The Power of Flow: How Competitors Harness their Neurology

Outline of human head with jagged brain waves

You can probably think of a few people who you’d describe as natural born competitors? Perhaps you’re one? It turns out that the feeling that competitors are chasing is neurologically addictive. They create the circumstances to reach an optimal state of consciousness called flow where they feel their best and perform their best.

500% more productive in flow

Some call flow being “in the zone” and it is so powerful, that the global consulting firm McKinsey found that executives are 500% more productive when they are in flow, Harvard found subjects to have three days of heightened creativity after the flow state and Advanced Brain Monitoring & Darpa found subjects to have a 490% increase in skill acquisition.

Why is flow so addictive?

The reason that it’s so addictive is when we’re in flow, 5 neurochemicals are released into our brains to help us reach our performance potential.

  1. Dopamine mirrors the effects of cocaine
  2. Norepinephrine acts like speed
  3. Endorphins are 100 times as strong as morphine
  4. Anandamide acts like marijuana
  5. Serotonin is like MDMA.

So, the reason that being a competitor is neurologically addictive? Well, it’s because of the cocktail of neurochemicals that are released into our systems when we’re in flow.

Flow is part of a 4-part cycle

The cycle of Struggle, Release, Recovery, Flow.

Figure 1: The Flow Cycle

Optimal states of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best are called flow states. Historically we thought of flow as binary – either we’re in the zone or we’re out of it. But, based on the foundational research of Harvard Cardiologist Herbert Benson, we now know that it is a four-part cycle of Struggle, Release, Flow and Recovery.

The exciting thing is that it is trainable and repeatable.

About Mark Pollock

Acknowledged as an expert in leadership, resilience and overcoming adversity, high performance, and collaboration, leaders around the world invite Mark to support their teams to adapt, be resilient, perform and collaborate as a motivational speaker, delivering keynote speeches and masterclasses.

Interested in finding out more?

Here are some of my favourite books on flow and performance; check them out if you’re interested in learning more.

  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Steven Kotler 
  • Mindset: The Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
  • Grit: The Power of Passion & Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
  • Start With Why; Find Your Why by Simon Sinek 


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