Practising getting into flow state has been one of the most helpful tools in overcoming post-partum anxiety and the general fearfulness and mind chatter that has marked my three maternity leaves.
Today I wanted to share a bit of the neuro-science (in easy to understand language) and why we mamas should be intentionally practicing flow state activities (and the best part is, they are the things you LOVE doing and leave you feeling awesome.)
Hopefully this will give you an extra boost of motivation to get back into some self-care and activities sooner (assuming you’ve given your body time to heal + recover.)
When I first tried to get back into running, I did it from a place of “it’s probably good for me to be ME and get out of the house.” However, understanding a bit of neuro-science and having solid scientific evidence as to WHY it helps, well, that’s a much more powerful motivator. I GET why it pulls me out of funks now, and tbh, I probably would have done it more consistently with my first baby had I known what was happening and why it made me feel so good (and less angsty.)
The more I study successful moms and people in general, the more I’ve realized that all of them have a flow state practice. It’s like realizing you’re part of a secret society when you realize that all of these people do similar things.
So, the basics. What is flow state?
“Flow” is a term coined by a psychologist who wanted to understand a particular state of consciousness that the brain can more into. This particular brain state evokes feelings of creativity & innovation, connection, deep enjoyment, confidence, and their internal chatter and negative emotions literally switch off. People who experience this state, come out feeling greater involvement, engagement and enthusiasm in life. Personally, as someone who studies metaphysics, I think this state of conscious is really about connecting in with our deeper intuition and creativity and the divine nature of ourselves that transcends the limits of our mortal side.
But… I digress. Back to the science.
This book was published in 2008 but I’d say this has become a topic among the public only in the last 6 or so years. technology has advanced too, and scientists now can get people to induce flow state and then watch their brain on a functional MRI scanner to see what brain regions are lighting up.
Figuring out what makes us happy, engaged and free of internal self-doubt?
YES PLEASE. MORE OF THAT.
Why, as mamas would we want to be in flow state?
Because it boosts the brain centres responsible for: Involvement, enjoyment, intrinsic motivation (Ulrich, Keller and Gron, 2015) and it tones down the brain centres responsible for negative emotions, self talk, self doubt, and attribution of negative emotions to oneself. (Grimm et al. 2009)
How do we achieve flow state?
The key is finding an activity that hits the right balance of being challenged (demand of the task) and our own skills. Not boring, not overwhelming. Just right. There’s a saying in Scandinavian countries that I love “Not too much, not too little, just enough.”
Moments like these are consistently reported as the most rewarding, expansive times in our lives.
They are not like the times where we are in a state of overwhelm (too much stimulation) or boredom and lack of stimulation. In those suboptimal times, a part of the brain responsible for internal negative chatter lights up. Conversely, in flow state, that part of the brain switches off. I don’t go into it here but there are two very different cocktails of hormones and neurotransmitters that are released in these two states, as well.
Think about it in your own mat leave life. When does boredom or overwhelm rear its ugly head? When do you experience crushing self doubt, anxiety, negativity, constant internal chatter, feeling wound up and defensive.
What tasks are you doing (or not doing)?
In overwhelm or boredom very different parts of the brain are activated.
Have you noticed that you DON’T feel these things after a task that challenges you a bit or requires your full focus and concentration? That your mind just shuts up.
Identify Some flow State Activities.
Think about this: Where it is the right combination of skill and demand for you? It’s a place where you feel strangely satisfied. Other clues? Time disappears in flow state and often you are in full focus or concentration. You are fully engaged and pushing your edges just the right amount, and you don’t have time to think about other things.
Some of my flow state activities are:
Trail Running, Mountain Biking (newly discovered) and Needle Felting (newly discovered,) reading and journalling my own insights.
A Concluding Thought on Flow State and Motherhood:
In my experiments with induced flow state, I can say with certainty that experiencing flow is to experience a fog of total wellbeing and satisfaction. Your internal anxious mom operating system (AMOS) cools down for a bit. The chatter of angst, anxiety, self doubt, isolation, contraction and negativity are silenced.
As that system downregulates, a new system upregulates, the fulfilled mom operating system (FMOS.) What is that one? It is focused on possibility, connection, happiness, opportunity, content, trust, and expansion.
THIS is where we should be most of the time. To get it back, we need to practice it and refire those parts of our brain. we need to make time for it every day, and treat flow state activities as worthy of our time, attention and protection in our ical. Everyone in our life benefits from a Mom operating her FMOS system. Is it worth the time in your day? Absolutely. In fact, the research experiments I cited above had the participants in flow state for only 3 minutes!