What do Miyamoto Musashi, Judas Priest, Pavlov’s Dog, and Video Games have in common? The flow state, and how to trigger it. If that doesn’t make sense to you, it will very soon.
Everyone wants to trigger the flow state, and I don’t blame them.
It doesn’t matter what you call it…flow, peak performance, whole brain function, whatever. Any athlete or artist knows the feeling.
You’re invincible when you’re in flow.
You radiate energy, but you don’t waste it. No, far from it. You zero in on the task at hand with laser-like focus and hours pass like seconds.
Absolutely nothing in the world exists except for the object of focus. YOU don’t even exist anymore.
Here are the elements of the flow state, from Wikipedia.
The flow state is when these 9 elements are present at the same time, feeding off one another.
How Many Ways Can You Trigger The Flow State?
There are many ways to trigger the flow state.
- Many call it “runner’s high” because that’s how they trigger flow – they go for a run. It works.
- The BAD Guy has his own method. It works.
- Martial artists meditate every day for years to trigger flow. It works.
- Musicians trigger flow to become a living conduit of energy on stage. It only works when you’re playing, though.
- Science tells us video games trigger flow through interactivity. It only works when you’re playing, though.
None of these are my method, although I’ve used several of them before and know they all work. My method is cheaper and easier, and more available to you.
I’m not even going to stop at telling you what flow is and how to trigger it.
First, I’ll tell you how to trigger flow, and then I’ll tell you how to habitualize that trigger.
You’ll create the HABIT of triggering flow instead of experiencing it occasionally or triggering it with external stimulation.
Before I tell you how to train your brain to trigger flow, I have to tell you what to do and why it works. If you don’t do it right, it won’t work.
I’ve spent two months refining my process and documenting my results, making absolutely certain that if you do it right, it will work. And what are the benefits I’ve experienced from it? I’ll tell you:
- My mind is an idea machine. I don’t have writer’s block, I have the opposite problem. My brain is so full, if I tilt to one side all the ideas come spilling out onto the page.
- My mind-muscle connection is stronger than it ever has been. When I wrap my fingers around the bar, my brain sends the signal to my body that it’s time for WAR.
- My creative problem solving has hit a whole new level, which is life and death for an entrepreneur selling a physical product.
- My sleep has improved. I haven’t had 8 hours of sleep since I was in diapers, but the four to six hours of sleep I get is more than enough rest now.
So, what’s my secret?
I got the tip about binaural beats from this article about an economical way to replicate an isolation tank. At the time, I was writing about the need for solitude and reflection for creativity.
I expected to gain real value from reading it. What I didn’t expect was the revelation I’d receive.
See, at the time, I was calling it “entering a trance”. My research showed me that what I used to call a trance was called the flow state.
I’ve always been obsessed with trying to eke out every last ounce of productivity I can. I knew that getting into a trance, being in the zone, was the ultimate way to do this. I used to be able to do it with music, but music had stopped working.
What happened? Why did music stop putting me in the zone, even if it could get me pumped up? The answer was right in front of my face.
I had learned how to play music.
See, there’s a problem with music if you’re a musician. If you don’t know how to play, then all you do is feel. That’s great, because that’s what you’re supposed to do with music – you feel it. When you become a musician, you don’t feel it the same way anymore.
Instead, you hear a song and your brain subconsciously goes into overdrive. You think, “Hey, I know these chords. Yeah, that’s C add9, that’s A minor. And the other guitar is playing a pentatonic scale pattern. I should go home and figure out the rest of the song.”
You can’t be in the moment when you’re in your head!
The same thing happens when you’re listening to a song and you’re consciously trying to sing it. You’re not in the moment because you’re in your head. You can’t create new ideas or perform properly because you’re distracted by the noise in your mind.
That’s the problem with music, and binaural beats change all of that.
What are Binaural Beats?
Binaural beats come in different frequencies. Different frequencies have different effects, and not all people respond to all beats. You’ll have to experiment to see how well you respond to them. The big four are:
- Alpha – 7.5 Hz to 12 Hz – These have little effect on me.
- Beta – 12 Hz to 38 Hz – These have almost no effect on me.
