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Finding‌ ‌Happiness‌ ‌in‌ ‌Recovery‌ ‌Through‌ ‌Flow‌ ‌

Staying Motivated Through Recovery by Taking Advantage of a "Flow" State of Mind

Did you know that 85 percent of people relapse after a year of drug rehab treatment according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse?

So, why are relapse rates so high? Addiction treatment can provide the tools and therapy needed for one to build a strong foundation for their recovery.

Unfortunately, even with the right coping mechanisms and therapy, people may fall back into addiction because they feel their life is lacking something. So, some may go back to filling the void with drugs and alcohol.

Flow in Recovery

So how do we fill the void? How does one find passion and motivation in life after recovery? How does one give life a spark without drugs and alcohol?

Well, one proven way to bring a spark back into your life, providing meaning and satisfaction is through what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls “Flow.”

What Is “Flow”?

Have you ever been so “in the zone” that you completely lost sense of time and self-consciousness? You weren’t so focused on yourself or your ego, but rather the activity at hand.

According to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow is defined as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away—time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Everyone’s experience with flow is unique. And different activities may put different people in flow. This all has to do with each person’s unique interests, passions, and motivations in life.

Research shows that entering a flow-like state can be a key factor in finding satisfaction and fulfillment in life — which are two things that many recovering addicts may lack early in their journey. Those who don’t have a hobby or job that helps them regularly find flow may find themselves again pondering the use of drugs, struggling with underlying mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Elements of Flow

Again, everyone may experience flow somewhat differently, but Csíkszentmihályi notes a number of different elements that make flow what it is.

Elements of flow include:

Flow is not achieved by a single, or even heroic, jump but over a period of repetitively cultivating positive habits. It also develops character and contributes to one’s own and other people’s well-being. Thus, sustaining flow demands that good habit-forming behaviors become automatic and eventually become part of you.

How Flow Affects the Brain

Research shows that entering the flow state alters brain activity and promotes alpha brain waves and theta brain waves. When people enter flow, their frontal lobe and medial temporal lobe have increased flexibility and higher cognitive function.

The frontal lobe of the brain is a part that is responsible for higher cognitive processes such as:

It is thought that while in a state of flow, this region of the brain momentarily down-regulates. This process is known as transitory hypofrontality.

This momentary inactivity of regions of the frontal lobe may result in sensations of time dilation, issues of self, and the absence of an inner voice, among other things.

According to Dietrich, aside from that, the restriction of the prefrontal lobe may allow the subconscious mind to take over. This enables additional brain regions to interact freely and participate in the process of creative invention.

According to another line of study, the flow state is associated with the brain’s dopamine reward system. This is based on the notion that the brain alters its structure to improve learning as a result of pleasurable outcomes in one’s flow state.

Benefits of Flow

Flow is an enjoyable experience in itself. But, the byproducts of entering this state of mind may be just as, if not more, valuable than the flow experience.

Benefits of flow include:

Who Experiences Flow?

The ability to feel flow varies across people. People who experience flow often experiment with new challenges and tasks. They accomplish goals for themselves rather than for some external reason.

People who experience flow often have a strong curiosity, perseverance, and healthy self-esteem in what they’re doing.

Experiential individuals may feel the greater flow. They accomplish things for themselves rather than for some faraway outer objective. Conceptual thinking like strong curiosity in life, perseverance, and lack of self-esteem define this personality type.

People who experience neuroticism may have a more difficult time finding flow as they can be more prone to worry and extreme self-criticism.

Here are some common activities that help people achieve flow:

Achieving Flow

Distractions prevent one from experiencing flow. One must avoid the distractions of fast-paced contemporary living. Turning off your notifications and curbing distractions can help someone find flow.

A person in flow must be challenged by a task that tests their capabilities, though not to an extreme degree. If the task is too easy, the person will get bored and distracted. If the task is too hard, the person may feel worried and agitated.

Flow is a state of mind. It can be a large component of one’s well-being — especially in recovery from addiction.

There are many ways to achieve flow:

Remember, flow is a journey. Most people can’t just jump into flow immediately. It may take time to condition your mind and free yourself from distractions before you can find flow.

Be patient, yet persistent.

Phases in achieving flow can be described as followed:

After you’ve gone through these steps, your brain’s reward system has already become rewired. You’ll remember this pleasurable experience and surely come back for more.

Using Flow For a Lasting Recovery

Recovery takes effort. In a drug rehabilitation program, you will learn valuable skills and techniques to avoid relapse and improve your mental health.

Addiction is a disease of the brain. To address and treat addiction, we must look at our mental health and do the things we can to improve its condition. Much of the things we do in treatment are to improve our physical and mental health.

Addressing past emotions and behaviors that have been problematic, coping with stress, altering your lifestyle, and finding ways to unwind are crucial in recovery from substance abuse.

Preventing Relapse with Flow

Flow can help people get their minds off of drugs. Those in recovery may previously have found an escape from regular life through the use of drugs. And, when starting their sober journey, they may find it difficult to find the enjoyment they need in life.

This is why we flow.

Flow allows us to curb the busy mind and find satisfaction in something beyond drug use. Activities that spark flow allow us to become less concerned with thoughts of drug use and other things that a bored mind easily falls into.

Flow is fun and enjoyable. Finding flow in recovery may be the closest thing to achieving a “high” that a recovering addict can enjoy healthily.

Real fun doesn’t destroy your life; it improves it. Flow activities are maybe the greatest method to bring fun and satisfaction back into your life while simultaneously feeling less restricted and less concerned with your issues.

A Step at a Time Soon Achieves Nine

Giving yourself the space and time to feel the flow while participating in whatever activity you choose can be highly beneficial to your recovery.

In a treatment center like Wavelengths Recovery, we provide proven standard and holistic treatments to help those struggling with substance abuse. We also engage in activities throughout the treatment process in which the recovering person can achieve flow.

A lasting recovery is one with a strong foundation, and flow can help build up a foundation that is ready to take on life without the use of drugs or alcohol.

Remember, challenging roads will often end in amazing places.

Contact us, and we will give you the help you need today.


1. Katahira K, Yamazaki Y, Yamaoka C, Ozaki H, Nakagawa S, Nagata N. EEG correlates of the flow state: A combination of increased frontal theta and moderate frontocentral alpha rhythm in the mental arithmetic task. Front Psychol. 2018;9:300. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00300

2. Dietrich A. Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the experience of flow. Conscious Cogn. 2004 Dec;13(4):746-61. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2004.07.002. PMID: 15522630.

3. Gold J, Ciorciari J. A review on the role of the neuroscience of flow states in the modern world. Behav Sci (Basel). 2020;10(9):137. doi:10.3390/bs10090137

4. Bonaiuto M, Mao Y, Roberts S, et al. Optimal experience and personal growth: Flow and the consolidation of place identity. Front Psychol. 2016;7:1654. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01654

5. Cell Press. (2014, October 2). How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 27, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141002123631.htm

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