What’s Flow?

Flow is often used to describe how it feels like when our lives feel like they’re unfolding naturally, with a sense of innate rhythm and purpose.

There are three main types of flow.

#1: The Flow State

The first type refers to a distinct psychological state of mind that happens when we are fully focused on what we are doing. A flow state is what athletes feel when they are in their zone (like a runner’s high), artists feel when they are fully immersed in making their art, and students feel when they are completely absorbed by their studies and suddenly have an “ah-ha.” It often happens when we fully focused on a task and feel as if time just slips away.

An important marker is that we lose a sense of self-consciousness and instead are deeply connected to our intuition. In flow, we aren’t doing what we do for outer reasons, we are doing it because we are deeply connected to an inner sense of wisdom about what will help us achieve our goals and priorities in the moment.

In my experience, flow is one of the most powerful tools we have for changing our lives. The most awesome thing is, we don’t have to learn anything to experience it. We don’t have to go to trainings or be led by an “expert.” Flow is innate, natural and the perfect way to experience peace, creativity and life-changing insights–it’s something we all have been doing for our entire lives, often without realizing it!

#2: Group Flow

Group flow is when we feel a deep feeling of connection with others. This often happens when athletes, musicians, or creatives are working together for a common goal, like during a musical production or sports competition. We can also experience group flow during a meeting or brainstorm, while playing with our children, or when a group of friends or family members are having a deep conversation, or are just bantering and relating in a positive way.

#3: Universal Flow

Universal flow is another way of saying the energy all around us. We might think of it as the energy we feel when we walk into a room and know if the people in it are stressed out or happy. We might also associate universal flow with nature and the quality that certain environments have, and how they make us feel.

Quantum physics has shown that we are all interconnected in ways that we are just barely beginning to understand. In my experience, the more we experience flow states and group flow, the more we are able to tap into the support of a universal flow that is accessible and available to us all.

Many of those participating in my 28-Day Flow Challenges have reported that the more they do their daily joyful activity, the more positive and almost miraculous synchronicities seem to happen in their lives. This is an example of universal flow at work.

What are Flow Systems?

When you search “flow” on the internet, you might come up with a wide range of results. For example, there are computer systems as well as ductwork designed to transport water. There are also productivity apps designed to support your work become more efficient. Flow is all about energy, the energy in our minds, bodies and spirits, and how we use that, as well as the energy all around us.

Any system, program, or tool (including the 28-Day Flow Challenge!) designed to support you in helping your energy flow more efficiently and in a way that leads to a more desired outcome is an example of a flow system. Flow systems can be anything from music designed to help your brain activate a flow state, or even feng shui, or energy medicine techniques, which focus on the movement of universal energy, or the energy of our physical bodies. At their core, flow systems are about helping your life unfold better by working with what already exists.

Flow States Help Our Lives Flow Better

After spending the last several decades studying a wide range of forms of coaching, meditation, and healing methods, I’m absolutely passionate about flow because it’s something we all know and work with everyday, even if we’re not aware of it. You don’t have to believe anything specific to experience a flow state. You don’t have to know anything specific or have mastered a specific method to achieve a flow state.

Flow is something we all know how to do innately. Our brains are wired to flow, and flow feels good for a reason–to get us to do it more often because it’s good for us! While we can always getting better at it through education, practice, and experimenting, flow is not a commodity we earn. Humans (and I believe most mammals, especially while playing and hunting) are encoded to flow because it’s linked to the survival of our species. Flow helps us master new skills, and apply skills we’ve learned previously to achieve outcomes that are good for us.

Flow research is ongoing, and we are constantly learning more about how we can use flow to make our lives better. The data and feedback I’ve received from those participating in my groups as well as the changes I’ve noticed in my own personal life over the last three years, have convinced me that here is a powerful connection between how often we experience a flow state, and how satisfied we are with our overall lives.

What I Love Most about Flow

One of the things that I love most about flow is that flow is not triggered by our desire for external rewards, but instead by something called intrinsic motivation. We are doing what we are doing simply because it feels right on a deep intuitive level.

