What is ‘Flow State’ consciousness?
According to the scientists at the Flow Genome Project the experience known as ‘flow’ can be defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best. And all aspects of performance, both mental and physical, go through the roof”.
How long have scientists known about this altered state of consciousness known as ‘flow’?
While scientists have known about the relationship between flow and peak performance for more than a century, a real understanding of this relationship has been slow in coming.
Conflicting motivations. “The people really good at finding flow, mostly artists and athletes, were rarely interested in studying it. And the people interested in studying flow, primarily academics and scientists, were rarely good at finding it”.
Flow Genome Project & subsequent 2017 book, “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEAL’s, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work, to the rescue.
In 2011 behavioral scientists Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal founded the Flow Genome Project in an attempt to solve this problem. Their goal was to take a multidisciplinary approach to mapping the neurobiology of flow, and then open source the results.
So, in 2014 Steven Kotler published “The Rise of Superman” and following that books release they found themselves talking flow to a wider and wider assortment of people. What began as meetings with individuals and organizations with a vested interest in high stakes competition – professional athletes and the military – expanded into Fortune 500 companies, financial organizations, tech firms, health-care providers, and universities.
The idea that nonordinary states of consciousness could improve performance was spreading out of the extreme and into the mainstream.
Advances in science and technology are giving us unprecedented access to and insight about the upper range of human experience, arguably the most controversial and misunderstood territory in history.
Why should any of this matter to you?
Because seven decades of research conducted by hundreds of scientists on thousands of participants showed up to:
And those percentage gains are big numbers!
Imagine the ease, effortlessness, timelessness, and happiness you could experience by realizing these types of gains in your life.
Pulling back the curtain and discovering what is really going on here from a neurobiological perspective.
“Regular waking consciousness has a predictable and consistent signature in the brain: widespread activity in the prefrontal cortex, brainwaves in the high-frequency beta range, and the steady drip, drip, drip of stress chemicals like cortisol. During the states we are describing, this signature shifts markedly. Instead of widespread activity in the prefrontal cortex, we see specific parts of this region either light up and become hyperactive or power down and become hypoactive.
At the same time, brainwaves slow from agitated beta to day-dreamy alpha and deeper theta. Neurochemically, stress chemicals like cortisol are replaced by performance-enhancing, pleasure-producing chemicals such as dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, serotonin, and oxytocin.
So no matter how varied these states appear on the surface, their underlying neurobiological mechanisms – that is, the knobs and levers being tweeked in the brain – are the same. And this understanding allows us to tune altered states with newfound precision.
Consider one of the simplest and oldest ‘flow’ techniques: meditation. Historically, if you wanted to use meditation to consistently produce a ‘flow’ state, decades of practice were required.
Because your target was nothing more than a peculiar sensation, and hitting it was like throwing darts blindfolded. But researchers now know that the center of that target actually correlates to brain function – like brain waves in the low-alpha, high-theta range – and this unlocks all kinds of new training options.
For organizations like the SEALs , these developments are allowing them to take an entirely different approach to high performance. They’ve moved beyond their earlier explorations, and are now pursuing ‘flow’ with a degree of precision that was simply not possible even ten years ago.”
And thanks to their more than a decade of research into the neurobiology of ‘flow states’, so can we!
But, before we go down that road, it’s important to note that it’s not just our minds which are involved in the thinking process.
We’re not smart and have bodies, we’re smart because we have bodies!
Studies on things like botox and body posture reveal our bodies are hardwired into our emotions and therefore directly linked to our neurobiology.
“These studies move us from “disembodied cognition”, the idea that our thinking happens only in the three pounds of grey matter tucked between our ears, to “embodied cognition”, where we see thinking for what it really is: an integrated, whole-system experience.”
“The body, the gut, the senses, the immune system, the lymphatic system,” explained embodied cognition expert and University of Winchester emeritus professor Guy Claxton to New York magazine, “are so instantaneously and complicatedly interacting that you can’t draw a line across the neck and say ‘above this line it’s smart and below the line it’s menial.”
“The heart has about 40,000 neurons that play a central role in shaping emotion, preception, and decision making. The stomach and the intestines complete this network, containing more than 500 million nerve cells, 100 million neurons, 30 different neurotransmitters, and 90 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin (one of the major neurochemicals responsible for mood and well-being).
Important note: many scientists now refer to this ‘network’ as the Endocannabinoid System. Which was a term not readily available in 2017 at the time of publishing Stealing Fire.
What does any of this have to do with activating and sustaining ‘flow states’?
“For those interested in shifting (to flow) states, knowing the body can drive the mind gives us a whole new set of knobs and levers with which to play.”
Why activating and sustaining ‘flow states’ have proven elusive to the masses, until now.
Throughout the book ‘Stealing Fire’ and from data gathered as a result of ‘mapping’ flow states with the Flow Genome Project, the authors and founders have identified a plehora of activities which represent ‘sure fire’ ways to activate flow states.
Most of which have one of three major limitations regarding the masses.
- Risk Aversion
Location – Take two of the less risky activities which have been proven to activate flow, surfing and down hill skiing. Unless you live on a coast with easy access to the ocean, or by a mountain with a ski slope, it’s not an easy trek to get your daily flow fix.
Resources – There are now neurofeedback devices which one can hook up to and activate flow but right now those technologies are expensive and out of reach for most. And they are best utilized with the help of a practitioner who knows how to utilize them properly.
Risk Aversion – While extreme sports activities have proven to be extremely effective in activating flow states most are not willing to take the risk. Take Base Jumping and Free Diving as just two examples. Most are not willing to risk sacrificing their lives for the bliss of flow.
What did they identify as one of the most reliable and risk averse activities for activating flow?
