Today, Ann will dig deep into the science of flow states. She’ll go through six characteristics of flow state based on Steve Kotler’s book, The Art of Impossible. Ann will also share three time periods in her life when she felt she was in flow. She’ll talk about her flow triggers and describe how it feels to be in flow and how it helps to boost her productivity.

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Ann’s intention for this episode is for you to learn about the flow state. She also wants to help you find out your flow triggers so that you can be happier and more fulfilled in life. Listen now!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Examples of flow states.
  • Six major characteristics of flow.
  • Ann shares three time periods in her life when she felt that flow state.
  • What was the common denominator for Ann in the three time periods that got her into flow?
  • Ann shares some of her childhood experiences when she felt in flow.
  • What are the things Ann is doing now to get her into a flow state?
  • How can you identify what triggers you to enter the flow state?
  • How does entering into flow state help boost your productivity?

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When you get into flow states, it’s a form of productivity. It’s a productivity hack. But also, it just makes you more satisfied, more confident when you can get into that state repeatedly.”   [00:18:01]

“To get into flow state, you have to prime your brain of the new material that may be a challenge first, then you pull back, and then you relax. And then that’s a good time to go take a walk or do something that doesn’t require a lot of brainpower and to look at the vastness of nature, and then when you come back to it, you can get into flow states easier. And then you recover after. That’s a quick version of the flow cycle.” [00:14:57]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

It’s Not Rocket Science Show website

Ann Tsung on Facebook

Ann Tsung on LinkedIn

Ann Tsung on YouTube

Ann Tsung on Instagram

Ann Tsung on Twitter

Frequently Asked Questions on Flow

The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer

About Ann Tsung, MD


Ann Tsung, MD, MPH is a physician who is triple board-certified in emergency, critical care, and preventive/aerospace medicine. She is the podcast show host of It’s Not Rocket Science Show, and a real estate investor. Her mission is to help people create time, vitality, and deep relationships so people can achieve peak performance and fulfillment in life. Her passions include mind-body medicine, functional nutrition, longevity, productivity, and human optimization. She firmly believes that everything we need is within us now.



Please note the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein belong solely to the speaker, and not necessarily those of the speaker’s employer, organization, government institution, or medical program. This show is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing, or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this show or materials linked from here is at the user’s own risk. The content of this show is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions. Please assume that any links leading you to products or services are affiliate links that I will receive compensation from. I only mention products or services that I have used and believe would add value for you. Please note that I have not been given any free products, services, or anything else by these companies in exchange for mentioning them on the site.

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Full Transcript




ANNOUNCER: If you’re struggling with your vitality, energy, mood, focus, or sleep, this podcast is for you. Your host, Dr. Ann Tsung, ER doctor, and aerospace flight surgeon, will help you reach for the stars and remove the barriers or blockades that have been holding you back from living your best life. If you’ve been challenged by your health, relationships, or productivity, then it’s time for a breakthrough. So, here’s your host, Dr. Ann Tsung.


Ann Tsung: Hello, and welcome to It’s not Rocket Science Show. This is your host, Dr. Ann Tsung. Today, I like to discuss this book that I read, The Art of Impossible by Steve Kotler. He is a journalist, he has studied flow for many, many years, I was just amazed by the science of flow states, and I wanted to really dig deep on how I can get more of it. And so, we’ll talk about in this episode, what exactly is flow state, what kind of characteristics does a flow state has, and think about the triggers in your own life, in my life, that have propelled me to get into flow state. So, let’s go ahead and dive in. 


A lot of times, we have felt those intense focus on a task, right? Say we’re drafting a really, really amazing email, or studying and we’re just like, get everything and everything’s coming in as we’re making all these connections. Or we are creating a presentation, and we have just like all these ideas that’s like popping in, and we just know where to go. Or maybe we are giving a speech to an audience and it’s just on fire. One after the other, we know what to say next, we almost can predict things and the audience – they love it because they are having almost like a social flow. And you, afterwards, you feel so confident, so amazing. Or perhaps you’re playing a volleyball game, some sort of group sports, or you if you’re running and you’re working out, then you’re super focused, time just stands still. And you just are in sync sometimes. Or when you’re in the meeting, and you’re brainstorming ideas, and you’re having a really intense discussion with everybody, everybody is contributing, that’s a form of social flow. So, all those are various flow states. 

