We’ve all savored being “in the zone”: creative thoughts flow from brain to fingertips, timelessness, perhaps even an experience of euphoria. This elevated state of consciousness is the secret behind many outstanding athletes, daredevils, artists and entrepreneurs. It has a name -- “flow” -- given to it by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
You can harness the power of flow.
Entrepreneurs trying to break the status quo need to be better than average. Innovations and breakthroughs aren’t exclusively the result of hard work and hustle, especially as machines and computers take over monotonous tasks. Entrepreneurs need creativity to excel and develop new technologies.
Sixty percent of CEOs polled by IBM ranked creativity as the most important leadership quality. Entrepreneurs seeking flow must have the right environment and lifestyle habits but there are nootropics (aka cognitive enhancers) that can change the biochemistry of our brain to achieve flow more easily.
Increase creativity, output and performance.
Since Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi labeled and analyzed flow states, it has become a hot topic for performance enhancement.
As Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal’s book, Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work shows, high performance individuals are using flow enhancing techniques across the board. These mental states are the objective of high performers from Sergey Brin and Google executives to elite special forces.
The benefits of achieving flow states are manifold. Military researchers found that flow states can increase learning ability up to 230 percent in novice snipers. McKinsey researchers studied top executives for 10 years and found they were five times more productive in flow states.
Imagine working on a business venture with five times the productivity and the ability to learn new materials 230 percent quicker than your competition. That alone would make flow states advantageous, but the true benefit is for creativity.
In 2013, phase one of the Red Bull Hacking Creativity Project started as a joint effort between MIT Media Lab, a group of TED fellows and other flow experts to better understand creativity and flow states.
In late 2016, after reviewing more than 30,000 research papers and interviewing hundreds of subject-matter experts, the project reached two conclusions. First, creativity is essential for solving complex problems. Second, creativity is less of a skill and more of a state of mind: i.e: a flow state.
Oliver Braithwaite, founder of the private tuition company Stars & Catz Teacher Network, said: “Many of our students are executives who wish to take up a musical instrument to take their minds off work, de-stress and ‘be creative’. In part, what they’re seeking is actually a state of flow, where all other thoughts are suspended, stress drops away and creativity kicks in. Personally, as both an entrepreneur and a musician, I’m aware that my most creative and effective work comes when enjoyment, creativity and focus coexist. That’s how I’d define being in flow.”
Nootropic interventions to achieve flow.
If flow states were easy to achieve, we’d all be using them nonstop. There are environmental, psychological and emotional factors that affect to our ability to achieve flow regularly.
As new evidence and technologies come online, we better understand the neurochemistry of flow states and how to achieve it, including through supplements. Steven Kotler, author and flow researcher, recounted a simple flow hack using many commonly found techniques.
20 - 25 minute jog to release endorphins.
A cup of coffee -- caffeine for brain chemicals called dopamine and norepinephrine.
Marijuana -- THC provides a chemical called anandamide used for lateral thinking.
According to Kotler, this essentially mimics the neurochemistry of a flow states. It isn’t sustainable, but it is a quick hack into this mental space (assuming you live in a part of the world where THC is legal).
Aside from this clearly defined formula, there are a host of other substances utilized for creativity and achieving flow.
Entheogens hacking flow.
The term “entheogen” refers to psychoactive compounds, including LSD, psilocybin and mescaline, among others. Literally meaning “generating the divine within,” these compounds have been used in traditional cultures for thousands of years.
Even though many are illegal in the western world, entheogens like LSD and psilocybin are experiencing a resurgence of interest and research. Before these substances were made illegal, researcher James Fadiman conducted experiments using entheogens to enhance problem solving.
Within the experiment, 27 individuals (including engineers, mathematicians, architects, and engineer-physicists) were told to bring a problem they had been struggling with for months. Using small doses of mescaline, 44 percent of the cohort found breakthrough solutions (including patents and tangible technologies).
Entheogenic compounds have gone unstudied for decades, but the newfound interest is already bearing fruit. A brain imaging study conducted at Imperial College London by Dr. Carhart-Harris suggests regions of the brain associated with creativity are affected under the influence of entheogenic compounds.
From Silicon Valley to Wall Street, top executives are microdosing psychedelics to produce flow states, hack creativity, and produce breakthrough innovations. While these compounds are still illegal, there is some hope that will change over time.
Self experimentation and individuality.
The drawback to nootropics and cognitive enhancers is the lack of scientific evidence and minefield of snake oil salesman. Many of the purported “smart drugs” are no more useful than the placebo effect while others come with unnecessary side effects.
Self experimentation becomes key for entrepreneurs trying to enhance flow states and creativity. When I visited the Peak Brain Institute in Los Angeles to perform a QEEG brain map, we found a synthetic nootropic called phenylpiracetam enhanced brain waves associated with flow states. Neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Hill confirmed the cognitive boost providing empirical evidence this smart drug works for me.
Finding nootropic concoctions to achieve flow states need not be scary, risky or challenging. For risk averse beginners, simply taking L-theanine (an amino acid found in green tea) with your morning cup of coffee can increase alpha brain waves, which are associated with flow states.
Entrepreneurs serve the world by creating useful innovations and technology. To solve global problems, entrepreneurs must be able to achieve more creative flow states and do so more consistently.
Through nootropic supplementation and innovative technologies, we can now achieve flow more readily to create more value and wealth in our businesses.