in the blink of an eye. We perceive ourselves like an objective witness, noticing every relevant nuance in the situation at hand while blocking everything else out. Miraculously wise insights accompanied by wildly creative solutions spontaneously arise in our minds and automatically guide our actions. This is where we connect with our intuition.
In flow, our experience of the world becomes dreamlike; a lucid waking dream. Our actions unfold with grace and ease, as if we are being gently carried by a benevolent and vastly intelligent outside force. We simply flow with the gentle inspiration that overwhelms us and makes us feel vibrantly alive, without worrying, analyzing, or trying. We don’t control anything but it feels like we are in control of everything. The past, present and future meld into a unified moment, and it feels like we know what is going to happen before it happens. Indeed, in flow we can uncannily shape and predict the near-future.
In a flow state our frontal brains deregulate and we engage the resources of our whole brain. We fluidly cycle between alpha and theta states of awareness. We engage the right brain state at the right time to instantly perceive and process exponentially more information than we can logically think through in an ordinary beta brain wave state of awareness. Alpha is a light meditative state, so in a sense, a flow state is meditation in motion. Theta brainwaves are seen in advanced meditators, in elite athletes in action, in chess masters mid-game, as well as in psychics, mediums and shaman at work.
Theta states, or bursts of theta activity enable us to access the power of the subconscious mind, but in a flow state we become conscious of the so-called subconscious. Theta is an elusive state of awareness, but one that all of us have experienced and can all learn to access. In all likelihood you’ve experienced a theta state while you’ve been enjoying a hot shower, automatically scrubbing away while you allow your mind to float off and discover brilliant ideas and insights. You’ve also likely experienced a theta state if you’ve ever found yourself in what many people call a twilight state – in between waking, dreaming and sleeping.
How To Induce A Flow State
Get into the zone with Focus, concentration and mindset
Athletes call a flow state “the zone”. Musicians know it as “the pocket” or “the groove”, while actors know flow as “truth”. In Taoism flow is “wu wei” – a state of effortless action in perfect harmony with nature. On the spiritual side, words like “enraptured” and “ecstatic apply”. Many of us simply understand flow as a state of inspiration; the word inspiration coming from the Greek entheos meaning “God within” or “ possessed by God”. In truth, much of humanity over most of human history has been questing for flow states and methods of inducing flow to make it part of our everyday lives. Even the hero’s journey, the archetypal story around which all stories unfold, is a tale of flow; a tale of journeying into the underworld of our own minds, finding a supernatural aid, and returning transformed with treasures to share.
The variety of methods humanity has discovered to induce flow states is both impressive and confusing. The diversity of rituals and practices athletes, writers, and artists employ, from jumping and wriggling on the starting block, to wearing special items of clothing, to repeating a special prayer, to listening to a particular song. Frustratingly, what works for one person may not work for anyone else, and what works one day may not work the next or ever again. Flow is a very personal journey, and a fickle partner that needs to be romanced, cultivated, and sometimes snuck up on.
Historically, music, dance, prayer, chanting, ritual, fasting, sensory deprivation, isolation, extreme exertion, extended focus, heat exposure, and plant medicines have all proven to be highly effective methods of inducing flow like states, especially in guided group settings. Flow is contagious and participating in any coordinated group activity can often effectively induce flow. Flow is all about deep absorption, so losing yourself in beautiful environments or passion projects can induce flow. Engagement is key, so active participation in intrinsically rewarding activities that provide the right amount of immediate feedback and challenge are what easily induce a flow state. Too little challenge or feedback is boring, while too much is frustrating. To stay engaged, focus on the process, not the outcome. Lastly, risk is a highly potent flow inducer, both physical and emotional. Race, climb, jump, surf, ride, create, or simply say “I love you” without knowing what the outcome will be and you will find flow.
One of the biggest barriers to flow is overthinking, along with the fact that painful memories or difficult problems we can’t logically solve often come up for resolution when we slip into a flow state. Initially, flow can feel stressful and scary. Adrenaline and anxiety are often necessary precursors. The disappearance of our egos in a flow state can also feel very strange and scary initially but ultimately like a reset. Trust is key, along with knowing that by letting go of our egos, fears, and our thoughts about our problems for awhile, allows us access to a far wiser, more authentic, and far more capable part of ourselves.
Who benefits from flow states?
The happiest people on the planet are those who spend the most time in flow, regardless of their socio-economic circumstances, culture, nationality, or gender. Facilitating extraordinary increases in performance, productivity, creativity, insight, learning, and cooperation, flow is also the key to accomplishment and success in any endeavor. Remarkably, the most challenging or boring of tasks become effortless and enjoyable in a flow state, leaving us energized and fulfilled by life’s challenges rather than burned out and exhausted. No matter your circumstances, challenges, or goals, flow provides a range of valuable, bountiful, and profound benefits. Everyone benefits from flow.
The unifying feature of the spectrum of flow states, altered states, dreaming, hypnotic, psychedelic, and meditative states is transient hypofrontality. We quiet the part of our brains that is thought to give rise to logical thinking; to our sense of separateness and identity; to our cultural inhibitions, and to our sense of time. We stop processing small chunks of information in a slow, step by step, linear manner based on rules and past experiences. We begin simultaneously processing very large sets of information holographically. Our brains become holographic optimization engines. We can instantly, simultaneously, and holistically compare decades of experiences and thoughts to the present moment, a present problem, or a present intention.
Patterns, similarities, the ideal path forward, and one in a million solutions suddenly brighten in our minds. The world around us brightens, and we brighten throughout our entire being. We feel fully alive like we can accomplish anything. At the same time we are inevitably overwhelmed with a sense of oneness, and see the world from a higher perspective. Time in flow tends to make us more compassionate, more concerned with the well being of the planet, and tunes us into creative solutions that benefit everyone involved and nature as a whole.
Pursuing flow states can change the world, just as it can transform our lives. Organizations such as Google who have integrated flow into their business models and practices have created trillion-dollar industries in a few short decades, and have transformed the competitive landscape. Inefficient extractive win-lose economic models are failing spectacularly in the face of more nimble, highly cooperative, flow inspired open-source, moon-shot, and “don’t be evil” models. Flow is rapidly becoming a competitive necessity in the 21st century, but it is a kinder, wiser form of win-win-win competition. We win personally, everyone involved wins, and the planet as a whole wins as a result. Embracing the power of flow, our future is indeed very bright, no matter the challenges we face.
Focused based flow
integrating the power and magic of Flow into Everyday life
Angie’s focus based flow model answers the difficult question “How can I integrate the power of flow into my everyday life?”. Rather than just offering simple hacks or time consuming practices, Angie’s integrated coaching approach is designed to cultivate an awareness of the subtle aspects of our minds that are always present, but we are unaware of. An inside-out rather an outside-in approach, Angie focuses on teaching you to recognize and skillfully navigate your states of awareness, and is there to support you through the personal growth and transformation that inevitably comes with time spent in flow. Consisting of weekly phone calls, text support and a commitment on your part to spend a few minutes each day engaged in easy exercises, Angie’s focus based flow program transforms your everyday life into a playground for practicing, testing and playing with your flow state and intuitive abilities.