What is the flow state?
Have you ever felt completely dialed into a task, as though it was effortless to sit there and crush it out with fervor? Your senses feel heightened, your mind sharp, and overall you are laser-focused on the task at hand. This sensation is commonly referred to as the flow state. Those who seek to improve performance often question how to enter this state at will; a question that still perplexes those who see the answer.
What is the physiology behind this state?
To produce such a highly focused state of consciousness, the brain is producing a cocktail of neurochemicals, including norepinephrine, anandamide, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These are all known as performance enhancing neurochemicals; serving to allow us to take in more information and process it more deeply. It is also debated that this state allows you to process information more quickly.
What exactly is going on with these chemicals?
The five chemicals mentioned are not only performance enhancing to a degree but are also addictive in that we will do whatever we can to pursue having the same feeling again. Because of the addicting nature of this state, once an activity leads to it, we will go to extremely far measures to continue to engage in the flow state. This has been seen to lead to intrinsic (internal) motivation.
Norepinephrine and dopamine play a significant role, specifically in tightening focus. They allow for heightened pattern recognition, which in turn leads to an increased ability to effectively and deeply process information.
The more neurochemicals that show up during an experience, the more likely that information processed during this time frame is likely to be passed from short-term memory to long-term storage. Because the ‘flow state’ is a giant neurochemical dump, it greatly enhances an individual’s ability to commit information to long-term memory, thus improving learning.