The creative process is something I’ve been fascinated in since I started playing the guitar and writing crappy punk songs as a teenager. But to my adolescent mind, inspiration and ‘the zone’ came and went as it pleased; I had to make the most of it when it came and just be cool when it didn’t. I never considered the scientific side of the process – ways to ‘hack’ creativity using techniques to enter creative states of mind – until recently. As with almost everything nowadays, scientists are trying to figure it out – doing all sorts of research, measuring brain chemistry etc. – and find out what’s going on behind the scenes in these creative states, and how we can actually enter them willfully.
Enter Steven Kotler
On a recent episode of the Joe Rogan podcast, Joe speaks with Steven Kotler; bestselling author, journalist and co-founder and Director of Research for The Flow Genome Project. Kotler, in his own words, is ‘mechanistic’ and ‘likes to know how things work’. In his work with the Flow Genome Project Kotler has been trying to understand different states of consciousness, especially the state known as ‘flow’, and how we can enter it.
What is ‘Flow’?
In positive psychology, flow, also known as being ‘in the zone’, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does – it’s when the voice in your head quietens and you are immersed in what you are doing; time seems to fall away and even your sense of self can disappear. It’s a state of optimal human performance and results in:
Accelerated Problem Solving
What’s happening in scientific terms? Kotler explains [42:36]:
‘What I’m talking about […] is specific changes in brain function; [activity in the] pre-frontal cortex is turning down, you’re getting 5 or 6 neurochemicals which tend to show up, and your brainwaves drop down to the alpha/theta borderline’
At 37:55 in the podcast, Rogan asks Kotler:
‘Is there anything people can do to enhance creativity? Is there a proven thing that can enhance flow state or increase creativity?’
First Kotler explains what we actually mean by ‘creativity’, and then explains what neurochemicals show up in the flow state and what they actually do. Then he lets us in on the flow hack. He tells us that if we want to mimic the exact neurochemistry of being in flow – all we need to do is take 3 steps:
Go for a 25 min low-grade run, follow it with a cup of coffee, and then smoke a joint. In that order. One more time:
25 min run/exercise
Yes that’s it! I have been using this combination a lot in the last month or so, but swapping the run out for yoga, and using hash rather than weed in my joints (I’ve found my mind to work more efficiently on hash compared to weed). I’ve had some great results, though admittedly not entirely consistently. I should add that I feel pretty damn great after this combo; in a fantastic mood, very present, and full of positive energy – I’ve found it to be an excellent way to start the day.
I’ve been using this combo for writing but would love to hear from other creatives if and how well it works for them in other creative fields; music, drawing, problem-solving. Try it out and please leave a comment letting me know how it works for you.
Don’t Smoke Weed? Run!
If you’re not a weed smoker, Kotler says that just going for a run or doing some kind of exercise can help. From 14:45, he explains exercise-induced transient hypofrontality, and says that by exercising, you can put yourself into a low-grade flow state – even just going for a walk can help.
‘It’s a great reset if you’ve been doing something creative and you didn’t get into flow and it was frustrating; this is a way to sorta reset your brain and start over. And if you did get into flow and it was a really, y’know, vibrant writing session – [it’s] another way to chill it out and start over.
You can see the whole episode here, it’s great watch/listen packed with interesting topics and stories:
For more information on flow, including other ways of inducing the state, discovering your ‘flow profile’ and what may work best you personally, check out the website: Flow Genome Project.
Do you have any other techniques that you use to enhance creativity, or to help you get ‘in the zone’? Tips or tricks? Habits or routines? Please share below, I’m always interested to hear about others’ creative processes and new ways of coaxing creative states of mind.