For those of us interested in aligning our actions with who we really are, or connecting with a sense of purpose, flow offers a natural, highly enjoyable path to getting to getting there. The potential flow offers as far as helping us connect with our intuitive wisdom, and personal and emotional healing is so exciting. It’s like a shortcut (one we all already know how to do) to who we really are.

Here are some more facts that can help you master the art of flow and use it to help you share your unique gifts and spark.

Here is one of the best videos I have found on flow (it’s only 4 minutes!)

Video about brain activity during a flow state and how flow positively affects mental well-being

Source: BrainFacts.org

Nature is a Great Teacher

We can learn a lot about the nature of flow by observing the soft, gentle, creative energy of water in nature. A meandering stream always seems to get where it wants to go–whether it has to become a tiny trickle or a rushing waterfall to get there. The same is true of us and our own creative, intuitive energy.

The Downside of Being Too Busy

Unfortunately, for many of us, however, flow may happen far less often that we might like. We’re so busy! Most of us are inundated with emails, texts, phone calls, appointments and interruptions, as well as our own meandering thoughts. It can be tough to focus.

That can be a problem because focusing is an essential first step when it comes to attaining a flow state. On one hand, these distractions can be a result of the many activities, connections or responsibilities that make our lives so rich. On the other hand, they can leave us feeling scattered and make flow more challenging to achieve than we might like.

Peak State Versus Everyday Flow

When we hear flow described as a zen-like state of consciousness where we lose track of time, experience a sense of oneness or during which our productivity and performance are superhuman or skyrocket, we might hesitate. For some of us, that version of flow might not resonate with anything we remember experiencing.

Sometimes flow is a peak experience that can alter the course of our lives. Other times, however—far more often–flow is simply a calm feeling that comes when we are totally immersed in what we are doing.

How to Know if You Are in Flow

One of the trickiest things about learning about flow states is that it is a very private, inward, intimate experience and its intensity varies moment to moment, person to person and activity to activity. Flow is a state of mind that we each experience a bit differently depending on who we are and what we are doing when the flow state happens.

The other thing that can complicate recognizing when we are in flow is that during a flow state, we usually lose self-awareness or self-consciousness. When we are experiencing flow, we aren’t thinking about anything other than what we are doing, certainly not about whether or not we are in flow, what people think, or how we will later describe the experience. In fact, thoughts like those often bring us out of a flow state, interrupting it.

What We Can Learn from Children

If I ever had a doubt about whether flow was natural or whether we all experience flow, that disappeared completely when I became a mom. Children fall into a flow state naturally and easily.

When children are immersed in imaginative play and allowed to just be without interruption, it’s absolutely beautiful to watch. It’s as if they enter another world. They become completely immersed as if in a trance. They are so clearly connected to their own inner rhythm, with little sense of or care for what is happening around them.

Even the youngest of children demonstrate flow when practicing a new skill like a stacking blocks or picking up little objects over and over again. Because they haven’t yet developed a strong sense of caring what other people think, children often fall into a state of creative flow quite easily. They show us that flow is actually an innate state we are all encoded to experience when mastering a new skill, inventing something new, or fully immersed in what we are doing.

How To Achieve Flow

While flow often feels like it happens by accident, there are actions that boost the chance that we will experience flow.

7 Tips for Creating a Flow State

  1. Choose an activity you love to do. (If you need ideas, this article on 20 Questions to help you find your passion might help.)
  2. Find a safe place where you won’t be interrupted.
  3. Focus fully on what you are doing.
  4. Make it a game. Give yourself little mini-challenges and set goals to keep you interested.
  5. Focus on joy. Follow what feels good.
  6. Notice when it’s time to take a break or make a change. (Flow often comes to a natural end.)
  7. Trust what works for YOU.

These are guidelines rather than a script to follow. Overanalyzing flow or trying too hard can actually make it more difficult to achieve flow. The truth is, a flow state is completely natural. We all are encoded to experience creative flow. Practicing and trusting your own unique flow process is what really works.

