In this short article I will outline 5 simple ways to access flow state easily and more consistently so you can be more productive, creative and fulfilled in your life and work. If you want to read part 1 first, click this link here.
We will discuss:
1. Two forms of mindfulness meditation that are known to support flow state.
2. A specific type of low-to-moderate-intensity exercise known to improve creativity.
3. Types of sleep that are known to increase productivity and mood.
4. How 30 minutes per day spent in nature will create profound neuroplastic changes in the brain that will help you solve complicated problems.
5. A list of the 22 neuroscience-backed flow triggers.
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IMPROVING FLOW THROUGH MINDFULNESS MEDITATION
The feet walk and the mind wanders…it’s our job to provide some direction.
That uneasy feeling you get when you walk into a room and it seems like everyone’s looking at you and you feel very self-conscious about your hair, or your dress or your dandruff…that’s the “default mode network “of the brain hard at work. Activity in that neuro-network pulls us out of flow time and time again, and mindfulness meditation helps to turn that activity down.
When we are in flow, activity in the default mode network is reduced and we are more absorbed in WHAT we’re doing or WHO we’re doing it with, and are at the same time less aware of the fact that WE are the ones doing it. This state of absorption and immersion is a cornerstone to flow experiences.
There are two forms of meditation that are often practiced by those who access flow states regularly. I will describe the first type in this post and the second one tomorrow.
1. Open monitoring meditation –
In this form of mindfulness we just sit with eyes open or closed, and open our awareness to everything that is happening currently. Sights, sounds, feelings and even thoughts are all taken in with the same importance or unimportance depending on your point of view. In this type of meditation, when we inevitably get lost in thought, the goal is to bring ourselves back into a state of open awareness of all that is happening and to let the thought or preoccupation just dissolve away.
Contrary to popular belief you don’t need to sit for hours or even many minutes on end to get the result. Just a few minutes here and there, practiced intentionally, will help you to reduce activity in the default mode network and assist you in becoming more engaged in flow. Doing this regularly will help you to access flow more easily which improves our ability to be creative, insightful, more productive and healthier mentally and emotionally.
2. Focused Awareness Meditation
What makes a sniper so deadly isn’t their trigger but their focus.
Simply, this is a form of meditation where you put your focus on one type of activity, sense or sensation. The idea here is to sharpen the mental focus and tighten the inner aperture. The best thing to focus on is the one thing that is easiest to focus on. For some it’s the breath. For others it’s a sound or music, a sensation in the body or a smell. The one caveat is to avoid focusing on a thought or story. This way, when the mind inevitably wanders, you have an anchor to bring it back to.
In the beginning start with just 30 – 60 seconds. As your capacity grows, increase the time spent refocusing and retraining your attention. You can experience results after a few weeks by doing this for 1-2 minutes periodically throughout the day.
The overall benefit of this is the ability to cultivate laser-like focus for those times when it’s needed, and to become more aware of your recurring distractions.
GET YOUR EXERCISE ON!
40-60 minutes of daily, moderate-intensity exercise improves the ease and consistency for accessing flow states.
A type of aerobic type training called Zone 2 training is being promoted by cardiologists, neuroscientists, and elite athletic coaches and peak performers across the board. When I see one type of exercise endorsed and promoted by so many practitioners of such a diverse background I often pay attention and so should you.
Here’s the quick and dirty….Zone 2 training is low to moderate heart rate zone where you will gain a maximum of metabolic and neurological benefits. This zone can be calculated by taking 180 and subtracting your age. This is an oversimplistic method but will get you in the ball park. If you want to dig deeper into the details, I wrote a full blog post on it here.
In the meantime, find your Zone 2 and spend 60 minutes doing some low impact exercise in your zone 2, 3 three times per week. It really is a game changer!
SLEEP YOUR WAY INTO A FLOWY LIFE
Sleep has been recently pioneered as the ultimate panacea, a cure-all for what ails you. In addition to improved mood, cognitive performance, creativity and productivity, good quality, consistent sleep actually helps us to access flow states with more regularity and for longer periods of time.
Creating the flow > sleep cycle. Spending much of the day in a flow state will help us to sleep deeper as it modulates the delicate neurochemical balance needed to access states of deep rest. In turn good, deep sleep especially of the type 3 and 4 (REM and slow wave) sleep will help us to be in flow.
Some methods that heavily promoted in the peak performance community to hack your sleep are:
1. Get militant about protecting your sleep times and aim for a minimum of 8-9 hours per night.
2. Challenge yourself to keep a regular sleep and wake schedule even on the weekends.
3. Create a sleepy environment that’s very dark and about 65 degrees farenheit (18 celsius).
4. Nap like a cat. 15-30 minute snoozers in the middle of the day can not only give you an extra midday boost but can also improve the depth and quality of your sleep by increasing the production of a neurohormone called adenosine…more on that in a later post.
So, jump into the cycle and prioritize sleep.
FLOW IN NATURE
Spending as little as 30 minutes per day, 3-4 days per week, in a natural setting can actually help you be more productive, but there’s a catch….
While spending time in nature has many documented health benefits, if we want to harness the power of nature to improve our access to flow states there’s one more thing we must do…nothing.
When we allow ourselves to experience 30 minutes in a natural setting without a specific activity, distraction or direct focus, something magical starts happening in our brain.
Connections between seemingly unrelated things start to merge. We can touch into our unconscious mind’s ability to solve problems in a way that seems passive to us.
This process is used by some of the most creative authors and scientists to give their inner environment a break by connecting with a more spacious outer environment.
So, as counterintuitive as it sounds, taking time at least a few times a week to go into a natural setting, including city parks, and doing…well…nothing, will actually make you more productive.
Psssst….there’s even some word around the (virtual) campfire that certain virtual reality (VR) programs can have a similar effect for people who are living in their concrete jungles. But, way more on that in future posts.
22 FLOW TRIGGERS –
“From a quality-of-life perspective, psychologists have found that the people who have the most flow in their lives are the happiest people on earth.” – Steven Kotler
First, for the uninitiated…a flow trigger is a physiological capacity that we developed to give us an evolutionary edge for survival, reproduction and thriving. These days, in modern industrial society, where competition for resources and mates is not as much of a limiting factor, we can still use these adaptive mechanisms to accelerate our individual and collective capacities for creativity, problem solving and an optimized quality of life and fulfillment.
Here is a list of the 22 flow triggers which have been identified in the fields of psychology and neuroscience. We will explore each one in depth in followup posts. Until then here are some brief descriptions. They are divided into individual triggers and group triggers:
Individual Flow Triggers:
1. Crystal Clear goals.
2. Immediate (positive and negative) feedback.
3. A balanced interplay between your current skills and a difficult challenge that causes an increase in your skills, which inturn increases your challenge capacity.
4. Focus and concentration on a specific task. “Flow follows focus.”
5. High degree of curiosity that pulls you out of your comfort zone.
6. Autonomy and the time / energy / resources to follow your own passions and curiosities.
7. High consequence actions and decisions.
11. Embodied action
12. Creativity and pattern recognition
Group Flow Triggers:
1. Shared goals.
2. Equal influence and participation.
3. Synergistic combining of differing points of view and personality.
4. Attentive, active listening.
5. Openness to new ideas. Using “yes, and…”thinking
6. Group focus and attention.
7. Sense of personal control and ownership while participating in a collective.
8. A clear sense of one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
9. Fluid and open communication.
10. Shared risk.
Some of these may seem ambiguous and redundant but, as always the juice is really in the details, which I’ll cover at length in future posts.
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I’d love for you come on this journey with us as we move together toward enhanced individual and collective flow states.