WHAT IS THE FLOW STATE?
Getting in the zone, into a state of flow is the secret to exceptional esports performance…
Flow is a state of mind in which we operate at our absolute best. When the world around us seems to fade away, we lose our sense of time and self and enter a mode of hyper-focus.
It’s commonly associated with top musicians, athletes, and esports players who can suddenly access their highest level of skill and achieve things that most people would have assumed to be impossible.
But flow isn’t limited to the very best players. Chances are you’ve had your own taste of it before. During these moments you have heightened performance where you seem to transcend your own limitations. You have amazing creative insights and ideas that help you escape from dire situations or make clutch plays. Your reflexes seem to be put into overdrive as you make play after play in rapid succession. And after it’s over you look back on what just happened, in shock of what you were able to achieve, as if your mind and body had been hijacked by an external force.
But as amazing as these moments are, they are only temporary. Afterward, you seem to be back as your normal self, shackled to mediocre performance once again, unable to get back to that state of flow.
This is the problem with the flow state. It seems so hard to reach, and the few times we do reach it, it seems to disappear too quickly.
But what would happen if you could achieve it more easily? If you could access it over and over again on-demand? Imagine the rank you could reach, the plays you could make if you were consistently playing at the peak of your potential.
This sounds almost far fetched or too good to be true right? Well, science has revealed what happens when you reach a state of flow, and it really comes down to basic biology. And with this knowledge, we can start using certain techniques to engineer the right biochemistry in your body and brain. As a result, you’ll be able to trigger this state of heightened performance much more often. Allowing you to hack the flow state and use it as your secret weapon in your esports pursuit.
HOW DO WE ACCESS THE FLOW STATE?
Imagine if you were suddenly 400% more creative in your decision making in-game. You might pull off plays that even high-level pros had never even achieved.
Imagine if you could develop your motor skills like aiming ability or other key mechanics 230% faster. You’d improve so fast that those around you would suspect you of cheating.
Well these kinds of benefits aren’t a fantasy. Collective research on the flow state shows that it can increase motivation and productivity by 500%, and creativity by 400-700%. And when DARPA researchers induced flow artificially (using transcranial stimulation) they found the target acquisition skills of military snipers improved 230%.
So how do WE get access to this?
Well getting into a flow state just requires the right environmental and neurochemical factors that all work together to flip the switch of ultimate focus.
The environmental triggers of flow include factors like risk, novelty, complexity, and unpredictability. Fortunately, all of these factors come naturally during high stakes matches like playing in a tournament game or even during intense moments of your ranked games.
But feeling focused versus truly entering a flow state is completely different. And being able to flip the switch from focus to flow requires you to first prime your brain with the optimal combination of neurochemicals.
You see, the trigger that puts your brain into flow is really just a combination of 5 key chemicals that together create a sort of flow elixir in your brain.
So let’s break down what each of these chemicals are so that we can understand the true essence behind top esports performance.
The first of these neurochemicals is dopamine, which helps us to sharpen our focus. Our brains are constantly bombarded with tons of signals, and dopamine helps filter useful information from everything else. Dopamine is also responsible for our feelings of engagement, excitement, and desire for exploration.
The next neurochemical is norepinephrine, which helps us to maintain focus and boosts our performance. It is what gives us the sensation of physical energy.
These must be combined with a healthy dose of anandamide, which boosts our creative thinking and can help us make unique decisions or come up with innovative ideas during states of flow.
In addition, endorphins are critical and help us push our limits physically, ignore sensations of discomfort and feel generally positive.
Finally, the flow state is followed by a healthy amount of serotonin. Serotonin helps us feel more focused; less anxious; more emotionally stable.
Individually these neurochemicals are interesting, but TOGETHER they create the perfect mix for augmenting our performance. And if you can actively increase these brain chemicals prior to your gaming session you can greatly enhance your ability to enter the optimal state during your matches.
So the question is how can you get your brain to release these together so you get flow?
Well, using well-researched tactics we can create a 3-part protocol to priming your brain for flow before your games.
This starts with priming your focus.
Of course, gaining access to flow requires a high level of concentration and absorption in your task. This level of focus can come and go quite easily, and if we let it slip away, the powerful neurochemicals that help you stay in flow will quickly diminish.
