Slowing Down to Speed Up; Your Mind During Flow

You have to go where the flow is

Let me paint you a scene; you wake up ready to take on the day, you grab your clothes and start throwing them on as you make your way to the bathroom, you then you turn on the light whilst closing the door and start reaching for the toothbrush whilst turning on the water. You just did six things in the time it would have taken to do three. Wonderful, right? Not for your brain.

You have been awake for less than a minute and already your brain is being aggressively overclocked to account for your haste. Any other muscle in the body would categorically refuse to work so fast so quickly after rest — anyone who has tried morning push-ups can understand that. But still, you do it every single day. Why? Chances are you aren’t in a rush all the time and it’s just habit, routine even. Here’s why you should stop.

You Mind Needs To Rest In Order To Flow

You might think that when our brains are working fast, they are thinking fast — that speed means faster processing and quicker responses, however, that simply isn’t the case. Think back to a moment where you were laser-focused on a task, where all distractions and stimuli were replaced with total absorption of what you were doing, chances are you were in a state of Flow. A Flow state is often confused with the ten-per cent brain myth, where when we are at our most capable and our brains are using more pathways and neurons than usual — however, research has found that in a state of Flow, parts of the brain actually slow down. You can even observe this yourself as time seems to slow when you are in the perfect zone or Flow.

Specifically, your brain will actively start to pause other functions, like morality, your sense of self and even your higher cognition, leaving just what you need to work at peak efficiency, both mentally and physically. This has many benefits, such as locking away your defeatist voice — the part of you that is hypercritical of what you are doing, obsessed with failure and slip-ups. Without this presence, positive risk-taking increases and you tend to feel overall amazing.

Woman deep in thought and flow

By slowing down your brain, you have a far greater chance of entering a Flow state when you need to — your brain will start to learn when you need to be at your most productive and will have be able to transition to a Flow state far easier from an unburdened cognitive load than it ever could from a manic brain state. There are two primary ways in which we tax our brain — conscious and subconscious processing. Conscious processing, just as the name suggests, is purposeful thinking to achieve something, such as picking where to eat, or planning a book; it involves a high level of effort and is very inefficient in terms of energy and time. During this brain state, we tend to try and remember results and ideas, but the human brain is limited to around four different memory recalls during conscious processing. That’s where unconscious processing comes in.

Unconcious Processing

Unconscious processing is blazing fast with near-endless memory recall, it is the primary way in which we utilise our brain. A classic example is breathing, if you become aware of your breathing you will notice that it becomes laughably inefficient compared to when operated by your subconscious mind, and at this point, it is further taking up at least a quarter of your conscious processing power to sustain it — increasing your cognitive burden. So instead, we relegate as many tasks as we can to the subconscious brain to speed them up, and to do them better.

How does this relate to you brushing your teeth in the morning, though? It’s simple, by combining so many subconscious actions, you are promoting them to conscious status. Taxing your brain significantly more than if you had done each task separately. Taking the morning a little slower reduces the overlap of tasks and ensures that subconscious actions stay where they belong. Your brain is unencumbered and ready for use. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t multitask — on the contrary, you should — however not all the time. In the morning, do you really need those extra seconds you save by rushing around? Possibly not, but what about at work, with deadlines approaching? Definitely. This technique is all about balance — about load and release periods.

Load vs Release vs Flow

A load period is the opposite of what I have been describing; by definition, it is an unpleasant period where you overburden your mind and feel like you really need a break. Consider the start of a project — your mind swimming with ideas and directions to go. This is the load period, and it is the first stage in the Flow cycle. Following this period, is the release period, a direct response to the load you are facing. During the release period, you crave a distraction and a rest from the work, so you find some kind of release. It can be anything, Einstein famously rowed to the centre of a lake to watch the clouds, however, it could be as simple as reading a book, or going for a short walk or even a run. Just as long as it is not watching TV — this interrupts the brain’s current state and would negate any previous efforts to reach a Flow state. Anything relaxing that is entirely separated from the issues at hand will work and, typically, will be enjoyable.

And therefore, you reach the Flow state; distractions drop away, and you become entirely focused on your goal. It can last minutes, or hours — you can never tell. But the time spent during Flow is magnitudes more efficient than during conscious processing. Your body flushes away stress hormones and replaces them with feel-good performance-enhancing neurochemicals like dopamine and anandamide and serotonin and endorphins that are sure to enhance your mood. Once you reach a lucid Flow state, you will forever be chasing it.

So maybe spend a little less time rushing and a little more time focusing on your conscious burden. Just go with the flow.

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