On Flow

While houseguesting in Berkeley, California this winter, I was poking around my host’s bookshelves and found a book with a simple monosyllabic title (a marked contrast to the author’s indecipherable name). I got about halfway through Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chik-sent-mi-hai) before I had to reluctantly move on to my next destination. I spent those last few days furiously taking notes, so sure the THE KEY to everything I’d been in need of understanding was laid out in this book. I’d often heard the term “flow state” at various workshops, classes, and other vibey meetups, but hadn’t really explored the concept in depth. Csikszentmihalyi, a highly-regarded psychologist and researcher undertook one of the largerst global psychological studies to date, studying high-performance humans from many different disciplines as well as regular folks from all over the world. He found, in short, that the flow state produces optimal happiness and productivity in all of them. The book shares his findings and explains the various facets of flow in a gently comprehensible manner.

Last week I finally got around to reacquiring the book so I could finish reading and resume note-taking. I also came across this video, taken from a talk given at the Google campus last year, that features Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal of the Flow Genome Project, a pioneering and ongoing neurological study of the flow phenomenon. It introduces the science behind flow states, how to achieve them, and what they mean for our lives. My favorite (paraphrased) tidbit is as follows:

In flow state, self and self-consciousness disappears because in this state our self-monitoring brain (dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex) shuts down, which means that our inner critic is turned off. When this happens, we experience a feeling of liberation. Creativity, risk-taking, performance, openness to experience¬†is elevated, as are performance-enhancing and potent reward neurochemicals , like norepinepherine, dopamine, anandamide, endorphins, and serotonin. We go into what Kotler calls “the Deep Now”.

That is absolutely where I want to be, as much as humanly possible.

And here’s the Godfather of Flow himself giving a TED Talk:

I feel like there’s crossover between the flow state and the Sikh ideal of Simran (a constant state of elevated mindfulness, no matter your surroundings or chosen activity). Definitely something to meditate on….


(up top: Flowing Melting Rainbow Acrylic Painting by Mark Chadwick)