And there are micro flow states, there’s macro flow states. And micro flow states, I mean, you can, say, you are taking a walk, and you just feel like everything is like anyone you feel connected, you feel relaxed. If you’re sewing perhaps, or a lot of times people can just be drawing, that’s a form of flow, essentially. And so, all of those items, all those activities have been studied. And Steve Kotler came up with six major characteristics of flow. So, the first one is that the action merges with awareness. The second one is that it’s selfless. The third is timeless. And the fourth is that it’s effortless. And the fifth one is that there’s a paradox of control. And the sixth one, there is intrinsic motivation. And now, there are many other triggers as well. But those six are the major characteristics of flow. 


And number one, when we say that action merges with awareness, what that means is that what you’re doing and you just become one. Every action just flows automatically, one to the next, to the next, to the next. There’s no separation anymore. Everything just becomes automatic, easy. And the second one, when you’re selfless, that means that your consciousness is kind of decreased in terms of your inner critic, your negative self-talk, you’re no longer saying, you can’t do this or I’m not good at this, or I will never be able to learn this, it just, the inner critic is not there anymore. And the third one, the timeless. So, time seems to stand still for you. Like when you get into a good conversation with a good friend or a loved one, that time just flies by like hours when you’re in sync when you’re in flow with someone that’s like interpersonal flow when you’re one on one. So, that’s an example of timeless or when you’re focused on creating something on a single task, and all of a sudden three hours goes by, that’s timelessness. And so, fourth one is effortless. Everything seems easy. It’s not really a challenge, it’s hard work. Everything is just like you have these vast amounts of information and strain that you can draw from that it just flows. 


And the fifth one is paradox of control. And what that means is that you feel like you’re in control of the situation fully, you’re a super confident, and you are not letting anything extrinsic to affect you at all, no distractions at all whatsoever, like nothing, yeah, like everything else shuts down. And you’re super focused, and you’re in control of a situation. And the sixth characteristic is that you have intrinsic motivation. And essentially, what that means is that you’re not motivated by money or status. You want to do this task for the intrinsic challenge, for the reward of doing this task. You’re doing it for love, you’re doing it for a purpose and mission, and you just love the challenge. And so, Steve Kotler had brought up a few questions that were very interesting to me, he asked that, you know, what are really three time periods that brought you in flow? Think about examples where when you were in flow? And what are three time periods, and time periods, it could be weeks, it could be months. And what were you doing at the time? And what were some of the common characteristics? And so, I thought to myself, okay, three time periods, and you can think about this on your own as well to see when you felt that flow state. And again, it doesn’t have to be work, it doesn’t have to be, you don’t have to be doing something productive or learning. It can be playing sports, it can be hanging out with other people, it can be, again, playing an instrument, perhaps you’re playing in the group band, I thought to myself, recently, I would say, the first time was when I visited LA, and I was meeting up with people who really flowed with me, who are growth mindset, who are interested in self-care, and also productivity as well, were very spiritual. And during those times, I was doing breathwork, I was doing sound bath, I was doing a lot of deep meditation practices. And I was exposed to ecstatic dance. 


Ecstatic dance is a dance form where it’s free flowing, it’s during the day, usually on a Sunday morning, or afternoon. And there’s no substances involved whatsoever. And you can be from a baby all the way to old age ’60s, 70’s, ’80s. And you listen to various rhythms and forms of music, it could be tribal music, it could be electronic, or it could be like slow-flowing music. And all you do is dance however you wish, with no judgment from others, but everyone else is dancing around you. No one is judging you or saying anything to you, we can dance with each other, you can dance on your own. And that gave me the craziest flow state ever. It’s a form of group flow. But it’s also a form of individual flow, because at certain times I have my eyes closed, too, and just kind of feeling the flow and the rhythm, the music, and I was essentially high on all the neurotransmitters I created during this one-and-a-half-hour dance for probably days. It was fantastic. And so that was one period. During my time in LA essentially, I was doing a lot of self-care, dance, meditation, and a lot of good interpersonal, like social flow. 


And then the other time was actually when I was in Russia for work. Where I stayed, it was around beautiful forests where there are trails, you can walk. And I started walking every day post lunch. And I just felt this connectedness, this oneness, this sense of well-being as I hike through the forests and the trails, it was just so beautiful. And I felt confident. I even started listening to a similar type of music to ecstatic dance in LA. As I’m walking and started dancing through the hikes and the walks and the more ideas, the more I flowed through nature, the forest, the better I felt. I was like high on my neurotransmitters, my own neurotransmitters essentially. And I will come back from my walk post lunch and everything that, all the work that I needed to do after would feel so easy. I felt so confident. I’m ready to tackle it. I can focus on again to flow and a different flow, productive flow at work for a while.


And the third period in my life where I experienced flow was after Date with Destiny. So, my fiancé and I traveled around the world for eight months. And in the end of traveling, we attended the Tony Robbins Date with Destiny seminar. It’s a deep-dive seminar for a week to look at your intrinsic motivators, your values, your purpose in life, and essentially, why you make the decisions you make. Your limiting beliefs and how you can go about changing that. And it was a lot of deep-dive work, self-work, and also a lot of social interaction, a lot of dancing, a lot of high energy, and a lot of emotional, low energy points as well. But you are there with a huge tribe of 2000 people. And it just felt like, afterwards, you’re super connected to everyone, everyone is around you. They’re all human beings. You felt like we’re all one, even nature, even birds and trees, I was walking in nature, I just felt like we’re all interconnected. And that was the time when it was a different type of flow. And I felt the most flow. And also, a little bit of it as traveling the unpredictability and just going day by day, planning day by day. That was another form of flow for us as well, when we’re traveling, when there’s novelty. And when we’re just kind of seeing where things take us, things might pop up, and somebody might suggest a destination. And so, we just go for it. And we don’t really have a set time limit. And we were going with flow with time.


So, those are my three examples of flow. And I found that the common denominator for me, is really nature. A lot of times I felt a nature social connection and when I was doing a lot of self-work. And going back to the time in Russia, I was also working out frequently, four times a week, weightlifting, so I felt really my best in terms of my strength, my physical strength as well. So, that helped me decide that I want to expose myself to nature more with the help of listening to certain types of music that gets me in flow. Sometimes it would be like the ecstatic dance playlist. Sometimes it will be the deep work playlists, sometimes it would just be nature sounds. And also, definitely, more self-care exposes myself to more meditation every day, don’t skip it, and to get self-care like massages, to interact with people who are my tribe who share my vision, my beliefs, to bring each other up to when I know I have somebody I can flow with, to spend more time with those people that get you into flow. 


And the other question is that when as a child, have you gotten into flow, what were you doing as a child? And for me, I was sewing, I will make a lot of my own bags when I was little. And I will be weaving I would roll old ads that you get in the mail into little strips. And I will use them to actually weave a pen holder. And the other times I wasn’t slow was when I was playing violin. When I was, you know, had been challenged by a piece but all of a sudden, I got it. Or I could play this piece beautifully. Or definitely one we’re in flow when we’re playing orchestra. When everybody’s in sync. Everyone’s playing and the sound is freaking amazing. And the endorphins just flood your brain point, there’s an amazing piece that your orchestra was able to present to the audience. And then the other time when I was in flow when I was a kid, I love to read epic novels, storybooks, epic stories, multiple volumes, and I just get so focused and time just stood still I could read there for hours and hours and hours. Another thing I like to do when I was little was, I like to sketch I like to look at a photo or a picture. And I like to copy it. And that was a sketch and I will get into such focus that it will be hours and then it will be completed, that my sketch, I’ll be so proud that my sketch looks identical typically, to the photo I’m trying to sketch and copy. Of course, it wasn’t always like that. But I did it so much that I got really good at it. 


