It is very likely that you have experienced a flow state at some point in your life. Even if you didn’t realize exactly what it was, the sensation — that of complete connection between body and mind, heightened concentration and focus, as if time has slowed down and nothing else matters — that is the much desired flow state.
Getting ‘In The Zone’
Often also described as being ‘in the zone’ — despite its almost mythical status— the flow state is accessible to all. And, you can actually learn how to reach and hone it, whether you are engaged in a creative project, a physical activity, or an everyday task.
The term ‘flow state’ to describe the phenomenon was popularized by positive psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura. In his research into happiness, and the quest for it, Csikszentmihalyi concluded that happiness is a fluid and constantly changing state that requires work to maintain. He and Nakamura, began interviewing people with high performance occupations, such as ballet dancers, surgeons, musicians and chess players. What they found by interviewing them about when they are performing their tasks was that “…there’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity. You know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback,” (2004)
The 8 Key Points of Flow State
Csikszentmihalyi and Nakamura concluded that being able to access the flow state was a key part of maintaining happiness. They identified 8 key points of the flow state:
- Complete concentration on the task at hand;
- Clarity of goals and immediate feedback;
- Transformation of time (speeding up or slowing down);
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
- It feels effortlessness and easy;
- Level of challenge and skills are balanced;
- Actions and awareness merge, loss of self-consciousness;
- There is a feeling of control and capability over the task.
And Csikszentmihalyi further defined it as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” (1990).
The concept of achieving the flow state has become popular again recently, not just because it is by all accounts a pleasurable experience. It also can make people far more efficient at their occupations, and for better or worse, optimization is the current key word of our time.
Microdosing and the Flow State
As those familiar with the practice, or even just the concept, of microdosing will know, accessing the flow state is one of the many things that it is thought to help with. The ingestion of a sub-perceptual dose of a psychedelic, such as psilocybin, can increase concentration, productivity, creativity and focus — basically the flow state. Of course, you still have to be working hard on the task at hand, but microdosing can help you get there.
Artists, musicians and athletes using psychedelics is nothing new, but as the conversation around the benefits to their professions has intensified, the more the effects of psychedelic microdosing are being studied.
In a recent interview with psychedelictimes.com Sports and Exercise Psychologist Shane Lemaster discussed his experience with the flow state — both psychedelically influenced and otherwise.
With his clients Lemaster specializes in ‘Human Performance Optimization’, which is not as scary and futuristic as it sounds — it means helping them access their full natural potential. This is how he became intimately acquainted with the concept of flow. He is also a keen advocate of psychedelics, recently becoming Vice President of Denver’s Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review. This makes him perfectly placed to explore the two topics and their many crossovers. Let’s dig into some of the best nuggets from the interview!
On Flow States…
“…more than anything you can describe by graphs and statistics, it’s a feeling. Flow is this sense where your mind suddenly gets out of your way. We’re so analytical in this Western mindset. We like to use science and reductionism, and that gets in our way, especially when we’re trying to perform something and be in the moment. If you’ve done the task over and over again, you reach a level of proficiency where you can let thoughts go, and you’re in the moment, moving.
In those moments, when we’re in flow, we feel what I describe as superpowers.”
On Psychedelics and Flow States…
“I find more flow states happen at lower doses than higher doses. Microdoses, or even just a little bigger. I’ve found flow states with psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, and with cannabis.
You can find them with a variety of different substances and mindsets. I feel it’s more about the mindset than the chemical, but those certainly help. That’s where I think the tie is between them—psychedelics are really good at turning off that analytical mind and allowing you to function smoothly and efficiently in your present moment, more consistently over the day. In the past, when I’ve taken a microdose, I’ve been in the flow much longer during the day.”
On When a Flow State Happens…
“I think most often, it just happens—and everybody’s experienced flow, they just might not recognize it as flow. Like I said, runners experience flow. Hanging out with family, you can experience flow. When you and your friends are laughing over a board game, that’s flow. There are no external thoughts judging the experience. You’re totally in the moment.”
On Training to Reach Flow State…
“…it happens spontaneously for most people, but in my experience, it is a trainable thing. But the research and the verdict is still out. A lot of people have been trying to figure out what causes flow. Nobody can figure it out. We know different pieces of what contribute to flow, but we don’t know one thing that simply puts you in flow.”
“We know athletes and people who find themselves in this state frequently, through training regimens or whatever, can find greater comfort with that space and learn to cultivate it more often. If you experience flow on a daily basis because you’re an athlete, you’re more likely to be able to bring it up when you want it. Somebody who doesn’t experience much flow in their life is going to have a tougher time accessing it on command. But we all have the potential and capability to do it.”
Lemaster, who does regular jiu-jitsu, also says he doesn’t always use psychedelics to reach a flow state but; “… quite frequently I’ll train with a microdose and it will vastly help.”
Ultimately Lemaster says it is all about cultivating focus and intention stating “I’ve been in flow washing dishes”.
Can You Get in the Flow?
So — that’s the flow state! Pretty cool, huh?
Why not try and get into it yourself? Pick your favorite hobby — something you enjoying doing, like crafts or exercise — and take a little microdose. Maybe the flow state will visit you too!