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How to get into flow state with Steven Kotler

One of the world’s leading experts on human performance shares his insights to help you achieve flow (and happiness).

April 06, 2021
5 min read

Have you ever been so consumed by your work that, hours later, you realise time flew by? Maybe you’ve called a friend, had a good chat, and realised it’s suddenly 6 am and the sun has come up. If so, you’ve experienced the flow state. 

Everybody has experienced flow at some point in their lives—it’s a state of intense focus and concentration on a task, where everything else disappears. 

Steven Kotler is on a quest to help people reach their peak performance. He’s a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and the founder and executive director of the Flow Research Collective

What is flow?

Flow is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel and perform at our best.

Unfortunately, your inner dialogue tends to be extra loud when you’re in a state of deep concentration, so that’s when your brain calls for backup—transient hypofrontality. 

This process occurs in the prefrontal cortex. In layman’s terms, brain activity decreases in the frontal region of the brain, and quiets down the defeatist voice that lives in your head, allowing you to excel both mentally and physically. 

What are flow triggers?

Flow states have triggers that lead to more flow. Flow follows focus—it only shows up when all of your attention is directed at the task at hand.

That’s what triggers do, they drive attention to the present moment by triggering the release of feel-good, performance-enhancing chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Triggers are your toolkit. Use them, and they’ll release these chemicals in your system, trick your brain into getting excited, and make you able to pay more attention to your work.

Wondering whether you could be doing more for your brain health? Take our free online brain health assessment!

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Flow triggers

Pioneer of the concept Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identified four triggers to help generate more flow. 

  • Complete concentration in the present moment 

  • Immediate feedback 

  • Clear goals 

  • The challenge-skills ratio (this is when the challenge you’re facing pushes your skills to the maximum). 

North Carolina psychologist Keith Sawyer added to this list when he identified triggers that create group flow. 

  • Shared goals 

  • Close listening 

  • Yes, and (conversations are constructive, and not aggressive)

  • Complete concentration 

  • A sense of control (all members of the group get to contribute)

  • Blending egos (being a team player instead of an independent worker)

  • Equal participation 

  • Familiarity (know your team members, but not too much that you stop challenging each other)

  • Constant communication 

  • Shared group risk

Additionally, high-performing individuals like athletes and artists discovered four more.

  • High consequences (some kind of physical, social, or financial risk – something has to be on the line)

  • Deep embodiment (action and awareness merge, this is learning through doing) 

  • Rich environment 

  • Creativity 

How to access flow 

There are foundational peak performance basics to master before you can access flow. Before you start, both the body and mind need to be prepared. What does this look like?

The physical basics 

  • Hydrate  

  • Eat well balanced, healthy meals

  • Sleep for 7-8 hours a night

  • Have a solid social support network. Every time your brain faces a challenge, it does a threat assessment. If it senses loneliness, it shuts down by producing the stress hormone cortisol. The brain loves love—being surrounded by family and friends will cause it to see a challenge as something to rise towards. 

The mental basics

  • Too much anxiety will block flow

  • Lower your anxiety levels by practicing daily gratitude, mindfulness practices, breathwork meditation, or doing 20-40 minutes of exercise. Do one a day to keep your nervous system in check. 

THC and flow 

THC is a tool that can negatively impact your performance by putting you in a relaxed state, but can help if you learn to work with it. Unless you warm up both your mind and body, marijuana is going to end up blocking flow. 

Remember transient hypofrontality? It’s the deactivation of large swathes of the prefrontal cortex. You can induce this process through exercise. This will tire the brain out, and quiet down negative self-talk going on up there.

Don't forget—use sativa instead of indica. Sativa has the feel-good, performance-enhancing chemical dopamine, whereas indica gives you more of a body high and tends to knock you out.

How to work with your bud

  • For the first 2 weeks start with taking a quarter hit, and work for 40 minutes. Repeat once more. 

  • Once you've adjusted, begin taking half a hit, and work for 40 minutes. Repeat once more.

  • This way you can build your tolerance and be productive while high. 

You can use the code "clubhouse10" for 10% off to give your brain the love it deserves.

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