Being in the zone

Swim, Bike, Run, Triathlon, Pentathlon.

Being in the zone

Imagine… you’re in the middle of a race when suddenly time stands still and everything clicks… Your pain and exhaustion melt away. Your breath becomes effortless and your muscles fully charged. Like a laser beam, you’re singularly focused and immersed in the task at hand. Your body is a literal machine, ready and able to do exactly as you command it with no complaints. You soar past your competitors, tireless, unstoppable. Pure exhilaration floods your veins. You are one with the universe.

Welcome to Flow State, also known as ‘being in the zone”… 

I’ve been lucky enough to experience this remarkable sensation a few times in my own athletic pursuits and every single time, it produced the best and most memorable athletic achievements of my life… winning a National Championship as a kid, or winning a World Championship as a Master’s athlete.

These are all moments I remember vividly to this day. What connects them is that I entered a state where everything felt like it was in slow motion and I achieved something my rational self would have said was unlikely to achieve.

Most of us have experienced flow state at least once or twice in our lives, especially at some point in our athletic journey.

Regardless of how short and sweet the experience was, once you’ve had even a taste flow- you’ll spend the rest of your life chasing it (especially true of athletes, including myself). Certain types of people, like the elites, have mastered getting into a flow state.

Flow is a high-performance drug. It’s pure bliss. It’s also not just a figurative ‘feeling’. It’s a very literal chemical state produced by a cocktail of important neurotransmitters in our brain.

Neuroscientists have discovered quite a bit about what’s going on inside our brains during flow. Because of modern science, we now have tools that can help us ‘hack’ our way into this Superman-like state of consciousness.

BUT, I want to be very clear that nootropics alone won’t automatically produce a flow state. It’s a full-body experience. What the right nootropics can do is help you achieve flow more easily and give you a fuller, richer experience.

The Neurobiology of the Flow State

Flow state is a hot topic in modern neuroscience and after my experiences, I wanted to figure out how I could get to a point enter flow state on demand. There are three things happening in your brain during flow:

  1. Your prefrontal cortex shuts down. Your prefrontal cortex is where that ‘voice in your head’ hangs out. When you turn off the light switch to your prefrontal cortex, your sense of morality, your self-consciousness, your sense of will experiences a temporary blackout. Doubting Drew and Nagging Nancy is put on pause.
  2. Your brain is flooded with neurotransmitters to create a state of ‘bliss’. Right before this happens, you may feel acute suffering and anxiety due to a spike in norepinephrine and cortisol… Here’s when having the option of either fighting it, becoming frustrated and exhausted (the downfall of many athletes where they say there “nerves got the better of them” OR if you’re in tune enough and able to ‘ride the wave’, you can surrender and relax into it. This will trigger nitric oxide to increase and flush the stress chemicals from your bloodstream and that’s when the magic happens… you get flooded with ‘feel good’ hormones like dopamine, endorphins, and anandamide.
  3. Brainwaves change. Research using EEG and fMRI in the last 5 years has identified the brain waves involved in a flow state. Remember the spike in cortisol that happens as you approach flow state? It’s associated with hyperactive beta brain waves. If you allow yourself to ‘go with the flow’, nitric oxide kicks in and you’ll transition to ‘relaxed and alert’ alpha brain waves. From there, once the dopamine, endorphins, anandamide kick in, you’ll experience theta brain waves, the state well-known to experienced long-time meditators and many of the world’s most elite athletes. This is the state of optimum feeling and heightened performance. It’s the holy grail of altered consciousness. Theta doesn’t just ‘happen’ while going about your regular day. It’s triggered by deep meditation or doing something remarkable like pushing your body to its limits.As you leave the flow state, you go into deep Delta brain waves. This is the state of memory consolidation that happens during a boost in serotonin, locking in the skills you practice and leaving you with the afterglow of immense satisfaction, and the burning need to experience it all again.

Sounds flipping phenomenal right??

What’s also pretty amazing is that with the perfect chemical cocktail, we can assist our brain into shutting off our prefrontal cortex and producing the neurotransmitters and desired brainwaves to achieve this state… essentially ‘hacking’ our way into flow (sign me up!)

P.S. Here’s my best tip for being able to get to the point of unlocking Flow-State on demand: When you do achieve it, burn it into your brain. For example, I’ve seen moments where my kids have achieved Flow in sports and I immediately tell them to “remember that feeling, lock that feeling in your mind”. I’ve found that thinking about that feeling of being tuned in, turned on, yet calm is the best way to get back to it.

To read more about Flow State, check out these great books by Steven Kotler, The Rise of Superman, and Stealing Fire.

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Article written by: Matt – The Feed.

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