Before, we believed Flow was binary, like a light switch. You were either in the zone or you were out of the zone. As it turns out, based on research from Herb Benson, Flow is actually a four part cycle.
- This is a loading phase. You are loading, then overloading the brain with information. For a baseball player this is learning to swing a bat at a ball. For a writer planning a new book. This is when you’re doing interviews. This is when you’re reading, it’s when you’re diagramming structure and things like that. It’s very unpleasant as a general rule. So even though flow may be the most desirable and pleasant state on earth, the actual flow cycle itself starts with a very unpleasant state known as struggle.
- This literally means you want to take your mind off the problem. So what happens in flow is we are trading conscious processing which is slow, has very limited RAM for subconscious processing which his extremely fast and is very energy efficient and has pretty much endless RAM. So to do that you have to stop thinking about what you were trying to think about. You take your mind off the problem, you go for long walks, gardening works very well, etc.
- Heightened awareness. Full engagement in the present moment. Loss of sense of time, loss of sense of ego. Peak experience.
- This is really, really, really critical. So you go from this amazing high of flow to a very deep low that shows up in recovery. A lot of this is that all those feel good neurochemicals have drained out of your system.
If you really want to hack flow you need to learn how to struggle better and you need to learn how to recover better. And one of the most important things in recovery is you have to – you need some emotional fortitude, some grit. You have to basically hold on to your emotions, not get stressed out at the fact that you know longer feel like Superman. And the main reason – well two reasons for this is one, if you get too stressed out and feeling low you’re going to start producing cortisol. A little bit is fine, too much of it blocks the accelerated learning that comes with flow. So you will actually get the short term benefit of the flow state itself but you won’t get the long term benefit, the accelerated learning that you get in flow. The other problem is if you have to move from recovery back into struggle and you’re bummed out at no longer being in flow during the recovery phase, it’s very hard to get up for the difficult fight of struggle that follows.