There are many misconceptions surrounding the flow state.
Flow research hasn’t been around a long time and Neuroscience much less so. However, when it comes to rigorous scientific research, first, flow must be defined clearly and specifically, if we are to understand what we want to engineer. Otherwise, how do you know if you are training flow or another muscle?
The flow state is our optimal state of functioning, our ideal mental and physical state to generate peak performance. It is denoted by absolute absorption of the task at hand to the level of time dissociation, as well as effortless ease throughout the performance.
In understanding flow it is important to note that Flow is not ecstasy, where we feel great but cannot apply ourselves optimally. This feeling can certainly share similar characteristics with flow, such as the distortion of time, distance from self-consciousness, but more often than not, this feeling is antagonistic to the awareness of surrounding objects and the proximal environment. It is epitomised by the loss of self-control (to an extent) and is capable of neither optimal actions, communication or decision making.
Flow is not the experience of total absorption induced by hallucinogens or stimulants.
These drugs can help reach a state of bliss, heighten creativity, and open doors in the mind to reveal remarkable insights. They may also be energizing and absolutely thrilling, but they simultaneously dampen other senses and functions that are necessary for optimal functioning. For example, someone under the influence of these drugs would not be able to catch a glass that has been knocked off the table. Neither could they tackle complex situations and make optimal decisions instantaneously. The absorption and excitation experienced due to drugs are often not controllable, meaning it is just that, the feeling of absorption and excitation no matter the context. Although these exogenous chemicals can temporarily relieve us from the dominating conscious-thinking ‘monkey mind’, these momentary uplifts will only leave us crashing back down to earth as the mind and body recover from the cognitive fragmentation and artificial chemical invasion.
Contrary to this, flow leaves us feeling surprised, creative and fantastic. And obviously, there is no threat of becoming dependent on the “drug” after repeated encounters with flow.
It is a natural state, after all.
You may have heard of the recent rise of nootropics, otherwise known as smart drugs. Scientists are trying to reverse engineer a neurochemical cocktail which has been associated with enhanced cognitive performance. These drugs are designed to activate the parts of our brain that increase our ability for certain specific cognitive tasks. However, these drugs also fail to be beneficial in situations requiring the engagement of other facets of the brain such as empathy, and do not necessarily lead to optimal physiological functioning. In short, they amplify certain abilities at the cost of others.
Although many of these drugs are researched to avoid physical dependence, psychological dependence is unavoidable. Any supplement you take to enhance your ability will only leave you feeling inadequate without it and anxious when you need to perform without it. These external means are not only less effective in terms of overall sustainable performance but also unnecessary if we instead manage to generate an internal ability to change our states beyond our normal conscious experience.
Determining a natural and sustainable methodology to finding flow is surely of greater importance even to the ‘short-termists’ out there.
If you are interested in cultivating Flow into your life experiences, we have an excellent team of experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding and teaching flow in others. We offer one-to-one coaching as well as evidence-based online courses updated constantly based on cutting edge flow research. Join our community.
Think less, be more.