What Does Flow State Feel Like?
Many people have a general idea of what flow is, colloquially known as being ‘in the zone.’ But sometimes people still aren’t sure what the flow state feels like.
Research shows that everyone on earth has the capability to access flow and has probably been in the flow state, whether they realized it or not. The key is to figure out how we can access flow on demand, and even more difficult is sustaining it.
More on that later, but first let’s be clear on what we mean by the flow state.
An optimal state of consciousness where you feel your best and perform your best. It’s those moments of undivided attention and total absorption, where your mind, body, and spirit are focused on the present. Action and awareness merge and you develop a calm awareness of your surroundings.
In this altered state you reach peak performance and optimal experience in a number of both physical and mental areas like creativity, intuition, skill acquisition and learning, etc.
So know that we have a working definition of the flow state let’s have a look at the feelings surrounding the flow state.
What Does Flow State Feel Like? We have an easy way to remember this, S.T.E.R.
STER = Selflessness, Timelessness, Effortlessness, and Richness
This is the feeling of when your self vanishes. We quiet our inner critic and the critiquing internal dialogue goes quiet. We are present but merely observing and being aware, not judging. We are able to hold multiple viewpoints and see it from various angles without our daily baggage affecting our decisions.
There is no need for tips and tricks to quiet the inner criticism, biology and neuroscience do that for us in our prefrontal cortex during flow
In a flow state we have the feeling of time distorting. Sometimes it typically speeds up, or sometimes it can also slow down. When we are in this timeless “deep now” feeling, we have an enhanced awareness of the present.
The part of our brain that keeps track of the past and the future actually gets temporarily shut down, allowing us to fully open ourselves to the present moment.
This open awareness of the moment-to-moment experience allows us to process more information accurately and faster.
The feeling of effortlessness is also associated with flow. It’s not easy, oppositely it’s when your skills match the challenge at hand, but it’s just enough of a challenge that conquering it rewards you, which then motivates you to continue.
It becomes intrinsically rewarding, which deepens your flow. It’s an effortless and energizing exploration of the moment. In Taoism, they call this concept WuWei.
Neurobiologically, flow creates a cocktail of pleasure chemicals that bring about these overall feelings of effortlessness.
The fourth feeling associated with flow state is Richness. The flow state opens us to receive a rich and deep experience of new information. It is simultaneously a feeling of comfort and awe.
We feel like there is this new connection to the outside world, but we have to realize that we were always connected. It was our everyday filters that prevent us from fully taking in this rich and deep experience of interconnectivity.
These are the feelings associated with accessing the flow sate. There are other parts to it though, such as developing personality traits of flow-prone people and more general characteristics of flow.
I would bet though that after learning what flow feels like you can relate to these feelings. Think back to a time when you were in flow and I think you’ll remember these associated feelings. Now the trick is to learn how to access this state when you want to, not just by accident.
Practicing for the Flow Feelings of Selflessness, Timelessness, Effortlessness, and Richness.
By practicing to access flow we can begin to access flow by choice, not by chance. As with anything, accessing these states requires practice. Whether you are playing a sport, a musical instrument, gardening, or cooking, flow usually comes a little later. In the beginning, the challenge is too high for your skillset.
After you have practiced your flow activity for a while though and gone through the initial learning curve, you will begin to let the rules and structures go as your skills develop. You will begin to intuitively make decisions without really needing to think about the next step.
This is where you will begin to find yourself in the zone more times than not.
Are There Different Kinds of Flow?
In the past, Steven Kotler suggested there are a number of flow state triggers that can be divided into four categories:
- Social: the collective flow or group flow happens when people enter a flow state together e.g. within a sports team.
- Creative: thinking differently about the challenges you face and approaching them from a different perspective.
- Environmental: external qualities in the environment that drive people deeper into ‘the zone’.
- Psychological: internal triggers that create more flow.
While we don’t necessarily classify the flow triggers like this anymore, it helps you see a more rounded picture of the different types and different ways you can enter flow. Currently, we believe there are 22 flow triggers in all.
Building Grit For Sustainable Flow
Another important next step is to build the grit and resilience to sustain your flow consistently over time. This is where I can help.
There are many surrounding factors to sustaining a high flow lifestyle such as:
- like finding all of your different flow triggers
- getting the right mindset for flow
- being able to set yourself up for flow by eliminating distractions
- setting crystal clear goals to help you continue accessing flow
- getting the right active recovery protocols in place to get up and flow again the next day etc.
These are all things that I work on in detail in the High Flow Lifestyle Community. I invite you to take the next step on discovering your new life with flow, with the benefit of having a built-in like-minded community of flow seekers also on a journey.
Flow makes us clearer, healthier, and happier.
Life is short. Find flow.