Flow As Medicine?


Anything in life can be a flow experience.

Just go back and remind yourself of the steps for creating flow and you know that anything can be a flow activity, if you can get to “oneness” with it- forget yourself and get to that point where you are one with the music of whatever you’re doing.

Within us, at your choice to use them right on the spot, are your strengths, that are always ready to help, with just a decision to do so.

It is what we call that place of “flow and zone,” and it can become a learned choice.

What is amazing is that “flow” is like a drug or a medication.

We are concerned about the effects of drugs and medications, particularly psychotropic or psychological drugs.

What we don’t realize is that social interaction, the way we think and feel. what we talk about, and the social context around us, affects the brain as much if not more than drugs, in the long-term.

Your thoughts and feelings affect the development of neuropathways in the brain.  Negative and anxious conversations about “bad” things and people affect the amygdala of the brain, which is a center of fear, negativity, worry, and anxiety.

The more you focus on the negative, the more extensive and tightly bound are the neuropathways that are connected to the negative memories that are held by the left hemisphere.

Don’t like to take medication?  Don’t want to use drugs?

Then make “flow” the medication you use.

As it shifts you from your left hemisphere dominance to the larger picture of the right hemisphere, that sense of being one with the music, that subtle shift turns on the “feel good” chemicals, and gives you distance and perspective, and it adds to the brain’s buffer of positivity.

The more you are in flow and the more you experience being “one with the music,” the more you build it into your life. You are building your reservoir of psychological capital and you are also building a “buffer zone” of positivity.

This buffer zone protects against what is negative and creates a resistance to disease, and a greater immunology to what seems negative in life.  It will take longer for things to affect you in a negative way.

Negatives will have a shorter life.  You will be less reactive and you’ll experience less stress.

We are always moving the “lean” of the brain toward a positive state of feeling.  Focus on what is positive; your brain “runs” better.

Make positive feelings the ambient sound track of your life is another way of talking about being “one with the music” of life.  “Just this,” learned as a skill in even the most boring of tasks, can turn just about anything into an opportunity to practice focus and to forget and escape the evaluative ego.

Welcome to “flow as medicine.”

© Dr. William K. Larkin


About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • Dwayne Paro

    As pointed out so well in Barbara Frederickson’s work on Broaden and Build the better your ration of positive to negative improves your overall health. Negativity has been proven to be detrimental to your health over time. Barbara suggests a minimum ratio of 3:1 for positive to negative but encourages everyone to work to have a higher ration like 9:1. This will build that positive reservoir of emotions so when things are not going well you have a much better chance of staying in the UpSpiral. As Barbara points out in her book there are ten forms of positivity; Joy, Gratitude, Serenity, Interest, Hope, Pride, Amusement, Inspiration, Awe, and Love. No matter where you are at experiencing one or more of these positive emotions can keep you in the UpSpiral and building a reserve of positivity. Positivity is also contagious so you are not only helping yourself live a better life but those around you. If you are living a positive life its much easier to be in flow and stay in flow because your view broadens and opens you to more possibilities.

  • Dr. gloria wright

    Dr. Larkin puts it succinctly, “the way we think and feel, what we talk about, and the social context around us, affects the brain….” That’s pretty powerful information. It’s like our radio program really does matter. I’m just saying….over and over again.

    Our thoughts and feelings do affect the development of neuropathways in the brain. So we need to pay attention to them. The negative and anxious vibes affect the amygdala of the brain and that doesn’t sound good. It clogs up the neuropathways and that slows down traffic – connections and reason, etc. We want our brains to be fluid and easy to move through, right?

    So what can we do to help ourselves, our amygdala and our neuropathways? Stay in the Flow as much as you can. Sounds easy and it can be. But for me it takes some conscious thought, sometimes discipline and then I can “let” the Flow come into to moment. Sounds Zeny, doesn’t it? Maybe so, but most of us know that it is better to Zen than to angst.

    Flow is being in the moment – fully. Flow turns on the “feel good” chemicals. The more you stay in Flow, the more resilience and buffer and reserve you have. And the cycle repeats itself. Just focus on having more Flow than not. Maybe post-it notes around the house, “Go with the Flow.” And may it be so!

