How To Get Back Into Flow If You Lose The Keys
At the Flow Research Collective we love raving about the beauty and benefits of flow states.
But here’s the thing…
Flow is unpredictable and there are no guarantees.
Many of us drop into flow accidentally.
We have no idea how we got there or how to return.
Still others, even those who once had easy access to the zone, may suddenly find themselves cut off from the source, trapped in a struggle phase without end.
In either case, once flow becomes a lock without a key, the ramifications are soul-sucking to say the least.
Even those familiar with flow can go through long stretches where the state becomes inaccessible.
The struggle can last weeks, months, occasionally years.
As the late and great climber Dean Potter once said, being blocked from flow is trial by fire.
Here’s how Dean described the endless struggle phase…
“When I feel that really draining side of not being able to enter into the, it’s horrible.
I feel helpless, lethargic, restless, disturbed.
The positive is that I hate that feeling so much it makes me more focused. I take all the necessary steps to get out of it as soon as I can.
Sometimes, though, I end up sunk in a really bad place. True depression, trapped for quite some time. But even here there’s an upside.
At those times, doing anything hurts so much, I can only do what truly inspires me.
Otherwise, I have no power.
This allows me to lock onto ideas that are authentically mine — so the dark side of flow, for all its torment, keeps me being exactly who I am.”
Potter, at least, has the ability to find his way to the other side, back into flow.
What about the college lacrosse star who graduates into a job as an accountant, much needed to feed her family, but not a territory nearly as rich in flow triggers as competitive, high-contact sports?
The one-time drummer now working as a stockbroker?
The mother of three who used to do some sculpture when she was younger but now has no time for herself?
Being locked out of flow is an issue that society has not made particularly easy to handle.
How many people have stopped playing guitar, writing poetry, or painting watercolors — activities packed with flow triggers — because these are also activities that do not squarely fit into culturally acceptable responsibility categories like “career” or “children”?
How many, now grown up and done with childish things, have put away the surfboard, the skateboard, the whatever?
How many have made the mistake of conflating the value of the vehicle that leads us to an experience (the surfboard, etc.) with the value of the experience itself (the flow state)?
What’s painfully ironic here is that flow is a radical and alternative path to mastery only because we have decided that play — an activity fundamental to survival, tied to the greatest neurochemical rewards the brain can produce, and flat out necessary for achieving peak performance, creative brilliance, and overall life satisfaction — is a waste of time for adults.
Don’t be fooled, when it comes to peak performance and flow, play is non negotiable.
If we are hunting the highest version of ourselves, then we need to turn work into play and not the other way round.
Unless we invert this equation, much of our capacity for intrinsic motivation starts to shut down.
We lose touch with our passion and become less than what we could be and that feeling never really goes away.
The point here?
If you’ve been blocked from flow lately, take this blog as permission to play.
P.S. If you’re feeling blocked from flow and you’d like to learn how to drive yourself into that hyper focused, wildly productive zone consistently, consider Zero to Dangerous.
You’ll master the neuroscience based tools needed to work toward spending your entire workday in a flow state.
All so you can accomplish your boldest professional goals, faster.