That moment when you sit down to write your novel and the ideas just keep surfacing one after the other.
That moment when you start painting and before you know it, you’re on your way to your next masterpiece.
Or that lab experiment that you’ve done repeatedly and suddenly you’re struck with a Eureka! moment.
Ladies and gentleman, this is what we call being the state of Flow.
Being in the Flow is essentially the same as what athletes call “being in the zone.” It’s an optimal state of mind where you are at peak performance, you feel your best, and your creativity and problem-solving abilities can be up to four times as powerful. Everything around you seems to disappear. Time flies and the creativity pours in when you’re in the Flow.
With the distraction of cell phones, Facebook and the general noisiness of our everyday lives, finding Flow is becoming less attainable and less frequent.
However, being in this state of Flow is a big deal. How can you consistently create and achieve your goals if you are always distracted—either by external factors or internal anxieties and conflicts? All these things take away from your ability to concentrate, to move into your creative flow.
Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal are the co-founders of the Flow Genome Project (FGP), an organization that is bringing together some of the world’s top scientists, athletes, and artists to map and share the principles and practices of peak performance. You can learn more about FGP’s work in this short video.
In the duo’s recently published book Stealing Fire, Kotler and Wheal discuss how “regularly changing the channel of consciousness can help us heal trauma and relieve anxiety, boost creativity and complex problem solving, and profoundly deepen empathy and connection.”
You can learn how to increase creativity and start getting into your creative Flow with these tips from the Flow Genome Project team:
1.) Get clear on what environment is best for you
Everyone has his or her own instincts and behaviors, or “trigger activities”, that lead to creative flow, so what works for your best friend won’t necessarily work for you. It’s important to be aware of and understand what environments stimulate your flow, what tendencies you have that bring out your most creative state. Once you figure that out, try engaging in those trigger activities more often. On the flip side, there are things you do that are counterproductive to achieving flow—so work on cutting out those types of behaviors.
2.) Learn a new skill
When you’re concentrating and opening your mind to something new, the path to achieving a state of flow is half as difficult. Because you are focusing on the present moment, you let go of nagging or critical thoughts—you have never done this before so you cannot compare your abilities to how you used to perform.
3.) Get lost in space and time
Flow Genome Project has coined the term STER for the four primary subjective experiences during the state of flow: Selflessness, Timelessness, Effortlessness, Richness. Kotler points out in an interview that your sense of self vanishes when you realize your inner critic is no longer pestering you or holding you back. During the state of Flow, time means only “right now” because focusing on the past or present is useless to your body while you are trying to achieve something beyond your comfort zone, while you are taking a risk that your body and mind want to survive. There is also a feeling of ease, of effortless perfection, like you are simply channeling ideas from a different dimension. And lasly, there is a richness of information that you are able to absorb quickly, more points of data that you can usually absorb when you are not in Flow. It’s kind of like one of those slow-motion scenes from the recent Sherlock Holmes films: Holmes predicts how the fight will end by observing clues and patterns around him.
4.) Pay attention to the present moment
You’ve heard it many times but it’s easier said than done—be here now, live in the moment, etc etc. But the FGP team uses years of research and proven exercises from Navy SEALs and athletic trainers to teach students to move away from the past and the future and instead concentrate on what they call the Deep Now. How deep you can get into the present moment is up to the amount of training you put into it, and this will determine how strong and consistent your state of flow becomes. As Kotler once wrote, “Anything that trains up attention, amplifies creativity. Almost any mindfulness practice will work.”
5.) Watch a skateboarding video on full volume (seriously)
To experience the adrenaline rush and dopamine hit that you get when you are in the Flow, try taking a risk with your creative work. Do something you’ve always dreamed of doing but never dared to take that step yet. Create that rich environment that supports your entry into the Flow. One of the exercises in the FGP training program involves downing two shots of espresso and two shots of vodka—and then watching a surfing and skateboarding video with a dubstep soundtrack on full volume. Why such a combination of elements? It’s a way to imitate and trigger the state of Flow.
Learn more about getting into your creative flow during our upcoming CreativeLive class with Steve Kotler on How to Find your Creative Flow.