You can think of it as a process of maintaining balance on a tight-rope. The moment you lose this balance you fall out of flow, and have to try to climb back up to the top all over again. So to maintain the mental balance, you need to create a practice of getting your mind into the present moment, resilient to distraction. The best way to cultivate this is with meditation.
Beyond the general focus benefits you’ve likely associated with meditating, the science has revealed a direct effect on the key neurotransmitters we need for flow. In studies, it is shown to improve levels of dopamine and serotonin. What’s also interesting it that it even creates physical changes in the brain over time. Meaning that in the short term it can help you achieve more focus. And in the long-term, it can make that focus become even stronger. So the first key to getting into flow is to start training your mental focus muscles so you can become more engaged and prone to flow.
BRAIN BOOSTING EXERCISE
But while meditation is a powerful technique, it alone isn’t going to cut it. In the research, we see that it can promote dopamine and serotonin in the brain, but this only covers 2 of the 5 key neurotransmitters for our flow cocktail. So we also need to implement another pre-game routine to complete the flow trigger. This technique is exercise.
In studies, exercise is shown to have significant positive benefits for dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. And intense exercise for an extended time can create a sort of “runner’s high” effect which is shown to be a result of endorphin release and even anandamide. (as shown in a 2015 study.)
So by exercising to a point where we can achieve a sort of runner’s high effect, and then meditating, we are able to increase all 5 of the key neurochemicals in our brain that are needed for the flow state.
But there is a third factor that is just as important to consider if you want to consistently achieve a state of flow.
FOOD FOR FLOW
If your brain can’t make the neurochemicals in the first place, it won’t be able to release them even with meditation and exercise. So you need to make sure you are giving your body the proper building blocks it needs to put you into flow, and this comes down to what you eat.
For this tip I’m going to recommend 2 specific things. The first is protein. Eating protein raises the levels of amino acids like Tryptophan and Tyrosine, which prompts the brain to manufacture serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, other important neurochemicals. So ensure you prioritize protein intake in your diet, especially when fueling up for a gaming session.
The second food recommendation might surprise you a bit but has shown to help promote anandamide and endorphins. These neurochemical are relatively tricky to maintain in our brains with just exercise alone, but there is a key food that shows promising potential to benefit both. This food is chocolate!
Research from 2013 suggests that eating dark chocolate could boost endorphin levels while simultaneously preventing the breakdown of anandamide.
This can make for a powerful tool to help enter flow. But it’s important to note that this benefit comes specifically from the cocoa in chocolate. And most commercial chocolate products contain only small amounts of real cocoa and way too much sugar. So if you’re seeking the endorphin and anandamide benefits of chocolate then I recommend consuming dark chocolate that is 70% or higher. Or my personal favorite is simply mixing cocoa powder right into coffee or protein shakes. Following a run and meditation, this can become a powerful tool.
And as another quick bonus, if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where CBD oil is easily accessible it has also been shown to have a promising effect on anandamide and may be worth experimenting with! Since I’ve been living in Korea this year I haven’t been so lucky, but I’d love to hear your experiences with it!
THE 3 STEPS FOR FLOW
Alright, so lets pause for a moment to put this all into a complete, actionable plan that you can start applying right away.
Now when it comes to working out and receiving the neurochemical benefits, the most efficient technique is a high-intensity cardio workout. For me, I find the easiest to follow routine is just going for a 20-30 minute run at a pace that is sustainable but challenging.
Then immediately following the run, slow things down with a 10-15 minute meditation. If this isn’t something you’ve practiced much in the past I suggest testing out a few guided mediation apps and seeing which one works best for you.
And finally, grab yourself a quick high protein snack, perhaps with some high-quality cocoa powder added in.
Now, ultimately combining meditation, exercise, and key dietary factors will allow you to prime your brain with the 5 key neurochemicals needed to enter a flow state. And the more you apply it to your routine the stronger the effects will be.
But of course, by actively priming yourself in this way it won’t automatically force you into flow every time.
But when placed in high stakes situations with the right environmental triggers, this sort of routine will make you much more likely to achieve this state.
And with benefits like 400% more creativity, and 230% faster learning, being able to achieve the state of flow more and more often will provide you with a powerful secret weapon. One that can help you achieve your esports goals much faster!