Imagine the last time you were so engrossed in a task. What you thought took 5 minutes took 5 hours, but you didn’t mind. You were perfectly content in that moment of bliss, and nothing else mattered.
Also known as being in a state of flow, this frame of mind is typically associated with artists, athletes, or scientists.
But flow is not exclusive to creatives or those who often work on highly cognitive tasks. Flow is universal. You can experience flow in any other activity. Whether you are writing, doing art, or working out, you have likely entered such a state.
Time Traveling in Flow
Everything is moving at a breakneck speed in our modern world. As a result, we are easily distracted by the vast amount of information zooming past us. That’s why flow is so important: it can improve performance and keep you focused at the moment. Our perception of time gets warped in this state. Hours seem to speed up. In the flow state, we don’t just experience things mindlessly, but we are immersed in a moment—suspended in our own little time capsule. In a way, you get to time travel in the flow state.
But it’s more than just time flying by. Getting in “the zone” or being “in your element” can benefit your physical and mental health.
First, let’s get into what it is.
What is Flow State?
Dr. Mohammad Shehata described flow as “an elevated state of mind where a person is completely engulfed in a feeling of heightened focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in an activity.” In essence, flow means complete immersion in what one does.
Flow: A Brief History
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the father of flow psychology, conducted extensive research on humans’ perceptions of happiness and purpose. In his quest, he found that the happiest people in his study are the ones who constantly experience the state of flow.
His studies have solidified flow’s role in self-control, higher creativity and efficiency, and an overall positive life experience. According to Csikszentmihalyi, a “flow state” is a state of consciousness where one’s self-consciousness is suspended, and one acts on instinct. Flow allows for heightened creativity, productivity, and happiness.
Being in a flow state can help regulate our emotions and make us happier and more satisfied. At its best, flow inspires individuals to pursue passions bigger than themselves.
Characteristics of Flow
Tasks that promote a state of flow share the same facets. We’ve broken them down into three, namely:
- Difficult, but not insurmountable.
- Rewarding, in the sense that it gives a person a sense of pleasure or purpose.
- Comprehensive, requiring time or energy invested in making progress.
In his many studies, Csikszentmihalyi successfully identified several “signs” when someone is in a state of flow:
A. Intensified focus
People in a state of flow are hard to distract. They might be completely focused on nothing else. When someone or something interrupts someone’s flow, they may become irritated.
B. Decrease in self-referential thinking
People are unlikely to think about themselves, their performance, or how others perceive them. Self-consciousness drifts away as they hone in on the task(s) at hand.
C. Pleasure and passion
People in flow naturally find pleasure in doing a certain task. They may even be passionate about the goals that the job(s) will accomplish, driving them to try even harder.
There is some evidence that being in flow can alleviate the frustration of a difficult task, allowing people to persevere. Flow states can also induce grit or our ability to push through difficult moments in pursuit of higher rewards.
Hyperfocus vs. Flow: What's the Difference?
Is too much focus bad for us?
The term “hyperfocus” refers to a state similar to flow, with some distinctions. We can characterize hyperfocus as the intense attention or fixation, on some levels even an obsession, on a task that a person finds attractive. Doctors often see hyperfocus in people with medical conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some experts consider the two terms interchangeable.
However, while “flow” is generally a beneficial state, hyperfocus can be detrimental. People may become so engrossed in their work that they cease to focus on anything else. Hyperfocus may also hinder individuals from doing essential day-to-day tasks like eating or spending time with family.
Hyperfocus inclines towards a personal interest in a task or topic. In contrast, researchers have discovered that people can enter the flow state while performing any challenging or meaningful task.
Examples of Flow States
Flow states are the hallmark of creativity. In these states, a person is completely absorbed by a task. You may lose track of time and even forget about your surroundings. Flow states are often so engaging that they can leave you completely unaware of your surroundings.
A person can enter a flow state in various situations. You can get into the flow state through any task that captures all of your attention without being overwhelmed.
Flow activities will differ from person to person, depending on what they find interesting, enjoyable, or challenging. Among the activities that may induce a flow state are:
- Music – listening to a piece of music with your full attention without being distracted by outside thoughts.
- Artistic Expression – painting, drawing, writing poetry, or fiction (especially if it’s something you’ve never done before)
- Physical exercise – running, dancing, lifting weights, surfing.
- Creative projects – writing poetry, music lyrics, or short stories; making art; creating and playing computer games (e.g., Minecraft).
To break it down, riding a bike down a hill is something everyone can do. It is challenging but not too difficult. Finally, figuring it out gives a rewarding feeling, meaning that you get a sense of pleasure or purpose from doing it. The investment required to ride a bike down a hill is minimal, and there are many places where you can practice this activity without having to go anywhere in particular.
Any activity can get you into a state of flow if it hits all the characteristics we listed above.
Getting Into "The Zone"
Remarkable things happen when people work in flow. So, how do we get there?
There is no single way to enter such a state of mind. But you can go for flow triggers. As the name suggests, “flow triggers” are activities or pre-conditions that enable individuals to get into the flow state faster and better. Here are our recommended triggers to get into flow:
Set a goal
The activity must have a purpose to trigger flow. It doesn’t have to be grand; it could be as simple as playing a video game or coloring a picture. But to direct your attention, find something to focus on first.