Flow is all about softness and being willing to follow where we are being led, an openness to what is happening around us, within us and our own intuition. Obviously, these factors are changing all the time, which is why experimentation is the best teacher.

What Is Creative Flow?

Creative flow is another way of describing a flow state specific to when we are doing a creative activity like writing, creating art, or doing improv acting, comedy, speaking, or music.

How Does Creative Flow Happen?

When we start a creative activity, we often struggle. For example, we might find ourselves overthinking, feeling doubtful or self-critical, or our mind wandering. The more we focus on the activity, however, the more our hearts open and our energy shifts. For example, while writing, I first am very conscious of myself and my surroundings. I shift in my seat. I try to get comfortable.

The first words are often very clunky and not flowy at all. The more I write and get going, however, the more the words feel as if they just flowing out of my pen. Eventually, I start feeling like things are humming along. I lose track of time and get so much more done that when I’m not in a flow state.

You’re Not Doing It Wrong!

We live in a world filled with instant gratification. As a result, we might not realize that getting into a flow state is a process. At first, we might feel awkward or self-conscious, even if the task is something we do often. For example, when I dance, I often feel more stiff and it takes me a bit of time to relax, and transition into the present moment or focusing on the music’s beat. By focusing on the music intently and really paying attention to the how the music makes me feel, gradually, I shift from thinking about what I want to achieve to simply moving my body the way it wants to go.

I start feeling as if the music is pulsing through every inch of my body, as if I’m intimately connected with it and a deeper part of myself at the same time. When doing an activity, we almost always have a goal or idea about what we want to achieve, even if the goal is simply the peaceful feeling of being “clicked in” to our intuition or creativity. The more we focus on our own personal goals in the moment, the higher our chance of feeling flow. Any purpose or intention will do, even if it’s difficult to put into words. Once your actions have some sort of direction, where you know what you’re going for or want to achieve, that’s enough to experience flow.

Process Not Product

In flow, we are not doing what we think is “right” or focusing on reaching a goal that might be celebrated by the outside world. We are doing our thing because it feels right or something genuinely interests us, or peaks our curiosity. We are doing what we are doing for its own sake.

Even if we start doing something for outer gain, we don’t click into flow until we find our own personal motivation for doing the activity. We find our own unique way to make the activity fun for ourselves. Doing becomes its own reward.

When we are fully engrossed in an activity, we usual feel our way through it, think our way through it. It can almost feel as if answers or a sense of direction are coming from another source. We might even hear an inner voice or simply know exactly what to do without knowing how or why.

Flow isn’t mean to be a continual state. We drop into flow and then drop out of it. We each find our own personal rhythm of opening then closing. In some ways, the more we learn to flow, the more this process of navigating the transition from creative flowing to not flowing becomes its own skill to learn. We flow, then integrate what we have experienced while in connection and communion with our truest selves as we leave the flow state and reenter the outer world. Then we do it all over again.

Who is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi?

I was first introduced to flow thirty years ago through the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (prounounced “Me-high Cheek-sent-me-high”).

Inspired by his own experiences with flow while playing chess, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi interviewed thousands of musicians, artists, dancers, athletes, rock climbers, surfers and everyday folks all around the world living their lives at the top of their game.

It was long before podcasts and I listened to Csikszentmihalyi’s book over and over again on an audiotape, which I popped into the tape deck of my car during my long commute to my first corporate job. I was fascinated by his descriptions because they were so similar to experiences I had while writing or painting but had never really taken the time to fully understand.

Through his research, Csikszentmihalyi discovered that the experience of flow is universal, found in every culture and an essential key to living a deeply rewarding life. Based on his research, Csikszentmihalyi was able to prove that creative flow is a natural psychological state and was able to distill this innate state of consciousness into words, offering a tangible description we could all digest so we could start tapping flow a bit more consciously to make our own lives work better.

