What if I told you there was a single strategy that could increase your productivity by a whopping 500%, help you reach a level of peak performance, and give you a feeling of accomplishment, meaningfulness, and positivity, while simultaneously benefiting your overall health and well-being? Sounds almost too good to be true right?
Well, it’s true – and it’s absolutely attainable by each and every one of us. So what is this productivity-boosting, mood-lifting, and health-enhancing strategy? It’s tapping into a distinct state of mind known as flow state.
In this blog post, we’re going to explore exactly what flow state is, what happens to your brain and body when you find your flow, and how you can best harness the power of this incredible state of mind. Let’s dive in.
What Is Meant By “Flow” State?
Have you ever been completely immersed in something? Where you’re deeply focused and completely absorbed – to the point where you lose track of time and feel “in the zone”? That is what flow state is.
Flow state is a distinct mental state in which you experience a sort of fluidity between your mind and body – allowing you to be entirely present in the moment and laser-focused on what you’re doing. Technically there are a handful of distinct components associated with tapping into this magical state of flow. These components are:1
- The activity sits in the sweet spot between boring and challenging – it’s not so mundane that you go into autopilot, but also not so challenging that you’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed.
- You have a feeling of being in control – the activity requires your fullest attention but you feel proficient and feel that whatever the end goal of the activity is, is fully attainable.
- You experience a sort of time distortion – becoming so engrossed in what you’re doing that your awareness of time passing seems to slip away.
- Any feelings of self-reflection or self-consciousness disappear – melting away any inhibitions or worries about day-to-day life.
- You experience an intense sense of clarity – receiving immediate feedback based on whatever you’re doing which allows you to stay fully present and make adjustments as needed.
- The activity feels both highly engaging and rewarding – giving you a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and motivation.
This intense focus, complete immersion, and sense of accomplishment can leave you feeling refreshed, energized, and motivated as you return to your normal state of consciousness. So what exactly is going on in your brain when you enter this state of flow?
What Happens in Your Brain When You Enter Flow State?
Flow state is not simply speculation or some woo-woo concept. There are distinct changes taking place within your brain and body as you enter the state of flow. Some of these identifiable changes include:2,3,4
- A release of neurotransmitters: Neurotransmitters are the signaling molecules your brain cells use to communicate with each other and with the rest of your body. As you enter a flow state, there is an influx of specific neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, anandamide, and other feel-good endorphins.
- An alteration in your brain waves: Brain waves are the electrical impulses that your brain cells fire off to perform their duties – every thought you think, emotion you feel, and action you take is triggered by these tiny electrical impulses. When you enter flow state, your brain fluctuates between two distinct brain waves known as alpha waves and theta waves – allowing you to tap into an almost meditative state of blissful focus.
- A concentration of electrical activity in specific regions of your brain: Your brain is divided into two hemispheres typically referred to as your “left” brain and your “right” brain. The left hemisphere of your brain is associated with much more analytical aspects of brain activity like language, logic, and facts. While the right hemisphere of your brain is associated with the more creative aspects of brain activity like expression, imagination, and intuition. Flow state is associated with a significant increase in electrical activity in your right hemisphere – allowing you to take a break from the never-ending logical thoughts that filter through our minds all day and tap into your creativity and passion.
- A drop in heart rate and blood pressure: These changes in your brain neurotransmitters, brain waves, and electrical activity are inevitably reflected throughout the rest of your body. Flow state induces a state of relaxation and ease – allowing your body to enter into an active resting state while your heart rate slows and blood pressure drops.
This combination of effects is what makes flow state feel so darn good. But feeling good in the moment isn’t the only benefit of tapping into this heightened mental state.
So, What Are the Benefits of Flow State?
Some of the benefits of regularly “finding your flow” include:5,6
- Increased productivity: Research has found that when you’re in a flow state, your productivity can increase by a whopping 500%.
- Feelings of fulfillment and happiness: Regularly getting into flow state allows you to be fully present and enjoy what you are doing in the moment. This translates into an overall heightened sense of a whole host of positive emotions like happiness, fulfillment, and accomplishment.
- A renewed sense of creativity and purpose: Spending too much time “in our heads” constantly thinking about the future or past, analyzing the actions of ourselves and others, and worrying over our never-ending to-do lists is a recipe for burnout and unhappiness. Reconnecting with that spark of creativity and meaning that’s within all of us can help bring a new sense of purpose and playfulness to our lives.
- Skill development, learning, and mastery: Flow state requires an activity that’s just challenging enough to stretch you a little bit while still allowing you to feel like you’re completely in control. That means the more proficient you become, the more challenging an activity must become to continue entering flow state. This continual upping of the level of challenge promotes the learning and honing of skills.