- Gamma – 40 Hz to 70 Hz – I feel these in my body, mostly my throat, but no other effects.
- Delta – 0.5 Hz to 4 Hz – These are okay. I use them for relaxing before sleeping.
- Theta – 4 Hz to 7.5 Hz – THESE ARE GOLDEN.
Examples of each of these are further down this page, in the “How To Use Binaural Beats” Section.
Theta Waves Deserve A Deeper Look
Theta waves are the absolute best frequencies to use to trigger flow. If you want to get as deep in the zone as Miyamoto Musashi defeating his greatest opponent, Sasaki Kojiro, you want theta waves.
6.2 Hz to 6.7 Hz are effective theta waves, but the absolute gold standard for me is 4.5 Hz. The 4.5 Hz beat near the bottom of this post is my absolute favorite binaural beat.
Now, knowing what binaural beats are is only a part of the puzzle. How do they trigger flow?
Brainwave Entrainment With Binaural Beats
Entrainment means synchronizing.
The human body is the most adaptive machine on the planet. You might not realize it, but your body naturally synchronizes itself with the beats and rhythms around you 24/7.
The Rock Show Example
When you go to a show, you feel the music. I don’t mean you feel a certain emotion when you listen to it. I mean you physically feel it in your body.
This is your brain entraining your body with a rhythm dramatically different from the previous environment.
You were outside and there were crickets and breezes and birds. Now, you’re in the venue and the bass is thumping in your chest.
Your body is trying to synchronize your rhythm with the music.
Brainwave entrainment synchronizes your brain to certain frequencies to achieve certain effects. Your ears hear two beats and your brain creates the illusion of the third. Your brain will synchronize with this frequency and you’ll experience certain effects.
What are the Benefits of Brainwave Entrainment?
- Lower stress – the stress hormone cortisol will drop
- Laser-like focus – because you trigger flow
- Higher testosterone – because testosterone and cortisol are inversely proportional
- Improved sleep – because you’re not stressed
- Enhanced recovery – because you have lower cortisol and higher testosterone
- Improved athleticism – because you have laser-like focus
- Greater creation of ideas – because you’ve tuned out the noise in your own mind
The biggest benefit?
Brainwave entrainment lowers stress and triggers flow the exact same way as meditation.
Zazen (seated) meditation and Kinhin (active) meditation have the exact same effect as binaural beats, but they have a steep learning curve. Meditation is good for the body and good for the soul, but it takes years to entrain your brainwaves.
You can practice meditation for a decade or you can use binaural beats for a month. Both will get the same results, if you do it right. The power of binaural beats for brainwave entrainment is learning to trigger flow on a much shorter learning curve.
This doesn’t mean you don’t have to take action, and here’s how.
How to Use Binaural Beats To Trigger Flow
First, you’ll need a set of headphones.
You’re going to want wireless headphones, so you can use them in the weight room and at home.
I use these so I don’t ruin my better headphones with sweat in the gym. These are NOT Bose level headphones and the price reflects it. You won’t worry about getting these soaked six days a week in the gym and you can use a different pair every day of the week.
Next, you’ll need some binaural beats.
Some respond to beats with music – I don’t, but you might. Try the beats below and if they don’t work, try some with music. I keep the volume high but not deafening so that the outside world and inner noise go silent.
Here are the ones I’ve used. The Theta beat is my personal favorite, the rest are just a starting point.
Theta (My Go-To Beat)
THE SECRET STEP
You’re going to be like Pavlov’s dog. If you don’t know about Pavlov’s dog, here’s the short version.
Pavlov rings a bell every time he feeds his dog. After doing this for a long time, he rings a bell and his dog salivates. Pavlov’s dog’s brain now associates the sound of a bell with the action of eating.
You’re going to be like Pavlov’s dog.
You’re going to put on your headphones, you’re going to put on the beat that triggers your flow, and you’re going to get busy.
Engage in the activity you want to be able to perform while in flow. The action you want to be able to always perform in flow. You’re going to train your brain to associate that activity with the flow state.
You’re going to train your brain to associate that activity with the flow state.