Latest Research-Backed Benefits

Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow became a quintessential launching point in human potential research, helping us all become more aware of what, on some level, we each already knew to be the key to creating positive experiences.

A lot has happened in the world of flow research since his first book came out. Csikszentmihalyi published several books since, expanding on his initial research. Other researchers from many different perspectives and fields of study have gotten in on the act.

We now know, for example, while in a state of flow, we experience lots of health benefits. This includes a rush of positive hormones and feel-good neurotransmitters, and much higher levels of performance and quiet confidence. Creative flow, like its close cousins—meditation and mindfulness—is good for our mental well-being.

Why Flow States Are So Important

While flow may be simpler to achieve and more common than we realize, most of us haven’t been formally taught what flow is or actively encouraged to seek it out. That lack of general awareness may be a big miss.

Benefits of flow include heightened emotional intelligence, self-awareness, self-confidence, creativity, resilience, intuition, inner peace, ability to learn, productivity, and overall enjoyment of our lives. When we are in a state of flow (and even afterwards), our creativity and intuition dramatically increase. Because of its many benefits, flow is an important state of mind worth practicing and mastering.

The Mysterious Power of Group Flow

The more I’ve experimented with flow in my own life and have shared the power of flow with others through my 28-Day Flow Challenge, it seems that when we actively work on achieving more creative flow in our lives with the support of a community, where each member has the same aspiration, we seem to energetically trigger group flow, or quantum flow. In other words, experimenting with what helps us get into a flow state can be the key to experiencing more flow in our relationships.

When everyone in a group is committed to functioning at their personal best, they interact on a higher level. It’s almost as if the group becomes in synch, can almost read each other’s minds from afar, or are connected by an invisible, intuitive energy.

How to Achieve a Group Flow Mindset

Learning how to tune into the other players in a musical group is a key part of making music together, especially in improvisation like jazz where the artists are making things up together, inventing in community as they do their thing. When the whole is the goal instead of focusing on making sure one specific person shines, something magical happens. In the 28-Day Flow Challenge, our motto is: “When we lift each other up, we all rise.” That’s what group flow is all about.

Each time I offer the 28-Day Flow Challenge, I’ve been amazed by the synchronicities and shared experiences by those in the group, even those who don’t even know each other. Creative flow also seems to be contagious and rub off on others, especially in creative communities with shared goals.

When some members fall into flow, they seem to spread a positive energy that affects and inspire others to as well, increasing the chance that the overall system falls into a synchronized rhythm or flow-like experience where there are more connections and synchronicities leading to positive events.

Building Muscle Memory

Another thing those who have participated in my free 28-Day Flow Challenge have reported is that when they practice creative flow by doing a joyful activity they love even just a few minutes a day, their overall lives seem to flow better. Like any skill or positive life habit, flow seems to be a skill we get better at with practice. It’s as if we slowly strengthen our flow muscle and gain the ability to apply flow in many different arenas.

All of these experiences support the idea that prioritizing flow in our organizations, schools and workplaces and in the way we structure our personal time has huge potential when it comes to what we may be able to collectively achieve and experience as a result.

Taking Your Power Back

While I find the research going on in the world of flow extremely interesting and exciting, we might start to think there is a secret formula we need to learn instead of realizing flow is something we already know how to do intuitively and can get better at with practice.

When we lean too strongly on what “they” say—experts and researchers about our own individual, personal, intimate experiences like flow, we may start to devalue what we know personally to be true for ourselves. The focus on this site and my work is supporting you in trusting your innate, unique and intuitive process of achieving flow to help you manifest you dreams.

Flow is as Natural as Breathing

When an expert defines flow in scientific terms or in a way that doesn’t resonate with our own inner verbiage or interpretation of our own personal experiences, we might start thinking we aren’t flowing “right” or we need someone from the outside to teach us what we are already innately encoded to do and most likely have been doing without realizing it. We might start to dissociate from what we know to be true for ourselves and our own personal flow processes rather than trusting our own life experiences and learned wisdom.

