The Flow State Formula: Deprivation, Deadlines and Deadlifts

Flow State Brain - Deprivation, Deadlines and Deadlifts

Inside of the Fraternity of Excellence (FoE) Hunter and I are currently leading the brothers through a series of challenges designed to bolster self confidence.

As I’ve reflected on how my own self confidence has compounded since boyhood, it’s clear that few things have galvanized my confidence more than working through tasks with surgical precision.

When we do things well, it enhances our sense of self worth, reminds us of what we’re capable of, and displays competence to those who depend on us to lead them effectively.

We’ve all experienced occasions when our minds seem to be working like well-greased, finely tuned machines. Our thoughts are clear; we can troubleshoot with ease; we make quick work of the tasks before us.

I’m talking about what some describe as being in a flow state.

We’ve all been there. Some more than others.

Yet how many of us actually take the time to consider how we got into a flow state, how to get there again, and how to stay there?

We take the momentary boost in mental performance, feeling grateful we were graced with it, if only for a time.

This past week, the men of FoE challenged ourselves to reflect on the conditions that put us in a flow state. As I focused my attention on the times my mental acuity is at its peak, three distinct conditions quickly stood out as being responsible for putting my mind into overdrive.

The minds of men are individualistic, and I’m intellectually honest enough to recognize that what puts me into a flow state may not do a damn thing for you.

Nevertheless, men have much in common with the way we’ve been physiologically and psychologically designed to function. Therefore, it stands to reason that the things which fuel my mind to fire on all cylinders are likely to provide similar benefits for you, as well.

Here they are.

Food Deprivation and Flow State

Those who’ve followed an intermittent fasting lifestyle won’t be surprised by this one.

As the body is deprived of food it will begin to release a chemical known as brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF primes the brain to learn new things and to perform intensely focused work.

You can literally feel your brain power switch into overdrive when BDNF is released.

Don’t believe me?

All you have to do to prove it to yourself is commit to a 24-hour fast. No food. No calories. Just black coffee or water for 24 hours straight.

You’ll notice that at right around 18 hours of fasting the clouds shrouding your mind will clear and you’ll enter a state of mild euphoria.

Your mood improves, you can remember things more clearly, your ability to articulate your thoughts is appreciably enhanced, and your energy levels skyrocket.

Whenever I have critical work to get done, I make it a point to do it while fasted. The end product is significantly better, I’m able to deliver it in less time, and I don’t feel stressed while working through it.

Food deprivation is an elixir for entering flow state. I’ve yet to hear from someone whose experience doesn’t corroborate this.

For more on using fasting to optimize your health and unleash the benefits of BDNF, check out Jay Campbell’s stellar book, The Metabolic Blowtorch Diet.

Deadlines Force Flow State

The Power of Deadlines

Did you know that your mind performs best when under pressure?

It’s true. You’ve seen this truth in action every time you’ve had a paper or presentation due in school after procrastinating getting started on it until the day before it was due.

You think there’s no way you’ll ever get it done, but you pull it off in the nick of time and somehow get a better grade than your friends who’d been working on it for weeks.

The reason you were able to pull off what seemed like a miracle is because you commanded your brain to enter a flow state.

I had friends who recognized this correlation and would intentionally put off assignments until the last possible minute. I’m not recommending this. Not because it isn’t effective. It is. But because it isn’t necessary.

You can (and should) impose deadlines on yourself for every task you set out to complete. For instance, before I sat down to pen this post I set a personal deadline of having a rough draft done before calling it a day and getting some rest.

The deadline was for me alone. Nobody else knew about it and there’s no tangible consequence of me not hitting the deadline apart from being disappointed at myself for missing my self-imposed target.

It doesn’t matter.

Telling myself ahead of time that this post needs to be written before the night is over makes it exponentially more likely it will happen than if I just sat down to write without any intention regarding when I needed to complete what I started.

Set deadlines and commit to them. Your mind will follow your lead and give you the gift of flow state.

Added Bonus:

Setting deadlines forces you to eliminate distractions. If you want to miss a deadline, the easiest way to do it is to have your phone next to you lighting up like crazy from all the nudes your wife is sending you. When there’s a hard deadline looming in the back of your mind you’ll naturally remove these time sinks that do nothing but kill flow.

Those nudes will still be there waiting for you after you’ve taken care of business.

Lifting Opens the Flow State Valve

Most of my greatest ideas and outbursts of creative thought come to me while weight training.

Weight lifting is foundational to a man’s ability to display his masculinity to the world in modern times. If you aren’t regularly training your body, stop with the excuses and get on with it. Lifting is step #1 in the process of an emasculated man reclaiming his ability to express his masculinity.

It’s that important.

My weight training sessions are one of the few times of solace I get in a typical day to be alone with my thoughts. These times of reflection and physical exertion lead to profound insights.

As much as my phone can be a distraction while I’m lifting, I won’t train my body without it close by. I can’t let a winning thought dissipate without logging it.

There’s a switch that flips in my mind after about 5 minutes of lifting. I gain the ability to take previously random thoughts flying around in my mind and consolidate them into a cogent framework, which allows me to articulate truths that would normally escape me.

I suspect it has to do with the increased blood flow sending oxygen rich blood to my brain.

I’ve also read about research citing evidence that activity within the hippocampus spikes notably during exercise. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is known to support cognition and memory.

Whatever it is, the difference is obvious and substantial.

These exercise-induced flow states continue on for a bit after I’m done training. This is why putting my body through a torturous training session is one of my favorite things to do before penning a post, recording a video, or getting behind the mic for a podcast.

Fasting, self-imposed deadlines and moving heavy weights through space have allowed me to power up my ability to produce quality content, while opening up my creative pathways to pave the way for future breakthroughs in my potential as a man.

If reading this helps you to do the same, I’ll consider the time spent penning this piece to be time well spent.

Now it’s time to check my phone for any nudes Kristi might have sent my way.

-Craig (@CraigJamesTFA)

  • pdwalker says:

    Very interesting.

    I’ll have to try this.

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