Creating Somatic Markers
Somatic markers are movements that send signals to your brain. Your body tells your brain what you’re doing so your brain can stay a step ahead.
You do this every day when you strap on your boots. Your body tells your brain it’s time to go to work and kick some ass.
You’re going to teach your body to tell your brain it’s time to trigger flow and kick some ass.
How to Use Somatic Markers to Habitualize A Flow Trigger
Let’s use the gym as an example.
- You drive to the gym, blaring your favorite songs that pump you up.
- You get to the gym and put on your headphones and binaural beats.
- Sit or stand and let your brain synchronize with the beat.
- Once synchronized, tune out everything except the experience of lifting.
How will you know when you’ve synchronized with the beat? When you inhale deeply then exhale slowly but strongly, the sound of your breathing will be distorted.
This distortion happens because your brain has synchronized with the frequency of the binaural beat and your breath is a different rhythm.
What do I mean by “the experience of lifting”? I mean the physical motions of lifting weight, the sensation in your muscle fibers and ligaments, the feeling of the bar in your hands. Everything.
This is the difference between just lifting weights to binaural beats and using brain entrainment with somatic markers.
Somatic markers are also physical reactions to emotional responses – what your body does when you feel a certain way. When you’re nervous, your heart beats faster. Your brain and your body are linked.
There’s a Secret Hiding in Plain Sight
Somatic markers are a two way street. Your brain makes changes in your body and your body makes changes in your brain. Just like nervousness makes your heart beat faster, an elevated heart rate makes you nervous.
Change the car to a boat, the headphones to a carving knife, the beats to the sound of the waves, and the barbell to an oar.
Miyamoto Musashi used the same method when he carved his oar into the wooden nodachi he used to kill Sasaki Kojiro in his greatest duel.
He had to rely on a lifetime of swordplay and meditation to create his somatic markers, but you don’t. You have binaural beats and you know what somatic markers and brain entrainment are.
You’re going to use this to your advantage. You’ll create somatic markers associating the ACTION of lifting weights with the ACTION of triggering flow state.
Eventually, your routine will become:
- You drive to the gym, blaring your favorite songs that pump you up.
- Get to the gym and become present, in the moment
- Begin to lift, focusing on the experience of lifting
- Somatic markers kick in and recreate the effect of brain entrainment, triggering flow as you lift
Change the context from lifting to any other activity and use the same method. The relationship between binaural beats and brain entrainment and somatic markers doesn’t change. The only thing that changes is the context, the activity you want to habitually trigger flow doing.
In this example, you keep several of the markers that trigger flow. You still perform the ACTION of driving to the gym. You still perform the ACTION of listening to your music. The ACTION of sitting or standing and becoming present. The ACTION of wrapping your hands around the bar and moving your body.
These ACTIONS are the somatic markers that tell your body it’s time for WAR.
It’s easy to use this system with lifting because muscle memory will accelerate the development of somatic markers. Some activities are quicker than others to habitualize triggering flow.
How Long Does It Take?
How long does it take to ingrain this system? It takes as long as it takes, but a month is a good guide.
If you follow this system for a month, you’ve created a habit. You’re seeking to create the habit of triggering a somatic response recreating the mental state you cultivated with brain entrainment.
You use the binaural beats to entrain your brain and teach your body how to perform an ACTION in the flow state. Eventually, you will make this a habit. Your body will perform the ACTION that your brain recognizes as a somatic marker.
Triggering flow becomes as much of a part of your routine as buckling your belt when you put on your pants. It becomes like tying your shoes or using your turn signals. You don’t even have to think about it.
You Have to Get Out of Your Own Head
It’s precisely because you don’t think about it that it works. You’ve created a relationship between your brain and body and made the triggers a part of your routine.
Don’t worry about how long it will take to create this relationship. If you’re actively thinking about it, it won’t work. A watched pot never boils, and you’re trying to be in the moment instead of watching the clock.
You can’t be in the moment when you’re in your head!
It’s time to stop reading, get out of your head, get into the moment, and take action. You have everything you need.
All that’s left to do is to get started by getting started.
After you’ve habitualized triggering flow by training your brain, come back and tell me how much it’s changed your game in the comments below.