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Flow makes you happy. This is the all-encompassing flow benefit. You could stop reading here because, in the end, happiness is what we’re all looking for, and flow is a lot cheaper than Margaritas on Bora Bora, right?
However, If you decide to read on, be ready to discover three incredible, productivity-related flow state benefits. Not only will they spark your interest in flow, they’ll also encourage you to welcome flow into your daily routine.
So what are the benefits of flow state?
Studies have found that flow can:
- Increase productivity by 500% (Study by McKinsey and Co.)
- Amplify creativity between 400% & 700% (Study by Flow Genome Project)
- Improve learning rates by 490% (Study by the US Military – Steven Kotler)
Now, let’s have a more detailed look at these benefits.
Three flow state benefits:
Benefit 1: A reduced sense of self and time
Flow is selfless. When you’re in a state of flow, your ego and self-consciousness disappear. You stop caring about social judgment and your inner critic is silenced. Consequently, a flow state is free from worry and fear of failure.
This reduced emotional brain activity is caused by what neuroscientist Arne Dietrich has coined transient hypofrontality, or the offline modus of the frontal area of our brain. As this part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, gets a rest, other brain areas become more active and we lose a certain sense of awareness.
Feelings that would consume you under normal circumstances, such as pain, hunger and fatigue, simply don’t arise. You have a reduced awareness of your surroundings and your sense of time dilates. As a result, you’re able to fully focus on the activity at hand without observing emotions or potential distractions.
That’s why people experience flow as a positive feedback loop. The triggers that cause flow get reinforced while in flow, making the experience even more powerful.
The effects all boil down to a stronger focus on a narrow process. Surgeons, for example, describe that during challenging surgeries they are unaware of their surroundings. A car might crash into the adjacent room and they wouldn’t notice. Their attention is fully focused on the process and they only see and feel their hands.
Since the flow is related to these positive, care-free experiences, it brings happiness. In jargon, the flow experience becomes auto-telic, meaning that the activity is its own reward. Inspired by this intrinsic motivation, people end up trying to tap into the flow for the sake of it, not for the results. Coming back to the surgeons, they like surgeries because of the feeling of flow, not the prestige and money-related rewards.
In conclusion, actions and awareness merge when you experience flow. You’re fully focused on the task at hand while letting go of negative emotions, such as social fear, fatigue and self-criticism. The result is total immersion and utter happiness.
Benefit 2: An accelerated path to mastery
Thanks to the first benefit, a deeper focus and absence of inner criticism, you’ll learn faster in a flow state. One experiment, for example, showed a 230% increment in learning speed, another one, a staggering 490%.
As mentioned before, flow is a positive feedback loop. When you perform better, your focus increases and the other way around. For example, when you’re studying a difficult math concept, like game theory, and you’re grasping the whole idea, you’ll feel proud and relieved. Your focus will increase because these reassuring feelings drive your intrinsic motivation. As you’re now paying even more attention, you’ll learn faster, so you’ll feel happier, and you’ll be more motivated. And that’s how this positive feedback loop works.
Not only does this work during an activity, it also makes you want to return to that same activity or experience. Your brain craves the yummy pleasure-enhancing chemicals flow stimulates. This is good because when you’re more motivated to do something, it’s a whole lot easier to reach those mythical 10.000 hours to mastery, don’t you think?
“According to the flow model, experiencing flow encourages a person to persist at and return to an activity because of the experiential rewards it promises, and thereby fosters the growth of skills over time.” – Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi 2002
In flow, you’ll learn faster thanks to a deeper focus. These activities make you feel satisfied and are likely to be repeated. Therefore, you’re more likely to put in the extra practice that leads to mastery.
Benefit 3: Creative boosts and superior performances
Creativity is the art of taking in new information and combining it with old information. In order to become better at this, you need improved pattern recognition and lateral thinking. Fortunately, these are exactly two of the skills that receive a major boost when in flow.
Thanks to increased production of several neuro-chemicals, this peak state of performance leads to higher and faster information intake. You’ll find more links to related ideas (pattern recognition) and more connections with far-flung ideas (lateral thinking).
Other performance metrics also improve during flow. In general, various work performances have been found to multiply by a factor of five during flow. When you find your passion, avoid distractions and focus on the moment, it’s possible to work up to five times faster. Imagine completing your weekly tasks by Monday’s happy hour. Just think about having the rest of the week off. What would you do with all this extra free time?
The other performance benefits of flow include faster reflexes, closer attention and more risk-taking. That’s why flow doesn’t only benefit work output but also sports performances.
On a business level, flow state also has its benefits. Businesses with circumstances that allow employees to find flow more regularly, benefit from employees with more autonomy and better cooperation. Hint: open office spaces are dead because they are a fountainhead of distractions.
Flow gives you a performance and creativity boost thanks to free thinking and faster processing. Start working towards those flow experiences in order to get more done in less time. But don’t forget that flow isn’t result-triggered, it only works when you’re focused on the process.
Benefits of flow conclusion:
By regularly tapping into flow, you’ll get above average results at work, during sports or while pursuing any other passion. The top 3 flow state benefits are a letting-go of self, a fast-track to mastery and a juicy creativity boost.
But be warned, it’s addictive. Getting faster and better results is something your brain gets used to pretty quickly.
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Sources and further reading/watching about flow state benefits
- Hacking the GENOME of Flow – Jamie Wheal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqAtG77JjdM
- Losing yourself in flow state – Diane Allen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ookkfdGMHeM
- Flow State: Journey from ICU to Drone Racing Superman – Marque Cornblatt. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRQkrncFaUg
- Living in flow – the secret of happiness – with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Happiness & Its Causes 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzPky5Xe1-s
- How to find flow- Steven Kotler. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XG_hNZ5T4nY
- The Concept of Flow – Jeanne Nakamura & Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. https://nuovoeutile.it/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/2002-Flow.pdf
- The Transient Hypofrontality Edge – Psychology Today – Kate F. Hays Ph. D. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-edge-peak-performance-psychology/201703/the-transient-hypofrontality-edge