Ah, flow state.
That place of being so zoned in on whatever it is you’re doing/painting/making that you lose all sense of external environment and thoughts. I’ve been studying flow state now for a few years and have stumbled upon some pretty cool research and findings along the way.
I have, of course, been in this place many times before. But I’ve always wondered, “Why does this happen only sometimes? Is there a way I can develop this into a skill that I can turn on at any time?”
Growing up, I played piano a lot and it was so easy for me to get to this place. To just sit and play whatever came through my fingers and get lost in the melody. When I’m painting, I’ve noticed it takes a little more “setting the scene,” like putting on good music and limiting distractions. But did you know that you can technically enter “flow state” when you do the dishes? Or drive the car? In fact, it’s been discovered that the average person enters into this hypnotic state at least twice a day!
While a state of hypnosis and flow are slightly different, they both involve a deep sense of attention all while experiencing effortless behavior, action and/or skill.
So, why is flow state so important?
To get a liiiittle bit nerdy, it’s been shown that when an artist enters the “flow state,” their brain is producing Alpha and/or Theta brain waves:
“During flow, our brain is swamped with endorphins, which dull pain and give us a euphoric feeling. Meanwhile, dopamine motivates us and ensures our focus remains on the task at hand. The brain sits on the border of Alpha and Theta ranges, about 8 Hz.” – Sam Brinson
Because of this relaxed state that happens when we’re in flow, artists are able to not just enter a place of relaxation and focus, but visualization and imagination are in total hyperdrive when in flow. And when the brain is producing Theta waves, intuition and memory are fired up meaning the artist, musician, etc. is able to produce their best work by relying on inner knowing and muscle memory.
So, how do we achieve flow state?
After being a professional artist now for ten years, I’ve found a bridge between my degree in psychology, love for science and my passion for art, and that is studying flow state. Because flow state is mostly thought of as this random moment that will occasionally happen when we’re in a deep creative state, it never really occurred to me that flow state could actually be a skill that’s developed and practiced, and an artist could become “better” at getting there. This became important to me because I’ve done neurofeedback as therapy many times before. It’s essentially an avenue of rewiring your brain through Theta brainwaves. I’ve seen first hand how healing this state can be and how it’s directly impacted my art and creativity and so I became very interested in learning how to get to this place more frequently than just “at random.”
3 easy everyday habits to help you achieve flow state
I know, meditation can be hard to get into. I was one of those people who couldn’t sit still. I would constantly check the time to see how long it’s been. But just like anything else, meditation is a skill or muscle that needs to be developed. It’s the task of being fully present and “in the now” that activates Alpha and Theta brainwaves for flow state and these are the same brain waves that are being produced during meditation. The better you become at meditation, the better you will become at entering into flow.
If you’re brand new to meditation, check out the app Waking Up by Sam Harris. He has an introductory course there and amazing meditations available for any level. I open this app first thing in the morning and take about 15-20 minutes to set up my day from an intuitive and peaceful state instead of rushed and stressed.
If you really struggle with dropping in with meditation, breathwork is more of an active participation in meditation. I practice this once or twice a week for an hour. This is an excellent tool for stimulating the Vagus nerve, which will help put your body into a parasympathetic or relaxed state, instead of in “high alert”. If you’re new to breathwork, check this blog post out. Wim Hof is also a great place to start on YouTube. And check out your local Yoga studio to see if they offer breathwork classes.
3. “Automatic Writing” Exercises
Grab an old school pen and notebook and spend about 10-15 minutes just writing without editing or critiquing your writing. Sometimes it helps if I close my eyes and write faster than I think I should so I don’t spend any time correcting what I’ve put down. If you’re having trouble getting started, just write the first word that pops in your head at the top of the page. It doesn’t matter how silly or insignificant that word may be, just see what comes of it!
What is this doing? It’s allowing your intuition and imagination to take over and be fully expressed through a written form or motor skill that uses your hand…like painting! Do this every day before you pick up your brushes and remember, each one of these daily habits are tools that need sharpening. Doing them once or twice isn’t going to make you a flow state master. They’re muscles that need developing and time in the gym. Keep at it and watch how your creativity transforms!