- Enhanced neuroplasticity and better brain health: The continual expansion and challenging of your mind is one of the key factors in preserving and enhancing neuroplasticity – or the ability of your brain to adapt and form new neural networks. This ability to grow new neural pathways paired with the positive chemical and electrical shifts that take place in the brain during flow state equate to overall better brain health.
- Decreased inflammation, enhanced immune function, and better overall health: Your emotional state, your recurrent thoughts, and the feelings you experience on a regular basis can have a monumental impact on just about every facet of your health. You see, your mind and your body are one and the same – you simply can’t separate your emotional well-being from your physiological health. Finding a way to tap into the flow state on a regular basis will naturally help you feel happier, more confident, and more fulfilled. And these positive feelings naturally translate into better overall health in every aspect.
There’s no denying that flow state is powerful. But if finding your flow feels challenging or elusive, you’re probably wondering how you can possibly harness the power of this incredible state of mind.
How Do You Get Into A Flow State?
While just about all of us have experienced flow state at some point or another in our lives, for some, finding this engrossing state of presence can feel downright challenging. But not to worry, everyone is perfectly capable of finding their flow – it often just takes a little practice. So what can you do if you’re not quite sure how to start tapping into flow state?
Firstly, it’s important to know that there’s no right or wrong way to get into flow and it’ll look different for everyone. Just a handful of things you might consider experimenting with to help you find your flow include:
- Hiking, biking, or running
- Participating in a sport that challenges you, rock climbing, surfing, snow skiing, etc
- Reading or listening to music
- Creative writing
- Playing a game
- Coloring or drawing
- Riding a motorcycle or high speed go-carts if you prefer more than 2 wheels.
- Going horseback riding or playing with your pets
- Simply creating things you enjoy (this could be anything from origami to designing websites, to interior decorating)
The key is to find something you enjoy that also challenges you. That may mean revisiting things you loved from childhood, trying out a new hobby, or even tweaking how you participate in your current activities. With a little intention and practice, you can absolutely find your flow.
Ready to Find Your Flow?
Finding a state of flow has been an intensely powerful part of my path to healing over the years as well as a wildly important aspect of my ability to build a thriving career that I love. And I’m certainly not the only one that has been transformed by tapping into the power of flow. If you’re at all interested in how the flow state can help you take your health, happiness, and sense of purpose to the next level, you’ve got to check out the following:
- My Interview with Dr. Lara Salyer on FLOW States: We both dive into how important flow state has been in our lives and careers. And we talk about how simple it can actually be to find your flow, even if it’s something you’re not very practiced with (which is exactly what Lara and I experienced early on in our medical careers).
- My Interview with Author Steven Kotler on Using Peak Performance & Flow States: In this interview Steven and I discuss how we can use peak performance and flow states to hack our brains, health, and longevity to maintain optimal performance at any age.
- My upcoming book Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith: This book is one part personal memoir detailing my journey with devastating health conditions and one part practical handbook to help you create your own personal path to healing and balance. I’ve not only healed myself, but I’ve also had the honor of assisting countless patients along their journey of healing and restoring their health. And the longer I’m in the field of medicine the more and more I am reminded of the importance of addressing the mind and spirit right alongside the body.
If you’re wrestling with a chronic condition, are struggling with unexplained symptoms and searching for answers, or are simply looking to optimize your well-being, this book is for you. I poured my heart into this book with the hopes of empowering you with science-backed knowledge, inspiring you to continue fighting and overcoming, and ensuring you know there’s always hope and you are not alone – no matter how lonely and bleak things may seem.
Click here to pre-order your copy of Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith. And don’t forget to claim your exclusive bonuses for pre-ordering – you can learn more about my book and these incredible bonuses by clicking right here.
Has there ever been a time in your life when you’ve felt alone or unsure where to turn for answers?
In Unexpected: Finding Resilience through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith, Dr. Jill Carnahan shares her story of facing life-altering illness, fighting for her health, and overcoming sickness using both science and faith so that others can learn to live their own transformative stories.
Dr. Jill’s riveting and compassionate exploration of healing through functional medicine demonstrates how to replace darkness and fear with hope and find profound healing, unconditional love, and unexpected miracles in the process.
- A Review on the Role of the Neuroscience of Flow States in the Modern World (nih.gov)
- #114: Dr. Jill Interviews Dr. Lara Salyer on FLOW states (jillcarnahan.com)
- Frontiers | The Neuroscience of the Flow State: Involvement of the Locus Coeruleus Norepinephrine System (frontiersin.org)
- Frontiers | EEG Correlates of the Flow State: A Combination of Increased Frontal Theta and Moderate Frontocentral Alpha Rhythm in the Mental Arithmetic Task (frontiersin.org)
- A Review on the Role of the Neuroscience of Flow States in the Modern World (nih.gov)
- Why Does Experiencing ‘Flow’ Feel So Good? | UC Davis
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.