The Flow State Triggers: How to learn anything, achieve greatness and become the best version of yourself

Image from Phil Snyder

Image from Phil Snyder

 

The first time I saw Laird Hamilton. I knew this guy was a badass. He was jacked, tall, had blond hair, and was a big wave surfer. Hamilton had calm confidence about him that came through even while watching him on TV. For some reason I was really impressed by the guy.

He was like a mutant king from another planet. The things he was doing were so beyond anything I could ever dream of doing. He was achieving the impossible and with ease. His laser like focus, calm presence under chaos, and ability to slow down time were like nothing I had ever seen. It was like he was able to see the codes of the Matrix and knew what was coming before anyone else.

In other words, he had abilities that I would never have.

At the time, I was really interested in big wave surfing, which was really weird considering I’m an engineer living in the midwest. AKA there are no waves nearby. I did not know it at the time, but my subconscious mind was focusing in on something unknown to me. My subconscious mind, was making connections that would be revealed to me later.

If you don’t know who Laird Hamilton is, watch the video below. I was already impressed with his freakish ability and general manliness; Then I saw this…. and was completely blown away. 

NOTE: Fast forward to 2:00 if you are impatient.

 

 

Jesus H christ. How is that possible? How did he not die?

While everyone else around him is panicking and running for the hills, he stays calm and does something no one else has ever done. 

 

That is really cool… But how is that relevant to anything in my life?

On the surface there appears to be no connection between mutants like Laird and normal people like you and me. But trust me there is.

Connecting the dots

About a year ago, I was researching positive psychology and the art of happiness. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (me-HIGH chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee) work was some of the first research I saw regarding the positive psychology (not normal negative psychology)

Csikszentmihalyi had based a lot of his work around the concept of “Flow” or “Flow State”.  My understanding at the time, was that “Flow” was a way to generate constant happiness and nothing more. It seemed pretty cut and dry to me. Then I read Steven Kotler’s book The Rise of Superman and the connections started to become more clear.

 

The Mechanism of Action

Hamilton is in what is called a Peak Flow State when he is achieving the impossible. This is the reason why he can do the things he does. He is not cut from a different cloth.

 

If Laird Hamilton can get into a flow state, so can you….

 

Before we dive too deep into flow, let’s back up a minute and discuss what “it” is?

Have you ever seen a pretty girl and time literally stops? How about that time you were so deep into a project that you put your head down and were able to focus with laser like precision? Maybe you met someone special and got deeply involved in a conversation that lasted for hours yet felt like minutes? Insane performance in an athletic event?

Did it feel amazing and wouldn’t you give anything to feel that more frequently?

We all have had some experience like this. If you are reading this post, you probably want to know how to make it happen at will.

Flow?

Is the optimal state of consciousness a human can achieve. It is where we feel and perform at our best. Your brain filters out everything that is not necessary and focuses only on what is important at the time.

Flow has been the target of high performing athletes, CEO’s, entrepreneurs, professionals, artists and writers. It allows you to expand the possibilities of human performance and consciousness. This is one of the reasons we have seen such a dramatic increase in athletic performance over the last 20 years. The things that were impossible, no longer are. The boundaries that exist vanish and new possibilities emerge.

A peak flow state makes you feel like Superman, Neo from the Matrix or Jennifer Anniston (if you are a woman).

Flow State Symptoms

  • Time Dilation
  • Feeling in the Zone or on Fire
  • Laser focus
  • Insane Alertness
  • Everything happens effortlessly
  • Near perfect decision making
  • Sense of self decreases
  • Out of body experience

5 States of Flow:

NOTE: Most people rarely enter a flow state because they refuse to push themselves out of a comfortable situation. You must understand that this is your Ego getting in the way trying to preserve your self image and that the resistance you are feeling is not real. If you want to have an optimal human experience you are going to have to get out of your comfort zone. There is no exception.

