“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.” ― G. Michael Hopf
It was never as easy to hop on a plane and get to the other end of the world, to receive everything you've dreamed of at the click of a button and to entertain yourself with almost endless possibilities.
Life has turned upside down over the last few months and our “21st century normal” response is to grab some snacks, turn on Netflix and wait until the storm is over. Instead of wasting away on your couch a simple approach to get your energy back up would be to introduce more time in flow. Flow is defined as an optimal state of consciousness, your best friend to seize all the opportunities that lay ahead of you and the best part, it also feels amazing.
In flow your sense of time disappears, you´ll find yourself in the very now and this is especially important right now because most of your anxiety arises from either past experiences or worries about the future.
Flow massively enhances your productivity and motivation (+500%) to tackle the challenges you face, speeds up your learning curve (+490%) and increases your ability for creative problem solving (+430%). All of these characteristics are especially useful in times of crisis.
Steven Kotler the founder of the Flow Research Collective addressed some simple tools you can use to maximize your time in flow right now to energize yourself.
Shut off the media for a day or two and get out of this constant bombardment of fear and distraction, this will give your nervous system a much needed reset.
The first place this overwhelming media information goes is the amygdala, our threat detector. Obviously all media outlets out there know this and they are using it to their advantage to make the most money off your attention.
Once you've distanced yourself from all that craziness, there are simple techniques to get your energy levels back up fast.
Five minutes of gratitude a day is all you need to improve the quality of your life.
Exercise: Write down 10 things you are grateful for and really try to feel the gratitude while doing it. A second option is that you write 3 things that you're grateful for and you pick one and turn it into a larger paragraph.
Besides the many health benefits, gratitude will shift your attention towards your goals instead of your fears which directly impacts your ability for creative problem solving to wire through the current crisis.
According to the Neuroscientist Dr. Zimmerman, our sensory systems are picking up information at a rate of eleven million bits per second, though only around 40 - 120 bps make it into consciousness.
The amygdala filters for input that scares you and input that relates to your goals with the ratio being estimated 9/10 focused on your fears and only 1/10 related to your goals.
Research coming out of Berkeley shows that you can tilt the ratio with gratitude exercises so you get 6/10 negative to 4/10 of positive information and during a time of crisis that's really key. This impacts your creativity massively as you have four times more novel information available to build on.
Late research from the Flow Research Collective even shows the correlation between the amount of gratitude you have is directly related to the amount of flow you experience in your life
Mindfulness is really just paying attention to your mind and focusing on what's going on, 11 minutes a day are enough to start producing cognitive and emotional benefits.
Your goal with mindfulness is to show your brain that it is most effective when it is calm and non reactive.
Exercise: A simple way to approach mindfulness is to follow your breath and use a breathing protocol that will draw your focus. Inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds, repeat for 5-10 rounds and then go for inhaling for 5s and exhaling for 10s, repeat and go all the way up to 8s inhale and 16s exhale.
If thoughts come in, just let go of them and refocus again. Enjoy the process!
Mindfulness is a great way to decrease stress, improve your focus and is even shown to have a great variety of benefits for your mental and physical health.
By following the breathing protocol above, the longer exhales activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases anxiety, shuts down your fight and flight response and really calms you down.
That's an obvious one with a ton of benefits you are surely familiar with. Keep it simple and try to shoot for 20 - 40 minutes of exercise / movement a day.
Choose whatever fits best to your current state and goals: hiking, yoga, running, weight lifting, calisthenics - just move!
Besides keeping you healthy, exercise is a fantastic way to shut off your inner critic and make it quiet upstairs. This is called exercise-induced hypofrontality, showing up at the front end of a flow state and signals all the stress chemicals to flush out of your body.
The mentioned techniques above are proven ways to get into an optimal state of mind, don´t take much time and are an easy way to get yourself back up.
Here comes the best part: In the name of science we give you full permission to do all the things you love most.
Find your primary flow activity, whether it's playing soccer, climbing, painting, listening to or making music, whatever it is, now is the time to double down on the activities you love most and put you in a flow state naturally. No need to complicate things.
With 30-60 minutes of practice a day you'll reap the benefits flow has to offer and increase all aspects of your performance and wellbeing. The neurochemicals that underpin flow also boost your immune system and provide a remarkable health and resilience impact.
There you have it, what better excuse to go after the things you love than science?
Try the experiment, block some me-time and go for flow - treat yourself! The effects will go a long way plus it's fun and feels good at the same time.