How to Use the 5 Flow Triggers to Your Advantage

This article is inspired by one of Matt D’Avella’s recent videos. I find what he says in this video really interesting and motivating. As always, take what you need and leave out the parts you don’t, always strive to do what you know is best for yourself. What matters is the results.

In the movie Limitless, Bradley Cooper gets access to a drug that lets him unleash his full brain’s potential: NZT. While you can normally access only 10% of your brain, this pill lets you access all of it. The result is a huge spike in focus and performance. Bradley Cooper ends up becoming a world famous millionaire/banker/author, in spite of a few hick-ups along the way. Limitless is a great movie, but the whole basis of its pitch is wrong.

For a very long time, the idea about peak performance was centred around the supposedly unused 90% of our brain. If we could crack the code to access more than a mere 10% of it, we would be able to reach Flow. As it turns out, we had it all backwards.

Flow: An optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best. A term first coined by American-Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

A lot of people reach Flow everyday, and none of them get access to more than 10% of their brain. What happens instead is this: the brain shuts off all non critical structures to give all the extra energy for attention. In Flow we’re not using more of the brain, but less.

When we reach Flow, we become super focused on the one specific thing we are doing at the moment, and everything else vanishes.

The benefits of Flow

Flow is generated the most by people performing at a high level in almost any creative discipline. Needless to say those people are the most dedicated and relentless about their craft and their practice. Whenever these guys improve their performance in their field, it will almost always correlate with an increased time spent in Flow.

While in Flow, studies have shown:

  • Up to 500% increase in motivation and productivity
  • From 400% to 700% creativity spikes
  • Up to 230% increase in learning efficiency
  • Up to 50% reduction of training time

Sources: McKinsey, Flow Research Collective

Flow combines 5 of the most potent neurochemicals the brain can produce. What’s more, the Flow period is the only time the brain produces all 5 at the same time (norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, serotonin).

Here is the biggest takeaway from all these studies yet: the people with the most Flow in their lives consistently rank off the charts for:

  • Well-being
  • Happiness
  • Life satisfaction

They of course also score off the charts in peak performance, but that’s a byproduct of Flow. Well-being, happiness and life satisfaction are the prerequisites to create Flow.

How to create Flow?

Flow tends to happen naturally when we perform certain tasks, but it is also highly trainable. You can create automatic habits which will help you enter Flow more easily and enjoy its benefits.

Over the years, research has identified 5 of the most important triggers to Flow.


At the level of creativity (which is the field where flow is the most common), risk is the courage to bring the idea(s) you have into the real world without knowing how well they’re going to be received. Writing a book requires a huge amount of work, and you can never be sure people are going to like it. This goes for basically any discipline in the creative world: architecture, music, design, illustrations, writing, photography…


  • Research a lot
  • Try different things
  • Read about it
  • Write about it
  • Go outside
  • Practice all 5 triggers at the same time.

Here, the term complexity refers to the brain activity. The more you can stimulate your brain, the better and longer you will be in Flow. Research in the domain is still unsure if there is a specific threshold to hit in order to reach Flow, but scientists definitely agree that the higher the brain activity, the better.

As we said before, we are not talking about activating as many parts of our brain as possible. We want to take as much advantage as possible of the critical structures of our brain that light up the most while in Flow. The rest remains “inactive”.


When stuck creatively, change your environment. Go some place new: a coffee place, a park, a library… It doesn’t even have to be a place you don’t know. What matters is the sudden change of environment.

You know your living room, and you know the library 3 blocks down the street. But the sudden switch from one to the other is what will produce a tiny bit of dopamine, which is going to tighten focus.

Pattern recognition

One of the best ways to take advantage of pattern recognition is to start a work session by editing/changing things you have done the day before.

If you’re a writer, start by editing instead of writing from scratch. Changing the words, choosing the best sentence structure, identifying what works… That’s pattern recognition.

If you’re a photographer/videographer, start by editing the footage you’re working on. Changing the lighting, cropping a picture the right way, choosing the best filters… That’s also pattern recognition.

Find how you can apply this technique to your own domain of expertise.

Pattern recognition removes the pressure of having to come up with something right now. Every time you notice patterns and see what works, your motivation and clarity of mind will increase. Step by step you’ll reach Flow, and by the time you have to actually start creating from nothing, your brain will be in a much better state to do “improvise”.

Clear goals

This might be the most important of all triggers. When you know where you’re going, it’s a lot easier to reach an optimal state of consciousness, aka Flow. You can get all the previous ones right, if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t get there. You need to know what your next todo is, otherwise you can’t move further, at least practically. You need to have a plan with each step to tackle.

“All successful people depend on peak experiences”

— Abraham Maslow

These psychological triggers are simple and minimal. The substance, the technology, the tools, the science… You can dig and read about all that, but in practice you don’t need anything fancy. All you need is passion, to be interested enough in what you are doing, and to play around with the triggers.

  • Risk
  • Complexity
  • Novelty
  • Pattern recognition
  • Clear goals

These can be applied in the simplest ways in your life, and you can start today.

So what are you waiting for?

Go out there, experiment, achieve.

Flow is universal. Go find your own.

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