  1. The Struggle phase. It is called struggle for a reason, it does not feel good. Most people never push themselves through this phase because they are unwilling to challenge their self image. Think of a friend who will never get in the pool because every time they put their pinky toe in the water, they freak out. Stop being a baby back bitch and get your ass in the water.
  2. The Release phase. The struggle subsides and we enter a gray area, where we are teetering on the cusp of a Flow state. This phase provides your brain space to shift from conscious to subconscious processing. This release triggers a flow state. Let’s go back to the cold pool example from above. This would be where the water is no longer cold and not quit warm yet. You know that if you stay in a few minutes longer it won’t be so bad. 
  3. Flow State. Depending on what you are doing, you can be in a low grade flow state or a peak flow state (see number 4). A low grade flow state would be something like a video game or creative writing session, where you have intense focus.
  4. Peak Flow State. A peak flow state could happen during an event, like surfing a 100ft wave or giving a 1 hour speech to an audience of 500 people. In a peak flow state, you are the man (or woman), in the zone, on fire, can do anything and are insanely productive.
  5. Brain Rewiring and Memory Consolidation Phase. This is the crash following the flow state, where your mind and body are rewiring to a higher processing speed. You see the new possibilities and remember every excruciating detail. Have you ever had a epic game or an amazing night out where you were on top of the world? Did you have trouble sleeping that night? Think of it like you are installing the new operating system on your computer. You have to have some down time before you can operate at the higher level. High quality sleep and Meditation are important here.

The Updated More BadAss Flow State Chart

Flow States Infographic Ben Austin

What happens to your brain while in a flow state?

Your brain releases a series of neurochemicals that allow you to focus with laser like precision. Once you experience a peak flow state, It is probably the most addictive experience in the history of the world (Even more so than drugs, caffeine, nicotine etc.).

In Flow your brain releases a chemical cocktail of :

  • Norepinephrine-It is the hormone and neurotransmitter most responsible for concentration.
  • Dopamine – A neurotransmitter responsible for cognitive alertness.
  • Endorphin– Activates the opioid receptor. AKA it makes you feel really good.
  • Anandamide-The name is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss, delight“. You can guess how this makes you feel.

The neuro-chemicals, are released in a way that would stun even your local pharmacist (or drug dealer). In fact, if we were to try and duplicate this cocktail in a lab and administer it to someone, it would probably kill them. Yet for some unknown reason our brains can release these chemicals given the right circumstances.

 

All Flow Neuro Chemicals are Social bonding and Romanic chemicals:

These nuero chemicals are foundational for human interaction and experience. Think of the time when you had a really cool or novel experience with your best friend and how that bonded you.

For example, I went hiking with two of my best friends in the rocky mountains. It was a peak experience for me and there were moments of the trip that felt like they lasted for years. The bond we created will last us a lifetime.

  • Romantic chemicals-Noreperpherine and dopamine. (think of that time you saw the pretty girl and time stopped)
  • Social bonding-Endorphin and anandomide.

 

How to tap into the power of FLOW and become superhuman?

This subject is a bit tricky and the application becomes even more difficult. Most of us are not professional surfers or artists. In fact most of us lead boring 9to5 lives and have to deal with the average daily grind.

 

Top 3 Elements to naturally Create flow:

  1. Focus. Any activity that requires lots of focus, will increase the chance of getting into a flow state. This can mean athletic, professional or artistic.
  2. Risk. The brain releases dopamine when we are at risk and out of our comfort zones.
  3. Rich Environment: Lots of novelty, complexity, beautiful scenery, lots of people, lights, contrast etc.

Get into PEAK FLOW: How to amplify flow state using Meditation and Nootropics:

NOTE: I have absolutely no evidence other than experience to back up these claims. What I talk about is based purely off of my own experience. I could write an entire post about this subject, but I will keep it simple.

I have never seen or heard of anyone researching this topic. It was a connection that I made and have been tinkering with for the past couple of months. I’m sure that I’m on to something but I do not have the capability to get some hardcore data.

What follows is my hypothesis for the actionable steps needed to increase the frequency, intensity and duration of flow in your life. If you want to kick more ass, learn anything, achieve greatness and expand your consciousness. keep reading.

