How To Create A Mental Space For Flow

How To Create A Mental Space For Flow.

Flow can exist only when our full attention is on the present moment. When we are fully focused on the here and now. So first, we have to create that mental space where the flow can exist.

Let me explain what the flow state is. What is happening in our brain when we get into the state of flow, and why we should want to achieve it?

This training is mainly focusing on running, but the techniques we are learning here, you can apply to any sport and all other areas of your life. You don’t have to be a runner to achieve flow. Every person on earth can access the state of flow. 

Flow Explained.

Flow it’s an optimal state of consciousness when we feel our best and perform our best. It’s those moments of total absorption. 

We are totally immersed in the task at hand. We are directing all of our attention toward the task, and do not experience many thoughts about ourselves or our performance. 

We may not notice time passing, think about why we are doing the task, or judge our efforts. Instead, we remain completely focused.

Action and awareness are merging. Your sense of self will disappear. The time will distort, for example, 5 hours will pass like 5 minutes. And then all aspects of performance, mental and physical, will go out through the roof.

Anyone Can Achieve Flow.

You may not recognise that you have been in a state of flow. But for sure you have experienced it many times in your life. 

There are many situations in which you may enter a flow state. Any task that absorbs all of your attention but does not overwhelm you could induce flow.

The activities that trigger flow may be different for each person, depending on what you find interesting, enjoyable, or challenging. Some examples of activities that might induce a flow state include:

  • playing sports, whatever it is, running, cycling, swimming, climbing, yoga, cross fitness – you name it
  • playing games
  • dancing
  • reading
  • writing
  • creative hobbies, such as playing an instrument or painting
  • solving puzzles
  • playing chests, or
  • gardening

What Happens In Our Brain In Flow.

Several changes occur in the brain during the flow state. 

As the best-selling author and director of Flow Research Collective, Steven Kotler explains when we are in the flow, the prefrontal cortex shoots down.

You remember from Prefrontal Cortex And Why Our Brain Resist Change how important is the prefrontal cortex. It handles complex logical functions, like decision-making, long-term planning, a sense of morality, and a sense of willpower.

In flow, this part of the brain shoots down, it’s actually the efficiency exchange. The brain is trading the energy it needs for attention and shooting down non-critical structures.

When the prefrontal cortex shoots down, crazy things are happening.

Time is calculated in the prefrontal cortex, and when it’s shooting down, we can no longer separate the past, from the present, from the future, and we are getting into the deep now. 

As Steven Kotler explains not many of our anxieties are about right here and right now. They are usually those things which happened to us in the past, and we want to avoid them to happen again. Or those things which might happen to us in the future.

When we get into the deep now, into the state flow, we are creating that space in the brain where anxiety disappears. Our stress hormones flood out of our system, and the nervous system resets.

The same thing happens to our sense of self. When the prefrontal cortex shoots down, our sense of self resets which has again a huge impact on our performance.

We stop criticizing ourselves. We experience liberation and freedom. We are literally getting out of our own way.

As a result of it, risk-taking goes up. We don’t doubt ourselves any longer, and our creativity goes up. 

Flow Research.

The research shows that when we are in the flow, we may experience up to:

  • 700% increase in creativity
  • 500% increase in productivity
  • 490% increase in learning new skills, and 
  • 430% increase in creative problem solving

Being in the flow is hugely enjoyable. We enjoy the flow because we are working on something that matters to us and because it is satisfying to see the project taking shape.

Flow is very important for our mental health and well-being.

How I Discovered The Benefits Of Flow.

Let me tell you a story about how I discovered flow for the first time, and how this journey started for me.

For the first nearly 40 years of my life, I struggled with anxiety, stress and overwhelm. I did have difficulties focusing for longer on one activity.

When I was running my first two challenges through Asia, I was afraid of snakes. I was born in Poland, and for the past 21 years I live in London, and we don’t have many snakes there.

But when I was running through Asia, through small villages, fields, forests and jungles – the snakes were everywhere. 

And a few times, I almost stepped on the snake because my mind was rarely in the present moment. I was usually dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. So I did have to change it and focus on the road ahead of me to see if there are any snakes. 

I started paying all attention to where I’m putting my feet, and for the first time in my life, I started making conscious choices and living in the present moment.

At some point, I started running crazy distances, like 70, 80, and 100 km a day. But not only this, I was running with a backpack from hotel to hotel, and after completing my runs, I could open my laptop and work for the next few hours. 

I become highly focused on what I was doing, not only during the run but also after running. The run itself and work after the run become effortless and highly enjoyable. Even when I was running 10 hours a day in over 30 degrees celsius temperatures. The smile did not go off my face.

All my anxieties, stress, and overwhelm disappeared, and crazy things started happening in my life.

Life Changes When You Experience Flow Regularly.

I started “eating” books, reading like crazy, and consuming knowledge. And it was a new experience for me because I did have massive difficulties learning new things.

The journalists started writing about my runs and work. I become a keynote speaker. I was running with a backpack from university to university, teaching people about mindfulness and flow. I became an ambassador for charity organisations supporting people who experienced childhood trauma.

I completed the running of two challenges, making 5 million steps in 101 days and running 11 000 kilometres unsupported through Asia. I wrote my book “Mindful Self-Leadership: How to unlock focus, creativity and joy in work and life.”

I have given dozens of podcast, TV, radio and press interviews. I created a coaching program. Signed several sponsorship deals, and now I’m running the circumference of the Earth, 40,075 km (25,000 miles), conducting hundreds of events along the way and teaching people about flow and mindful movement.

From Mindful Movement To Flow.

All of it was thanks to practising mindfulness, focusing on the present moment, on that road ahead of me, implementing mindful movement in all other areas of my life, and starting to make conscious choices. 

In Do Traumatic Experiences Make You Feel Stuck In Life and Why Do We Feel Anxiety, Stress And Overwhelm, I talked about what is holding us back in life.

Practising mindful movement caused that I stopped that signal cycling between my body and my mind that was holding me in the same place in life. That was causing that I felt stuck in life. That clenched fist in my stomach completely disappeared. For the past few years, I don’t feel it. It doesn’t exist.

Example of mindful movement exercise: Mindful Pain Management.

When I started getting regularly into the state of flow, and my prefrontal cortex was shooting down, my nervous system was resetting. 

I got out of my own way, and I didn’t think or feel any longer that I’m not good enough. That other people are better than me. I was just creating whatever I wanted to create.

Flow And Mindfulness.

Flow is similar to mindfulness as both have to do with focusing on the present moment. However, we often use the term “flow” to refer to situations where we are extremely productive, while in a state of mindfulness, we are not necessarily doing any task. We just focus on the present moment.

But mindfulness helps us create conditions for flow and get into the deep now, which has a huge impact on our performance.

Of course, all of this didn’t happen to me at the night. It’s a result of consistent work for the past few years. But it all started with a need and wants to improve my mental health.

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