I have now had many flow experiences over last several years with varying degrees of intensity. When it does happen, it always feels amazing. But the feeling can also be quite addictive.
In his book, The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler is quick to advise caution. He explains that all five of the neurochemicals that underpin the flow state are potent and addictive chemicals. Once you have experienced it, there is an incredible psychological draw that pulls a person towards flow. Additionally, flow occurs in cycles, and it is impossible to be in flow all the time.
According to Kotler, “No question about it… there’s a dark night of the flow. In Christian mystical traditions, once you’ve experienced the grace of God, the ‘dark night of the soul’ describes the incredible pain of its absence. The same is true for flow.” I can personally attest to this. When the flow state eventually wears off, it can be incredibly frustrating. One day, you feel unstoppable. Everything is exciting, thoughts flow freely, and you can accomplish incredible things. Until suddenly it ends and you go back to normal. It can be an incredibly difficult transition, especially when your normal includes Meniere’s disease.
What I can say is this: flow is the most powerful state of consciousness I have ever experienced and has shown me an aspect of human potential that I hadn’t considered possible. As frustrating as it was to go from such a heightened state of being back to brain fog and dizziness, it filled me with hope. If a flow state was possible, and my symptoms disappeared in flow, then a return to health was also possible. In subtle ways, I have tried to shape my daily habits and environment around creating more flow in my life. It has been an amazingly positive force for healing and has helped me considerably to thrive.
Flow State Triggers
So if you want to experience flow and all the benefits it can provide, you’re in luck. The Flow Genome Project has now identified 17 different flow state triggers and Steven Kotler has covered each one extensively in The Rise of Superman. Some are internally based while others are external and relate to your environment. He defines a flow trigger as a set of circumstances that enable you to quickly enter the flow state. I will briefly identify and introduce several of these triggers.
The first set of flow triggers are psychological triggers. There are four in total, and their purpose is to drive your awareness into the present moment, which is required for a flow state to occur.
The first psychological trigger is to maintain intensely focused attention. Very deep focus on one single, enjoyable task is often required to enter a flow state.
The second psychological trigger is to have clear goals. When your goals are clearly defined, your mind knows exactly what it needs to do next, keeping you grounded in the present moment.
The next psychological trigger is to have immediate feedback. If you are able to monitor your performance in real time, your brain doesn’t need to analyze your past actions to decide what to do next. Instead, it can adapt and improve on the fly, again, keeping your focus on the present moment, on the task at hand.
The final psychological flow trigger is to maintain the proper skill-to-challenge ratio. You want the task at hand to be challenging enough that you don’t get bored, but not so challenging that you become frustrated.
The next set of triggers, known as environmental flow triggers, have to do with managing your external environment.
The first trigger in this category is to have an environment with high consequences. When there is risk associated with a task, our brain often kicks into survival mode, which can quickly trigger a flow state.
The next environmental flow trigger is to operate in a rich environment filled with novelty, complexity, and unpredictability. If you don’t know what’s coming next, you will pay much closer attention to your surroundings, keeping you in the present moment.
The final environmental trigger is deep embodiment, or in other words, having a strong physical awareness of your environment. Maintaining an intimate awareness of, and connection to, your surroundings enables flow states to occur more frequently.
Creativity is a flow trigger and category all by itself. According to Kotler, when you look under the hood of creativity, you find pattern recognition and risk-taking. Both of these are elements of flow as well as flow triggers. Not to mention, creativity can produce flow, while flow, in turn, will greatly enhance your creativity.
The final set of flow triggers Kotler has identified have to do with altering our social lives and social environments to produce more flow as a group. These social flow triggers closely mirror the psychological flow triggers but are applied more broadly to increase flow in a group setting. If you have ever seen a major comeback at the end of a sports event, you have seen group flow in action. Group flow can also often be found in the workplace and is frequently associated with the startup culture.
A 10-year study conducted by McKinsey & Company found that top executives are 500% more productive during flow. Though group flow is an important dynamic to consider, it is not directly relevant to your Meniere’s disease treatment efforts.
To help you discover your dominant flow trigger, check out the Flow Genome Project’s flow profile questionnaire. It only takes five minutes and will help you identify which triggers will most likely bring you into a flow state.
In my five years with Meniere’s disease, I have had several clear defining moments. All of them were critical turning points in my recovery and caused a radical shift in my beliefs. The first happened when I finally found an amazing Neurotologist to treat me. He showed me a world where I could be okay, and eventually I was.
The last turning point was when I had my first flow state. I had lived in a brain fogged haze for so long that I had forgotten what it felt like to think clearly. But the unbelievable clarity of the flow state showed me an aspect of my potential that I never knew existed.
That same potential lies within you, too. It is my sincerest hope that you are able to benefit from flow states as much as I have.
I wish you the best of luck on your journey.