Step 1: Start a Focused Meditation Practice

This is going to be different than most meditation practices. Many meditation practices are guided or allow your mind to wander. A Focused meditation session is the exact opposite.

Do the following Exercise every day for two weeks. You’ll see a dramatic improvement in your ability to focus. If you weight train you’ll notice yourself getting stronger. If you are someone who is constantly distracted, you’ll see dramatic improvement in your ability to focus.

NOTE: I learned this exercise from Brooks Kubik during a mind power seminar. Check him out here.

Exercise #1:

  1. Find a dark quite place
  2. Sit in a comfortable chair or on the floor
  3. For 10 min focus on a candle, pen light Or take a piece of paper and draw a black dot on paper. I focus on a dark spot on my wall.
  4. Focus on that and nothing else. If your mind wanders, reel it back in. If you have to chant “black dot” in your head to stay focused. Do it.
  5. Do this 10 minutes a day, every day for 1 week. After the first week, add a minute every additional day until you reach 2o minutes total.

 

Important Notes:

    • The first time you do it, will be the most difficult.
    • It’s not fun
    • It sucks
    • Deal with it

Step 2: Do lots of Flow based activities

There are many ways to get into a flow state.

My favorites are:

  • Creative: drawing, writing, and sculpture
  • Athletic: Playing sports, lifting weights, going for a run, hiking in the mountains, and canoeing.
  • Interpersonal: Getting deeply engaged in a conversation.
  • Project Based: Any project that involves deep focus, complexity and some risk.

The more you can push your boundaries in various fields, the more you grow and the easier it is to jump into a flow based activity. You need the activity you are engaging in to be slightly harder than your current skill set.

This means if you stay in your comfort zone you will never get there.

Get into A flow State InfoGraphic

Step 3: Take Nootropics

In my experience nootropics and healthy fats (MCT oil) that improve your cognitive function also put you into a focused flow state much faster. Once again you need to be setting your edge just beyond your current capabilities in order to get there, but the supplements can help.

NOTE: This is not a “how to take nootropics post.” For more information please conduct your own research and decide what is best for you.

 

My Morning Breakfast/Supplement Stack

Bulletproof Coffee

Popularized by Dave Asprey at the Bulletproof Exec, this Coffee + unsalted Grass Fed Butter + MCT oil is the best cognitive increasing combination I have ever found. Period.

 

Nootropic Stack

I take one of the following depending on my needs for the day and what I have available. I’m not an expert on nootropics, so for more information check out Steve Fowkes and his research on Piracetam.

Nootropic

  • Piracetam + Citicoline: Improves memory I/O. Increases oxygen levels in the brain without decreasing circulation.  Early studies showed piracetam  could improve memory, but combining choline with piracetam was even more effective.
  • Aniracetam + Citicoline: Improves memory I/O. Aniracetam is a more potent analogue that absorbs quickly, but does not last long. It also increases oxygen levels in the brain without decreasing circulation
  • CILTEP: This is one that you can actually feel. It theoretically improves alertness, focus, and memory. The only bad thing about it, is I start to feel really drained after 2+ days of constant use. This is part of the reason, why I switch around between the 3 stacks.

 

Wrapping things up

Laird Hamilton, Csikszentmihalyi, Kotler and you all have one thing in common…..

We are all capable of performing at the highest level of human performance, while in a flow state.

If we train ourselves to reach this state, you will get there with much greater ease, frequency and intensity. And who doesn’t want that?

More flow = more Productivity + more Happiness + Peak Human Performance + more Ass Kicking.

 

 

Today I will leave you with the undisputed greatest practitioner of flow the world has ever seen….

 

 

More Resources Regarding Flow:

Steven Kotler– The Rise of Super Man (awesome book)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi– Flow

 

I want to Hear from You!

Do you experience flow states or something similar? If so, write it in the comments section.