The truth is, we are all experts in creative flow. We truly don’t need anyone else to teach us to flow, just like we don’t need anyone to teach us to breathe. We just have to remember what our minds and bodies already know.

It’s All About Joy

In my experience, the best way to experience creative flow is to practice your craft, to do something you love to do as often as possible. I believe that flow is our reward for doing activities that bring us joy. While we can experience creative flow doing anything (yes, even our chores!) it happens more often and easily when we are doing activities that we love to do.

It’s almost as if flow is an innate reminder to encourage us to share our intrinsic, unique gifts that we alone have to share, and to live in a state of joy. I believe flow often happens naturally when we are living our purpose, doing activities that we truly love to do and sharing who we really are with others.

Flow Makes Us Feel Positive

A flow state automatically puts us in a better mood. Sometimes this might mean simply feeling calm and peaceful. Other times, a flow state might feel euphoric or like a high. No matter what, we almost always feel positive in some way while flowing. When we feel good, we automatically have a more positive impact on others.

The most important thing to know is that flow is a natural experience that can grow with awareness and the intention to have it do so. You already have everything you need right now to bring more flow into your life, by simply honoring, studying and practicing your own proven processes. In other words, when it comes to getting our lives to flow, your personal experiences are important and valid—the perfect place to begin.

Flow Activates Our Egoless Selves

One of the things I love most about flow is this feeling of connecting with a deeper, wiser, more peaceful aspect of ourselves. Psychological researchers studying flow call this our ego-less selves. Neuroscientists may say there is decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex of our brains. Mystics may say flow helps us connect with our our highest selves. Spiritual seekers might call this the God within or the soft, still voice of God. In Wu-Wei, another close cousin to flow, it’s described as being in synch with Nature.

No matter whose words we use or what our perspectives, one thing is true. In a state of flow, we become disengaged from our inner critics and outer judgements or at the minimum, their volume is turned down–way down. We just don’t care so much because we are so busy and having so much fun doing our thing.

Because of this, flow is the perfect way to practice letting go of people-pleasing and learning to trust ourselves. In a flow state, we aren’t doing what we are doing because we think we should, it will earn us more money, it is morally right, or people might like us more. In a flow state, we lose connection with our ego and instead connect with a much greater sense of rightness that is often difficult to put into words.

The Importance of Boundaries

To experience flow, we also often need chunks of time in which we can just do our thing without interruptions. When we’re questioning or changing habits in our current system or culture, it can be helpful to have support. Flow often requires establishing new boundaries that others may not fully understand.

The greater distractors to experiencing creative flow aren’t outer, they are internal including negative thoughts, own inner critic, wandering thoughts or big emotions. Some of these are habitual responses to earlier trauma, painful experiences, fears or anxieties. Many of us benefit from professional support when it comes to learning how to turn the volume down on our internal blocks to experiencing flow.

Healing Trauma and Finding Peace

The very act of flowing can also connect us with our intuition, inner voice and our own inner truths. We may learn new things about ourselves and our own potential or desires. This can also bring up lots of different emotions, trigger past traumas or create conflict with previously-learned habits or behaviors. Learning to flow more often may require making other changes to bring our lives into alignment with who we really are and the unique gifts we have to share.

Depending on the culture in which we live, or our own personal beliefs or past experiences, striving to flow more often can feel like we are renegades, rebels, pushing back on cultures that value certainty over experimentation, finite answers over process and discovery, or how we are perceived by others over what intuitively feels right to us. We may feel as if we need to create boundaries with those who benefit from intruding or inserting their own opinions on our own individual processes rather than protecting and respecting them, including our own inner critics.

Sharing Transformational Stories

I believe we each have something to learn from each other and to teach each other regardless of our age, gender, culture or outer expertise. This is especially true when it comes to flow. The best ways to learn about flow are experimentation, openness, connecting with community, and sharing our stories.

