A highlight from Encore - Shama Rahman - What is Flow? How and Why to Spend More Time In It



And I'll be your guide as we go inside the head of some of the world's most extraordinary brain scientists, psychologists, meditators, those who are skilled in the mental arts. And we're going to learn both from their cutting edge work and their own human experience, how our brains work, how to optimize them, and how to manage the crazy in all of our minds. This week, we're going to get inside the head of doctor shama Rahman. She's a PhD neuroscientist who studies creativity and flow. And so this week we're going to flow inside of her brain and learn how to get creative. She's going to teach us about the neuroscience of flow and creativity and how we can spend more time in those states. So welcome shama, we're excited to get inside your head. I hope you like what you find in there. I'm sure. So let's just begin with defining what flow is. It's a concept that we hear a lot about. What is this thing? I think a lot of people have heard about flow in the context of being in the zone and some other people also think it's focused, but actually there's a distinction between focus and flow. So flow just to give you a little bit of background was actually coined by a Hungarian psychologist called mihai. And he was investigating what are the underlying correlates or principles or processes for happiness. He's one of the forefathers of positive psychology. He was carrying on the work of young, who's another obviously very famous psychologist. And what he discovered was that notwithstanding the cultural differences of what I might consider to be happier what you might consider to be happy what seemed to be shared by people was this sort of intense enhanced peak performance state of mind, which he then coined flow. And it has a couple of properties that are shared by everybody. So sometimes people say, okay, I completely lost track of time. That seems much shorter than it was or that much longer than it was. And then there'd be like completely absorbed and engaged in that task. And normally, flow happens when there's a balance between your skills and the challenges that are posed to you. So for example, I'm not a marathon runner, but if you get me to run the marathon, I would most probably find that too difficult until I know that the skills, no flow. I'll just be like dying on the side of the road, right? And so that's when it kind of occurs. But then once you're in it, this sort of really interesting things that start happening. One of the things is the perception of time. It's intrinsically motivating. It's intrinsically rewarding. So people actually do feel happier when they're in these states of flow. There's a sense of achievement, and cognitively speaking, people increase their mental flexibility when they're in flow. So they're very interesting that one, yeah, because it helps you to change strategy, makes you mentally more resilient. It's the exact opposite of stress because in psychological terms that's considered what they call functional fixedness where you basically you fixate on one sort of aspect of something. You can't really see the wood for the trees, right? With flow, you're able to be a lot more flowy about it, right? And this is what I think leads to higher states of creativity, where you're able to have lots of different concepts that don't necessarily hold together normally in your head, but you are able to look at it and go, well, why not? What are these connections? Would I be associations? And on that note, and going back to the difference with focus is that you're able to look at the little details, but you're also able to broaden out your attention from the details to include the bigger picture. So this is amazing. Okay. So flow is a state where you are losing track of time. People often describe it as being fully absorbed in something. And with it comes this ability to be more creative. So I guess this is where the intersection between flow and creativity comes from. Yes. And so I was looking in my PhD. I was basically, first off, super interested in the idea of consciousness, and then everybody was like, great. Do you want to have career death as you start? I was like, wait, what does that mean? You don't become a neuro philosopher until the end. You know, when you can kind of philosophize about something. And I was like, but I'm still really interested in consciousness, but okay, what about consciousness am I interested in? And for me, because my background is also performer, I'm a musician and an actor and a storyteller essentially. I was just like, okay, clearly, I'm interested in creativity. And what I see, I think creativity is almost like a phenotype of consciousness. It's what you actually see what you can actually look at the processes of. It doesn't like it's an expression of. It's an expression of exactly the features of consciousness. And I think you're utilizing all of your brain. And all of your different aspects of what you are in order to be creative. I was drawing heavily on people who'd done more qualitative studies of the creative processes. Notably, a guy called Wallace, for example, who went and interviewed hundreds of eminent creatives and that doesn't just mean fine artists and musicians also means chemists, architects. And he was like, well, what's the commonality between all of your processes? And it's nice to think about it as problem solving. And creativity is problem solving, innovation. And so I kind of used those sort of frameworks and thought, okay, we're really helped me know where to look as far as EEG or physiology is concerned. And also we can't say things like computational creativity and then bringing in psychology models like flow. And so I find a signature brain pattern for when people were at performing at their peak creative, which is when they're in flow. That is to long winded answer your okay, so I have to know, what is this brain signature for? Creativity and flow. It's actually a complex one, right? And so flow by my definition or by texting me high's definition is a complex cognitive behavior. It goes beyond focus. It goes beyond relaxation. It seems to be in a sweet spot between the two places. And my hypothesis was that it wouldn't come from one particular part of the brain. It's not modular from that perspective. And I went into this idea of connectionist theories, which is the whole of the brain is required in order to create a higher cognitive behavior, such as that. So there are multiple regions of the brain involved, and there are different activation patterns that are involved when you look at it through time. And I looked at it, obviously, yeah, EEG musicians. And I think other people looked at it using MRI studies and they looked at rappers and lyricists and poets and similar areas are coming out similar activation patterns are coming out. And what it says to me is a really good news because it means that its domain in specific. It doesn't matter if you're talking or making music or whatever it is. So it's like, what is showing to me is that there's a common neuronal network. The same way you and I share the same memory systems, but you know, we access those memories differently. The memories are different. So I think flow means different things. To different people. So if you are a creative, flow means being really creative. For an athlete, it means higher performance. It can mean employee engagement well-being and other areas, right? Let's dig into that for a minute. And then we'll get back to what this common brain network is. So when you look at flow, you're quite correct in saying it is different things to different people. So when I think about when I'm most in flow, it's various points. One is between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.. That's when I've always done my best work. And when nobody bothers you, you're not hungry, there's nothing to distract you. And so you're just in this zone and I've been extraordinarily creative and like ideas feel like they're coming out of nowhere and you just want to keep making. And I could be doing something boring. Computationally based boring stuff. Yeah. Or I could be doing something that's really engaged making clothing or making art. Creating new ideas or programs or protocols. And they all contain the same sensation of being simply me and the content and nothing else matters at that point. So it doesn't matter if it's boring work either.

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