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What is the state of flow?

If you've ever felt completely absorbed in something, you may have experienced a state of mind that psychologists call flow. Achieving this state can help people feel more enjoyment, energy and involvement. Imagine for a moment that you are running a race. Your attention is focused on the movements of your body, the power of your muscles, the strength of your lungs and the feel of the street beneath your feet. You are living in the moment, completely absorbed in the present activity. Time seems to disappear. You are tired, but you hardly notice it. This is an example of flow state.

One of the best feelings when working is to feel that you are at your peak performance: we feel that we get the job done effortlessly, everything else disappears and we even lose track of time. That moment of peak performance has a name: the flow state.

When you're in a state of flow, productivity, and creativity soar, and you can get great work done effortlessly. Fortunately, reaching that optimal state is not as difficult as it sounds. Through certain practices, it is possible to achieve it. Flow is a state of mind in which a person is completely immersed in an activity.

Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as a state of total immersion in an activity. Being immersed can be defined as a state of concentration in which a person is completely absorbed and engrossed in his or her work. When we are in a state of flow, our mind is fully engaged in the task at hand in a way that seems to free other parts of our brain to make connections. Even if you are working, flow is inherently restorative and pleasurable.

How is flow produced and how is the flow state achieved?

Thanks to modern neuroscience, we now understand a distinct pattern in the brain of how a flow state is induced. Flow states are induced through interactions between 5 different neurotransmitters within the human brain. The neurotransmitters are:

-Dopamine - When entering a flow state, dopamine floods the brain. It increases attention, information flow and pattern recognition. It is essentially an ability enhancer.

-Norepinephrine - Accelerates heart rate, muscle tension and respiration. It triggers a glucose response, so we have more energy, increasing arousal, attention, neural efficiency, and emotional control, thus producing a high.

-Endorphins - relieve pain and induce pleasure. They function similarly to opioids. However, the sensation obtained from endorphins is up to 100 times more potent than that of morphine.

-Anandamide - is an endogenous cannabinoid and has a sensation similar to the psychoactive effect of marijuana. Anandamide is released in exercise-induced flow states, elevates mood, relieves pain, dilates blood vessels and aids breathing.

-Serotonin - At the end of a flow state, serotonin fills the brain producing an "afterglow" effect. This leaves you with a feeling of happiness after exercise and is only felt when the flow state has come and gone.

In short, these 5 chemicals make up the brain science of flow states. So, the next time you do anything that brings you into a flow state, you can now recognize the science behind this powerful tool that lies within your own being.

How do you reach the flow state?

Once you understand how flow works, you can set up your schedule and work environment to be as conducive to flow as possible. Here is a guide to getting into the flow state more often and maintaining it.

1. Choose clear goals.

Part of getting into the flow state involves working on a task that has a specific, defined outcome. You will find that it is easier to achieve the right state of mind when you know exactly what you are working on, which gives you a sense of control.

2. Make it challenging.

Activities that have the right degree of challenge are more engaging. If you can't change the task, you can change other factors to make it more difficult. Finding ways to make a routine task more challenging made it more enjoyable.

3. Make it easier to concentrate.

Take some time to look at your calendar and block out periods when you can work without distractions. You may want to schedule these blocks around certain activities or times of the day when you are naturally more productive and alert.

4. Take care of yourself

In the flow state, you may forget about food, water, sleep or how long you have been sitting on your feet. While this may help you stay focused, it is not optimal for your body. Create self-care routines that help you stay comfortable and taken care of so you can stay in the flow longer. Include water, protein bars near your work area.

5. Turn off your phone.

Part of eliminating distractions is turning off your phone. However, it deserves its own category, because there's no point in blocking your schedule if you're going to carry a distraction in your pocket. Once you've communicated that you'll be unavailable for a set amount of time, turn off notifications and put the phone away. The image below clearly shows the correlation between the degree of challenge of an activity and the skills/capabilities to develop it, when both are maximized, we reach the peak of flow state.

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