Flow + the Brain

Flow the Brain2

Another theory about flow and the brain involves our reward circuit and dopamine, that feel-good neurochemical that we love so much. This theory speaks to the noted increases in dopamine among those “in the zone,” but the data still needs some bearing out to know for sure.


No matter what mechanisms are at play, though, we know that there is real, concrete science behind the concept of flow state. And as such, we have a lot of power to manipulate and recreate the experience of flow—inducing it when we feel stuck, holding onto it when we find it.


And what we can really take away from this information is two things:

  1. Flow bypasses our logical brain—the one that tells us we’re not good enough to do this thing or feels that it’s not productive (or whatever story you have running through that PFC)

  2. Flow makes us feel good

And that gives us some great data to work with, now, doesn’t it?

Reflect on the two big takeaways from the theories about flow and the brain: that flow helps us get out of our logical brain and into creation for a bit, and flow makes us feel good. What tools can you bring into your life that replicate those outcomes, or induce them?

Dietrich, A. (2003). Functional neuroanatomy of altered states of consciousness: The transient hypofrontality hypothesis. Consciousness and Cognition. 12, 231–256.

Dietrich A. (2004). Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the experience of flow. Consciousness and cognition, 13(4), 746–761.

Gold J, Ciorciari J. A review on the role of the neuroscience of flow states in the modern world. Behav Sci (Basel). 2020;10(9):137. doi:10.3390/bs10090137

Gruber, M. J., Gelman, B. D., & Ranganath, C. (2014). States of curiosity modulate hippocampus-dependent learning via the dopaminergic circuit. Neuron, 84(2), 486–496. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2014.08.060

Katahira K, Yamazaki Y, Yamaoka C, Ozaki H, Nakagawa S, Nagata N. Eeg correlates of the flow state: a combination of increased frontal theta and moderate frontocentral alpha rhythm in the mental arithmetic task. Front Psychol. 2018;9:300. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00300