Because psychedelic’s activate receptor sites throughout the body which help the body produce more of the pleasure producing neurochemicals like serotonin.
And as stated above, when we have more of these performance-enhancing, pleasure producing neurochemicals surging through our bodies our inner critic or our filters, the prefrontal cortex, quiets down and we shift from agitated beta brainwaves to the lighter alpha and even quasi-hypnotic theta ranges.
“As we move even deeper, the brain can release endorphins and anandamide. They both decrease pain, letting us pay even more attention to what’s going on. Anandamide also plays an important role here, boosting “lateral thinking”, which is our ability to make far-flung conclusions between disparate ideas. Post-its, Slinky’s, Silly Putty, Super Glue, and a host of other innovations came when an inventor made a sideways leap, applying an overlooked tool in a novel way. In part, that’s anandamide at work.
To wrap it all up, we can experience an afterglow of serotonin and oxytocin, prompting feelings of peace, well-being, trust, and sociability, as we start to integrate the information that has just been revealed.
And revealed is the right word. Conscious processing can only handle about 120 bits of information at once. This isn’t much. Listening to another person speak can take almost 60 bits. If two people are talking, that’s it. We’ve maxed out our bandwidth.
But if we remember that our unconscious processing can handle billions of bits at once, we don’t need to search outside ourselves to find a credible source for all that miraculous insight. We have terabytes of information available to us; we just can’t tap into it in our normal state.”
But since psychedelic’s are outlawed in most countries, once again we are left with only a select few even having access to this tool. Not to mention that most consider psychedelic’s a risk in and of itself.
A potential solution to activating the performance-enhancing, pleasure producing neurochemicals without the risk or legal issues – natrually occuring Nootropic’s!
Below is a list of nootropic’s which research has shown can activate the receptor sites throughout your body allowing your body to produce more of the performance-enhancing, pleasure producing neurochemicals mentioned above.
Cannabinoid’s & Terpene’s
To be very clear, we are not referring to smoking cannabis or hemp. In fact, when you heat either of those plants you are destroying the acidic version of the plant molecules such as CBDA & CBGA which are 1,000 more potent than the CBD or CBG molecules themselves in terms of activating specific receptor sites.
In order to enjoy the maximum benefit from a cannabis or hemp based nootropic, below are some important guidlines to be aware of:
- Look for a cannabinoid and terpene based supplement which is water soluable. Your body is made up of mostly water and since oil and water don’t mix, oil based cannabinoid supplements are less absorbable than water based.
- Look for a full-spectrum, cold pressed, whole-plant supplement. You want all the cannabinoid’s and terpene’s available in the plant. If your source has been altered to extract specific molecules it means it has been treated in a way which, most likely, has deactivated the benefit’s of the acidic form of the molecules such as CBDA & CBGA. You want all the cannabinoids and terpenes as they all activate different receptor sites. Scientists refer to this as the Entourage Effect.
- Look for a cannabis or hemp derived supplement that is certified to be 0.3 percent or lower in thc. This way you are getting enough thc to activate the CB 1 and CB 2 receptor sites in your endocannabinoid system. but you will not experience a high from it. This is about getting healed, not high!
- Always ask for a Certificate of Analysis! This is a 3rd party study conducted in a lab which will list all the cannabinoid’s and terpene’s in a supplement and tell you whether or not there was anything toxic used in the extraction process.
As just one example of why I highly recommend a full-spectrum, whole-plant supplement is CBG & CBGA. They both activate the same serotonin receptor sites, 5HT2-A & 5HT2-B, as psychedelic’s without the risk of a magical mystery tour.
To learn more about cannabinoid’s and terpene’s potentially positive influences on our physical bodies please visit projectcbd.org
A list of popular over-the-counter nootropic’s other than cannabinoid’s or terpene’s.
Below is a list of the top 5 top selling nootropic’s.
- L-Tyrosine – It helps the body produce neurotransmitters like epinephrine and dopamine.
- Lions Mane Mushroom – It helps the body quiet the prefrontal cortex which helps reduce mild symptoms of stress and anxiety and repair nerve damage. It also has strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune boosting abilities.
- L-Theanine – An amino acid found primarily in green and black tea which may help increase focus and attention.
- Mucuna Pruriens – Known for its medicinal properties that are effective in boosting libido, elevating mood, improving focus and energy levels, and lowering stress.
- L-Alpha-Glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha-GPC) – Increases the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and facilitates learning and memory. In athletes, it helps prevent exercise-induced reductions in choline levels, increases endurance performance and growth hormone secretion.
Combine these with some naturally occuring molecules which can help the body improve blood flow, help the body build muscle and burn more fat, and activate more energy on a cellular level and you’ve got a potential energy drink, minus any sugar, which could have you powered up all day long.
One last nootropic worth a mention, although a little more difficult to find: raw, fermented cacao.
As with the cannabinoid’s and terpenes, it’s best to find a source of cacao that has not been heated or processed as the processing can diminish its overall effectiveness in activating the neurotransmitters you are seeking to activate for a full flow state experience.
Whether you are looking to boost your productvity by up to 500 percent, or you are just interested in making life a little less stressful and more enjoyable, you are now aware of tools that can help you.
And you should be able to find assistance on virtually any budget.
Please connect with whoever shared this information with you, as it’s likely they have have access to one or all of the above tools I’ve referrenced in this blog.
About the author – Drew McCaughey has been teaching his specific set of meditation techniques based on flow state activations for over five years. They are based on the popular international Silva Mind Method program along with some strategies borrowed from Neuro Linquistic Programming (NLP), as well as theories from quantum physics and the Law of Attraction.
Learn more about Drew and his services on our Community page