 

About Ben Austin

My friends call me the illegitimate love child of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Nye. I’m a bodybuilding-yogi-science loving-foodie bringing an engineering approach to lifestyle design. Join me as I analyze the systems that go into optimal mental and physical performance and explore the stories and tactics of people who set the standard for the rest of us.
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  • Joanna

    This post is a treasure.. I’m bookmarking it and will start the coffee, butter, mtc mixture tomorrow. BTW have you seen jean claude van damme epic split ? :)

    • Oh yeah the Van Damme split is also epic. Whoever
      made the videos, should be given and Emmy :)

      Have you ever tried nootropics or cognitive
      supplements?

      • Joanna

        I dont think so. I was taking pharma gabba 250 and quercitine among others but i forgot if they are helpful in this case

        • I’ve had some success with GABA on an empty stomach before bed (around 3g). A few studies show that it can elevate GH levels (by nearly 500%), it definitely helps with neurotransmitter function and is a powerful sleep aid.

          It would absolutely help with recovery following a peak Flow State.

          Also, thanks for commenting!

  • John Krygiel

    Great stuff Ben! From a spiritual/mindful perspective, what you are describing and why Laird was able to ride that wave is because he entered the moment. There was nothing else but his state of consciousness and the moment. Gone was the ego and any false sense of self. Really awesome to read your more science-y take on this! I just listened to “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and he addresses this topic in a very fascinating way.

    • Hi John,

      Apparently, you and I like to read the same books :)

      You bring up a good point. On one hand science is beginning to understand the neurochemistry behind “the moment”, “being the zone” or “presence”. On the other hand, you have teachers like Eckhart Tolle who describe it in a very straightforward way (minus the science).

      The end result is the same.

      Just curious…. What did you think of The Power of Now?

      • John Krygiel

        In short, I thought it was a life-changing read. He sums up a notion that I have sort of “felt” all along. To many people, their BS meter would go off with such a book, but he raises profound truths that most of us are not ready for. While science is always advancing our knowledge, I believe he touches on things that science won’t be able to explain.

        • Agreed. He throws some truth bombs that a
          mainstream audience will never accept.

  • Chaz Moore

    I came accross this article in search of my own research into the flow state for an article I am writing about it. Very nicely written. You are one of my new mentors even though we haven’t spoken …. Yet. Keep up the great work.

    • Hey Chaz!

      I’m flattered. Thanks for the wonderful compliment. Seriously… That made my day.

      When you finish the article post a link here :)

  • Very awesome article! Everything we have to know about Flow is being discussed properly. I have experienced being in flow a lot of times already. Though I can tell that it’s really hard to find and stay on flow but with proper flow state mindset training and meditation everyone can be able to attain and maintain flow at ease and achieve optimum performance with high level of satisfaction.

    • Hey C Wilson!

      Thanks for the compliment and leaving a comment.

      And I definitely agree with you. Getting into a flow state consistently is about learning how to relax and melt into the moment. These are skills which can be learned through mental training and meditation.

      Quick question… Which triggers, methods or strategies do you use to get yourself into a consistent flow state?

      • I’ve been doing the 2 key components that I successfully use to hack my professional clients into the FLOW STATE. First is The Superhuman Code which induces Flow specifically designed for MEDITATIONS. These Meditations are design for Athletes. To Complement the inner work achieve through the Superhuman Code we use the Elite Flow Program. Elite Flow induces the Flow State through specially designed physical movements. This program is Physical Meditation to Hack into The Flow State.

        If you want to know more about this program, you may visit http://www.cwilsonmeloncelli.com/hack-the-flow-state/

        • Awesome!

          Are you saying that your meditation technique induces a flow state? If so, please share more :)

          • Yeh ;) the technique is to connect/tune into your personal experience of being in a flow state.

            This is done through connecting to the feeling of being in flow.

            For example; I’m sure when you explain your own experience of being in Flow, you will most probably say “ it felt like…” or “I feel…” you know what I mean? The technique goes through that door.

            Its very simple, but we get great results! The only real obstacle is people trying to over complicate it.

            You can try the exercise yourself of free. Come and check it out. I also, use physical movement to trigger flow. You can try that do if you like.