Flow state is almost always present when analysing high performance athletes or successful business people. You probably have experienced it yourself, most people refer to this state of mind as being ‘in the zone’ or ‘in the moment’. In this video you can hear martial artist Rickson Gracie describing flow state.
We used to think of ‘flow’ as if it were a binary, like a light switch, either you were in flow state or you were not. What we know today is that flow state is a four part cycle, you must move through each phase before you can move into the flow state itself.
Phase 1: Struggle
So even though flow might be the most desirable and pleasant state on earth, the cycle to achieve it starts with a very unpleasant state known as struggle. This is a difficult phase where you load yourself up with information and knowledge, loading and overloading the brain with information. For a writer this is planning a book, this is when you’re doing interviews. It’s when you’re diagramming or structuring things and as a general rule it is often quite unpleasant phase compared to the flow state.
Phase 2: Release
From struggle you want to move into the Release phase. In flow this literally means you should take your mind off the problem. So what happens in flow is that we trade our conscious processing (which is slow, energy inefficient and can only hold about four memories at once) for subconscious processing. This is extremely fast, very energy efficient and has pretty much endless room.
So to do that you must move from struggle, you have to stop thinking about whatever you were thinking about. There are many ways to take your mind off the problem:
-Gym / Working out
The only thing that you can’t do is watch TV to move through this phase. Television changes your brainwaves in a way that blocks flow.
Phase 3: Flow
Once you move from release, neaurobiologically there’s a global release of nitric oxide which is a gaseous signalling molecule that is found everywhere in the body. Simply explained, this flushes out all of the stress hormones and replaces them with ‘feel-good’, performance enhancing chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins which bring you to the flow state. Now you are in the flow state, the third phase of the cycle.
To read more about flow state, click this link to see all my articles about the topic. I also recommend this book by Steven Kotler, The Rise Of Superman!
Phase 4: Recovery
The fourth and last phase is recovery. This is a very crucial part of the cycle because you go from this amazing high of flow to a very deep low that will show up in recovery. A lot of it is that the ‘feel-good’ neurochemicals have flushed out of your system which requires various vitamins, minerals and sunlight to rebuild.
So the back end of the cycle is also very unpleasant some times. If you are truly interested in hacking flow you must learn how to struggle better and you must learn how you recover better. The better you get at doing this, the faster you will move through the next cycle and be in flow more often.
You must have emotional fortitude in order to go through the cycle efficiently. The reason why I mention this is because at first it’s quite devastating when you no longer feel like superman after the flow phase. If you get too stressed out about this you will start feeling low and you start producing cortisol. A little bit of this is fine but too much will block the accelerated learning that comes with flow. You will get the short time benefit of flow but you won’t have the long term benefit of accelerated learning.
The other thing is if you are bummed out and no longer in flow during the recovery phase, it’s very difficult to get up through the difficult fight of struggle that follows.
This article was written by Sam Lucas