“Control of Consciousness Determines the Quality of Life.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
What Does “Getting In The Zone” Really Mean?
Flow, often referred to as “in the zone,” is a state of complete absorption and focus in an activity, where one experiences a sense of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment.
The science of getting into flow states involves understanding the psychological, physiological, and neurobiological processes underlying this state of optimal performance and engagement.
Read below to find out more about what factors need to be in place to promote more flow in our lives.
The Psychology of Flow
The concept of flow was extensively studied by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who identified several key elements contributing to its occurrence. These elements include:
1. Having Clear Goals
Having clear and specific goals helps direct attention and focus.
Setting challenging but attainable goals is essential to maintain focus and motivation.
2. Immediate Feedback
Receiving immediate and clear feedback about performance helps maintain the flow state.
Feedback helps individuals adjust their actions and maintain control and progress.
3. Balance Between Skill and Challenge
Flow states often occur when the level of challenge matches an individual’s skill level. If the challenge is too low, it can lead to boredom; if it is too high, it can lead to anxiety.
The optimal state is achieved when there is a balance between the two.
4. Concentration and Focused Attention
Flow requires intense concentration and focused attention on the task at hand.
Eliminating distractions and creating an environment conducive to concentration help facilitate the flow state.
5. Loss of Self-Consciousness
In flow, individuals often lose awareness of their self and ego. They become fully immersed in the activity, and the sense of time and external concerns diminishes.
6. Altered Sense of Time
Flow can distort one’s perception of time, making it seem to fly by or slow down. This is often described as being “in the present moment.”
The Neurobiological Basis of Flow
The state of flow is also associated with specific neurotransmitters in the brain. Several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, endorphins, and anandamide, facilitate this state.
Dopamine plays a significant role in motivation and reward and is released during flow states. It helps sustain focus and enhances the enjoyment and satisfaction of being in flow.
Norepinephrine is another neurotransmitter that contributes to flow. It increases attention and alertness, promoting heightened concentration and focus. Norepinephrine is associated with the “fight-or-flight” response and helps amplify mental arousal during flow.
Endorphins are also released during flow, often called the brain’s natural painkillers. These neurotransmitters create a sense of euphoria and well-being, reducing anxiety and enhancing the overall positive experience of being in flow.
Anandamide, an endocannabinoid neurotransmitter, has also been found to play a role in flow. Anandamide is associated with mood regulation and has been linked to feelings of bliss and relaxation. Its release during flow, contributes to the sense of calm, and contentment that often accompanies the state.
The exact neurochemical mechanisms underlying flow are still being studied, and individual flow experiences may vary. However, these neurotransmitters are believed to play key roles in facilitating and enhancing flow states.
The Physiology of Flow
Apart from the psychology of flow, when it comes to focus and concentration, a lot has to do with the mental energy and bandwidth we work with each day.
Our physiology, overall health, and vitality will directly affect our engagement in work and activities and our ability to focus and perform at our best.
A few key elements to promoting the physiological state of flow are:
1. Sleep Optimization
Of all health habits, training our ability to sleep, in terms of quality and duration, may go the furthest.
The cognitive deficits associated with sleep deprivation cannot be understated, and when it comes to focused attention, prioritizing sleep hygiene can have a massive effect over time.
Many habits contribute to optimal sleep hygiene, such as regular sleep/wake time, avoiding late-night meals, and refraining from using electronics before bed.
2. Adequate Movement
In terms of creating an optimal cognitive state for our day, exercise in the morning, mainly cardio, has been shown to improve focused attention.
That being said, stretching, resistance training, walking, and just about any kind of movement you enjoy with your particular preferences can boost mental well-being, which is associated with flow.
Evidence suggests that if it’s a form of exercise you enjoy, you will have more dopamine released, contributing to some of the cognitive benefits.
3. Health Status
When it comes to health, there’s a continuum between disease states and optimal health status.
To improve our ability to focus, perform, and reach peak states, we must start by taking care of our overall health.
Having regular blood work, getting our annual physicals, and doing our routine recommended screenings are significant first steps.
Many who recognize the continuum of health choose to work with an Integrative or Functional Doctor for comprehensive testing when they may be ‘healthy’ but are still dealing with nagging physical symptoms or know that their stress, sleep, energy levels, etc., could be better.
Physical factors affecting focus and flow include hydration, adequate nutrition levels, brain wave states, and our overall toxic burden. Since these factors can be measured, many opt to work with a Functional Doctor to improve their longevity and health span.
Engaging in activities that you find inherently enjoyable, that challenge your skills, and provide immediate feedback is beneficial to induce flow states.
By consciously cultivating an environment conducive to flow and engaging in activities that align with your interests and abilities, you can increase the likelihood of experiencing flow states.
Regular practice, deliberate effort, and a focused mindset can also contribute to achieving flow more frequently.
Next Steps to Improve Focus and Flow
Regarding flow, our mindset, health, and neurophysiology all play a part in promoting an optimal state for focus, performance, and enjoyment of activities and work we engage in.
You have what it takes inside you to make a definite choice that will change the future trajectory of your health.
Our team at Tiger Medical has the experience, clinical skills, and coaching acumen to help you regain your health and focus.
To talk to one of our professionals, click here to schedule your call!
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