I also believe we because we are each unique, we each have something to offer the world that no one else does or ever will again. Creative flow helps us connect with our core essence and by design, helps us reach our highest state of productivity and potential. As a result, it’s important to be surrounded by others who are open and comfortable with making space for that greatness within each of us, as well as exploring and celebrating their own.

Why a Flow Community Is So Helpful

It can be helpful to have the support of a safe, accepting community when it comes to exploring any inner experiences, and flow is no exception. When we start to flow more, we most likely will also start to dismantle and identify other habits that might get in our way. These can include over-thinking, giving our inner critics too much play time, putting more weight on other’s judgements or wisdom than our own inner processes, second-guessing our intuition, creativity or gut instincts, or facing a fear of abandonment or rejection when exploring our gifts and potential, or shining brightly.

No matter what, in order to drop into a flow state, we need to feel safe. During the flow activity, we need time and space in which to do our thing, and prioritize what we love without interruption. After the flow activity, we should always caution against sharing our own inner intimate experiences before we are ready or with others with whom we do not feel emotionally safe.

Where Do You Feel Safe Being Authentic?

Because creative flow enables us to reach our fullest potential, I believe it is essential that any community or support we lean on in our own individual process of learning to flow more is one that is secure enough to allow all members to shine, rather than one structured on the belief that some need to stay small to allow enough space for others to feel okay.

In other words, a healthy flow-based culture or system is rooted in the faith that each person offers unique and individual gifts that are all equally valuable and encourages each member to tap his or her own version of greatness, as well as equally feel safe in sharing when he or she feels blocked. When seeking support as we explore flow, it’s important that the focus is on process–how we feel as we do what we do–rather than what we achieve in flow, since inner process is what flow is all about.

What is a Flow Community?

A flow-friendly culture is one of inclusion, authenticity, acceptance, individual freedom, personal and creative discretion and respect rather than rooted in competition, control or worthiness based on outer achievement or external accolades. It can be very important to have a community, guide, mentor, coach or friend who is on a similar journey with a similar commitment to staying with and accepting oneself through life’s highs and lows, ebbs and flows.

When seeking out support, try to find someone who seems comfortable enough with their own process and self-worth that they celebrate when you shine as brightly as you can, as well who is also well-versed and comfortable creating space, accepting without judgement and energetically staying with you when you are emotionally triggered, or are feeling blocked or stuck. It can help to be in a community rooted in compassion, empathy and acceptance, and in which it is okay to explore, experiment, be imperfect, take personal risks, and learn through trial and error. Most importantly is having a guide who respects, trusts and honors the unique wisdom of your True Self.

Trusting Your Unique Process

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to how much to share or with whom. The most important piece is safety and trusting our own inner wisdom regarding when we are ready and which specific details about our own inner flow experiences feel right to share. Some people learn and grow by processing experiences with others, while others learn better by embarking on their personal exploration with flow privately.

What Is The 28-Day Flow Challenge?

The 28-Day Flow Challenge is a simple process for reconnecting with your True Self–that unique, loving, peaceful, creative, intuitive, joyful essence within–YOUR way. To participate, simply choose a daily activity that brings you JOY, only takes about 5-10 minutes and easily gets you into a state of FLOW.

On this journey, there is no perfect, right or wrong. You don’t have to do your activity everyday to experience the benefits of the Flow Challenge. This Journey about trusting your intuition, finding out what works for you, and about how you FEEL rather than what you create.

Those participating in the 28-Day Flow Challenge have restarted favorite hobbies, launched new businesses, felt a renewed sense of purpose and meaning, and kicked off positive new adventures and chapters in their lives. It’s different for each of us, and different every time. I would love to hear what happens for YOU!

Who are Flow Friends?

The 28-Day Flow Challenge Community is a vibrant, supportive, creative, courageous, loving community filled with individuals who are open to sharing their own wisdom, learning from each other, and incorporating more self-care, joy and flow into their lives. The more we experiment with flow, the more our lives may change in positive often unexpected ways that sometimes almost seem miraculous.

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