Flow. It’s a brain state that fascinates scientists because it appears to be the well from which creativity flows. It was first identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi his 1988 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Psychology Today describes it this way:
Action and awareness merge. Our sense of self and our sense of self consciousness completely disappear. Time dilates—meaning it slows down (like the freeze frame of a car crash) or speeds up (and five hours pass by in five minutes). And throughout, all aspects of performance are incredibly heightened—and that includes creative performance.
- Simplified 10 Hz alpha wave
When you’re on the edge of dreaming and sleep, you’re in "theta," where oscillations have slowed down to 3 to 8 Hz.
- Simplified 5 Hz theta wave
But oddly, it’s in-between these two dreamy states where flow—the most engaged state there is—happens. Could it be that when the two states are balanced just so, a third state emerges like a difference tone in music?
That’s not the only weird thing, either. When you have a flash of inspiration or clarity—an aha moment—your brain briefly produces high-intensity "gamma" brainwaves oscillating 38 to 42 times per second, the fastest that brainwaves can go.
- Simplified 40 Hz gamma wave
You can’t stay in a gamma state; it’s just a quick spike. But how surprising is it that the only way to get to the ultra-clarity of high-frequency gamma is from the dreamy edge of low-frequency theta?
- Headline image: ktsdesign