  • Kathy Lee

    Being in Flow seems to make the task at hand effortless. Today I asked myself how I could make a major project I’ve been working on more effortless and while I haven’t resumed that task today, every other task I’ve been engaged in seemed to be much more effortless than usual. I approached each task with a “Just This” mindset and voila, everything flowed today. Just planting the seed of desire,” I want today to go effortlessly”, after spending the last few weeks slogging through a major project, today was quite different. What this is teaching me is I can ask for what I want, large or small, I can ask for whatever I want; it’s OK to ask and the universe will respond. Asking for what I want has been the most difficult part of this course for me. I learned years ago not to bother asking for what I wanted. This is a new habit for me to acquire and writing out a simple daily plan is helping with this process.

    Today I decided to cook a beef stew and I didn’t want it to be difficult, but effortless. After the meat was tender, I wondered if a vegetable soup might be better, given the weather is cooler and seems to be a welcomed autumnal day, so I changed midstream from stew to soup and it turned out delicious. This was part of my effortless day, a segment of it, in which I allowed the momentum of the day and the ingredients to come together in a different way than I thought about initially. This is asking for effortlessness, believing it will arrive, and it may arrive in a way I didn’t expect. The Flow of creative cooking took over and the results were different than I had planned, but it turned out better than what I expected. This has been a wonderful day of effortless Flow. Thank you, Universe!

  • Echo Macdonald

    For me, flow is a bit like the experience of driving a convertible sports car on a sunny day. My strengths are the keys, the ignition, the engine, the axle, the wheels. How fast I travel has to do with the application of all the strength components and then adding my foot to the gas pedal. Then I am in “flow”, zooming down the road, hair waving in the breeze, feeling one with the elements around me in a total state of ecstasy. I have found that when faced with a challenging situation, flow can be “turned on” by opening myself up to my full range of strengths and creativity, as if unwrapping each one and layering them on and then giving them voice to speak to me about how to solve the problem at hand. Playing my favorite music on the radio, taking a walk outside in the fresh air, spending time among plants and flowers all help me to quickly focus my strengths to fit a situation. The openness with which I approach a situation allows me to call on my strengths more readily and reinforces them at the same time.

  • Kalah Vaughan

    As with most of the blogs, I love this! When we first started talking about flow in class I was excited and eager to receive flow in every part of my life. There have been a few times while I’m painting or playing poker that I would step into flow. Now, I can proudly say I feel flow in most parts of life. To know that flow is considerable to a psych drug is wonderful. I never believed in taking medications to make you feel better. My mother who I spoke about before, takes about fifteen different pills daily to help her with various issues. I have always felt if she was doing something she loved she would feel better and begin to live a more positive life.

    For myself, I have noticed every since I signed up for this course, negativity rolls off of me. I feel that I found what I want to do in life and how I want to contribute to the world. I stopped thinking about it and took action to achieve it. With this, I feel more in flow. When the little stuff occurs It drifts away because I know the larger things I am working on in life are much more important.

    I have been getting much better at sitting down in silence, trusting myself and taking steps that lead me to the life I am creating. I am always told that I am in high spirits, but now I am truly in a part of life that I never experienced before. For the first time I am in a place where I am so happy and feel like all aspects of my life are on the path that I want them to be, or will be with a few steps of self discipline. I never thought that my mind would feel this free and happy. I guess the best word to use is FLOW.

  • Sheila

    A few months ago I was diagnosed with Hashimotos, a mild auto immune disease that affects the Thyroid. When I realized what was going on, I did not hesitate……I eschewed sugar; gluten; caffeine and dairy. I went on a 2-3 month series of cleanses and found that when I went to coffee shops I suddenly had absolutely no desire for pastries, or, chocolate. Hmmm, imagine that!

    Why was it so easy for me to do this? While I can be every disciplined, it was more about doing what was right for my body and my health and as soon as I made that connection, I did not hesitate. I wanted to feel well again and I was prepared to do the work.

    I am hoping that understanding “flow” and how it affects the brain will have the same kind of effect. It’s not as concrete as giving up something tangible; you have to recognize when you are out flow and ease the throttle back on anxiety and rumination and that will take some practice, but, it’s like a light has now gone on in my head and having taken all this time and effort to improve my physical well being, I am going for optimal brain health and well being.

    I love being in flow and I have been fortunate enough to have experienced it many times. I never realized that it could be constant and so energizing, but, I want more of it and I am going to apply the same thought process as looking after my body. It’s time to show the love to that brain of mine and truly have the well lived life.

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute