morning flow

Harness flow regularly with a Morning Flow practice

morning flow
Photo by Santshree Sinha / Unsplash

When was the last time you were completely absorbed in your current activity? The new recipe you cooked last night? A brain-bashing puzzle? Or a Scorsese movie?

Scientists call this experience flow.

Flow is a state of being, a mindset framework, that dedicates all your conscious resources to the task at hand. It's a seemingly endless, yet effortless, drive to do.

But it's not all beauty. Flow is illusive. When we sit down to work, trying to achieve flow, it's absent. Time exhausts shifting between states of half-focus, daydreaming, and procrastination. And the harder we try, the farther we stray from accomplishing anything. The day begins to feel hopeless.

That's the catch: Flow has to feel effortless.

You cannot force flow, any more than you can force floating on water. You have to relinquish control, and sparks will follow. If this all feels counterintuitive, it is. It's like trying to aim at a target with your eyes closed after spinning in circles for 30 seconds; You just have to go for it, having no idea if it'll work.

But how can I learn to reliably achieve flow if it's just dumb luck?

In my experience, certain states of the day make flow more attainable. I've found my ability to flow is tied to willpower; The less willing I am to start, the harder it is to flow later during the meat of the task.

But how do we control willpower?

Quite frankly, I don't think you can. You have to let your ebbs of willpower determine when you do flow-seeking work. Which brings me to the best time of day to do your most focused work: the morning.

Willpower is highest after waking. You are more likely to start work that requires an initial effort to begin. Immediately after waking, your brain is still in a half-asleep state, with large theta waves dancing around your mind, before the smaller beta waves take over later in the day. This fact keeps your mind calm, which makes flow easier to attain.

Despite the monumental focus acquired during flow, a relaxed mind is critical to capture a flow state. When my brain is relaxed, I'm more willing to start hard work, and have a higher chance of falling into flow. I feel like I can work for hours, without break, maintaining a high output level. It's much easier to cultivate a quiet head after waking, versus after a stressful day. Let your brain walk into focus, rather than trying to run away from a stressful day.

My critical daily work is writing music. It's what drives me every day, and is my most important life goal. I used to write music later in the day, after college class and marathon training sessions. I found this sustainable, but I often felt spent going into these music sessions. I still put in quality time, but it felt forced; flow states rarely found me.

Since discovering this method, I moved my music sessions to the beginning of the day. Before eating, brushing my teeth, college classes, and human interaction. I roll out of bed, fire up my computer, and get stuck into a track.

What I've found is easier focus, less procrastination, better songs, and a lasting happiness. When you complete your essential work first thing in the morning, it feels like the day is already behind you. Even if the rest of the day goes to shit, I got that great music session in, first thing, and it fired me up.

Of course, this isn't a bullet-proof system. There are still days when the ideas don't come, the song is frustrating, and I feel like a failure because I can't write something I enjoy. But that's part of creating art: It's never going to be a Picasso. It can only be a D'Arcy.

I hope you learned something about flow, and the benefits of doing vital work first thing in the morning. Give it a shot for a week, and see how it feels.