Many of us are bombarded with distractions daily. According to Asana, 80 percent of knowledge workers with information and data say they work with their inbox or other communication apps open. These distractions prevent most of us from reaching a flow state. Instead, try these distraction-reduction strategies:
- Snooze notifications
- Enable “Do Not Disturb” mode
- Consider time-blocking
Corporations have pedaled the concept of multitasking for many years to get more out of their employees. But it is a myth. Your mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time. When you multitask, you are not doing two things simultaneously; instead, you are forcing your brain to switch between two or more items rapidly, which places a significant cognitive load on your brain. Our advice? Stop and focus on finishing one task at a time.
Sometimes it's elusive, and that's okay
So you’ve been in the state of flow before, you know what it feels like, and you want to be in that zone to finish an important task, but no matter what you do, you can’t get into it. The paradox of control states that the more you try to control something, the more difficult it is to handle.
That’s okay. The key is not to force it.
Medically assisted flow state is a thing too!
Let us get this out of the way—individuals do not need drugs and medication to get into that state naturally. But when that natural flow state is hard to come by, remember that it is perfectly normal to turn to modern medicine and supplements for help.
Alcohol, medications, or drugs, such as opioids (medicines that affect the opioid receptors), can induce you into a flow state.
Before we go into the role of CBD in potentially supporting the flow state, we first need to break down the neuroscientific flow process.
Steven Kotler's Anatomy of a Super Human
Steven Kotler’s The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance (2014) described the neuroscience of the flow state based on global research. Kotler divides the process into three significant changes in our neurobiology:
According to Kotler, transient hypofrontality occurs during the flow state. Transient hypofrontality refers to the temporary deceleration of processes in our prefrontal cortex, which controls higher cognitive functions, perception of time, and our sense of self. Slowing down is essential in the flow because it replaces our inner critic, distracting us during activity and allowing us to pay more attention to the task at hand.
In a flow state, brain waves shift from a beta wave (a fast-moving wave of waking consciousness) to the border between alpha (a daydreaming mode) and theta (the wave present during REM sleep). Because you are near the edge, you may occasionally experience a gamma spike, which feels like an epiphany or sudden insight.
Endorphins, norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and anandamide are among the most potent neurochemicals released into our system. See the next section for more details.
So, how exactly does CBD come into play?
The Role of CBD
There are many triggers and motivators that drive us towards that state of immersion. Aside from the steps we defined in the previous sections, another way involves “fueling” the system with endocannabinoid (ECS) activators like CBD.
CBD affects primary neurotransmitters active in the flow state, such as anandamide, dopamine, and serotonin.
We produce the endocannabinoid anandamide naturally, but only when we need it, and then our bodies’ enzymes break down the molecule compound. Several studies suggest that CBD may indirectly boost endogenous anandamide signaling by inhibiting anandamide intracellular degradation catalyzed by the enzyme – fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH).
Kotler states, in terms of our flow state, that anandamide not only aids in pattern recognition (the lengthening of similar ideas together) but it also promotes lateral thinking (the lengthening of disparate ideas together).
CBD also impacts a significant neurotransmitter, serotonin, because it mimics serotonin in the brain.
Another study on the potential of CBD to help the immune system cope with stress found that at high concentrations, CBD directly activates the 5-HT1A (hydroxytryptamine) serotonin receptor, producing a calming effect.
Studies suggest that CBD increases dopamine levels through our CB1 receptors. Additionally, a boost in anandamide increases our dopamine levels. Anandamide help regulate several chemicals in our brain, including dopamine and serotonin.
More than just a happy hormone, dopamine helps us learn new patterns. It helps us magnify attention and reduce noise, making it easier for us to notice more patterns. Seeing new patterns prepares our brains to notice more patterns, allowing our creative juices to build up fast.
Pattern recognition is not the only thing at work during creativity. According to Kotler, when we create something and share it with the world, our fear of failure, the unknown, and social ridicule increases. We take a risk. This uncertainty causes the brain to release dopamine and increases our chances of getting into the flow state. Risk and pattern recognition are both known triggers of the flow state.
But these aren’t the only neurochemicals affected by CBD. Kotler also credits the phenomenon to endorphins and norepinephrine. These chemicals, according to Kotler, are performance enhancers because they can lead to increased focus, pattern recognition, and massively amplified learning.
Ojai Energetics is playing its part in researching the exciting impact of CBD on flow. The company joined Steven Kotler, Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective, to study the Endocannabinoid Systems’ relationship to flow along with phytocannabinoids such as CBD.
Redefining Meaning and Happiness
There’s a lot that we don’t know about the flow state. But from what we’ve discovered, there’s a potential for increased happiness and lifestyle improvement when we are constantly in the flow state.
Getting into flow and staying in it could be our gateway to uncovering the secrets to contentment and redefining the meaning of life. We don’t have to go into the details of its profound philosophical aspects today, but this is a good start if you are interested in using CBD to help and enhance your flow state.
With the known benefits of CBD and the growing research, CBD continues to impact the health and wellness space. And we hope you stick around with us to see how it will change the world for the better!