And so, I want to ask you, what were you doing as a child that really got you into that flow state, when you are playing, when you’re sketching, when you’re required, when you were drawing, when you were playing like a sport with, you know, a group of kids perhaps? Or maybe sometimes you just like to do something quietly when you’re playing with blocks when you’re playing with puzzles. That’s another thing that you know, people begin to flow in. And I’d like to ask you, what are some of the things that you have been doing that got you into flow states recently? So, for me recently, what I’ve been doing is I’m really trying myself in the morning, I would jump on the trampoline, listen to my music, jump on the trampoline, get those neurotransmitters created. I would do 10 kettlebell swings. I will take walks in nature before I start work because when you look out in nature, that’s another form of flow as well and also it has to do with the neuroscience of flow. To get into flow state, you have to prime your brain of the new material that may be a challenge first, then you pull back, and then you relax. And then that’s a good time to go take a walk or do something that doesn’t require a lot of brainpower and to look at the vastness of nature, and then when you come back to it, you can get into flow states easier. And then you recover after. That’s a quick version of the flow cycle. And so, I pride myself, I take walks, I move my body, to jump on the trampoline. And then I find myself that I can very easily get into flow, when I sit down at work, I could just open my task, or have this PDF of like 100 pages, and that’s fine, I’ll get it done. Set a goal, read 50 pages, done. And I just keep going, maybe I’ll read 70 pages, maybe I’ll read 80 pages, it just like that confidence that everything just clicks, everything I’m learning, I can incorporate it, it’s an amazing feeling. So, it’s the little things that add up that create that flow state. And then other times like interpersonal flow, recently, I experienced with my fiancé, actually, we visited this new restaurant, and they had music playing, we were sitting outside. So, there’s the novelty portion. And then we were sitting across from each other mirroring each other very close to each other. And we were just talking about this topic that we were very passionate about. And it was just an amazing interpersonal flow with each other that we were there for hours, like time stood still for us. And I have a very good friend from college as well, that every time no matter how long we have been apart, or have not talked to each other, every time we’re together, we can talk for like four to five hours, nonstop, and time would just fly by. And I attribute it to that because we both give full presence to each other, we look at each other in the eye. We don’t look at our phones, we don’t get distracted by anything. And we have very similar growth mindsets. We perform self-care. And so, we’re just learning from each other. We have the curiosity, we have the compassion to listen to each other, we perform active listening, and we learn from each other so much on like, what have you been up to? What have you been trying? Oh, how’s that been working for you? And we listen to each other’s challenges and give a safe space, essentially, and to be each other’s mirrors, and what was what we call it when somebody is there to listen to you. They’re a mirror for you to see either what you could work on to see what really was your trigger to come up with your own ideas, but they’re there for you to bounce ideas off of. So, because sometimes, when you ask somebody something, and as you say it, you already have a solution. So that’s a form of Emir.


And so those are extremely interesting questions that can potentially help you identify what gets you into flow states. When you get into flow states, it’s a form of productivity, it’s a productivity hack. But also, it just makes you more satisfied, more confident when you can get into that state repeatedly. So again, I would challenge you to write this down with pen and paper, the answers to these questions. What were three time periods that got you into flow state, about a time period about a week to about a month, what were you doing during those time periods? And what were the common denominators? And what were you doing as a child that put you into the flow state? And in the end? Is there something that you can do today or schedule this week so that you can flood yourself with more of those activities that you were doing back then? I mean, now that you can think of your own formula, you came up with your own triggers, then, is there one thing, one trigger that you can place into your routine or schedule so that you can get into those states? And again, to remind you of the characteristics of flow, number one is that your action and awareness, they emerge into one. Everything becomes automatic, easy, you’re just kind of going with the flow, you’re just doing it. Number two, the selflessness when your inner critic your consciousness are toned down, and you’re no longer telling yourself that you can’t do this. Okay? No inner negative self talk like you know, you’re stupid. You can’t do this. You’re so fat. 


And, there’s timelessness. So, time stands still, you don’t notice how long time has gone by. And the fourth one is that it should be effortless. Everything goes from one thing to the next thing to the next thing to the next thing. It doesn’t feel like hard work to you. You want to do this. And the fifth thing is that there’s a paradox of control. You feel you are in full control of everything that you are doing. And then last thing is that you have intrinsic motivation to this task, the reward of this task is just the challenge itself. Or it may be a time and challenge you just like drawing you just like playing music and just like playing violin. It’s not for the money and you could be making because of this task. So, I hope that this has been helpful for you. My intention for you this episode is for you to learn what the flow characteristics are, the flow state, and perhaps get you to start doing some of the things that got you into flow states before and just doing more of those items, well, I think make you happier and more fulfilled in general. 

So, thank you again, I’m super grateful for your time with me today. And remember, everything we need is within us now. We can generate these flow states right now within us. Thank you.


ANNOUNCER: That’s it for today’s episode. Head on over to iTunes and subscribe to the show. One lucky listener every single week that posts a review on iTunes will win a chance in the grand prize drawing to win a private VIP Day for a health and life makeover with Dr. Ann Tsung, herself. Then, be sure to head on over to and pick up your free gift from Dr. Tsung. Then, join us on the next episode.


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