Have you ever had moments when the world falls away, and you’re entirely in the ‘now’? 

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This isn’t just a fleeting feeling but a scientifically backed phenomenon known as ‘flow’, first identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

When not managed effectively, the ‘mist’, comprised of internal and external triggers, clouds our clarity, disrupting the harmony of our mind and environment. 

I remember during hockey games, every pass and shot seemed effortless. I felt invincible. But there were games clouded by distractions and self-doubt. This experience I coined as the ‘mist’ in my book Managing The Mist.

While flow emerges as the hero, guiding us towards unparalleled performance and blissful immersion, the mist is its formidable antagonist. 

Managing The Mist

Internally, self-doubt, anxiety, and a cacophony of distracting thoughts form a part of this haze. At the same time, external interruptions, over-stimulation, and environmental stressors thicken it. 

Just as the hero in any story faces challenges, our flow is constantly threatened by this ever-present mist. 

Recognising and dispelling these elements becomes essential in our quest to let our flow state—truly shine and prevail.

Let’s dive deep into the workings of our brain and the chemicals orchestrating what causes the mist, how to avoid it and what we can do to stay in flow when we understand how to intentionally achieve peak performance.

The Mist Cocktail

Neurologically, when we encounter the “mist,” several changes take place within our brain that can hinder our ability to maintain focus and perform optimally:

1. Cortisol Release: Often referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol levels increase in response to perceived threats or stressors. Elevated cortisol can lead to

  • Scattered thinking
  • Decreased memory recall
  • Reduced cognitive performance. 

Over time, chronic cortisol elevation can also shrink the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for decision-making, emotional regulation, and focused attention.

2. Prefrontal Cortex Overdrive: The prefrontal cortex, responsible for our executive functions, can become overly active. 

This overactivity can lead to:

  • Create mental chatter
  • Overthinking
  • Analysis paralysis

Making it difficult to make decisions and maintain focus.

3. Amygdala Activation: The amygdala, our brain’s emotional alarm centre, becomes more reactive in the presence of stress or threats, which can be both real or perceived. 

An activated amygdala can lead to: 

  • Heightened emotional reactions
  • Hyper impulsivity
  • Decreased ability to reason.

4. Decreased Dopamine Levels: Dopamine, a neurotransmitter crucial for motivation and focus, may see reduced secretion. 

Lower dopamine levels can lead to: 

  • Decreased motivation
  • Loss of Focus
  • Diminished drive to pursue tasks.

5. Suppressed Theta Brainwaves: The brain’s optimal state for creativity and problem-solving involves the production of theta brainwaves. However, these theta waves can be suppressed under stress or distractions, leading to: 

  • Decreased creativity
  • Problem-solving abilities.

6. Disrupted Neural Connectivity: The mist can disrupt the synchronised activity of different brain regions, leading to less efficient communication between neural networks. This lack of coordination can hinder our ability to think cohesively and respond effectively.

In essence, the neurological changes triggered by the “mist” can impede our cognitive abilities, making it difficult to enter the state of flow and ultimately affecting our performance and well-being.

The Neurochemical Playbook of Flow:

Now that we understand the adversary, the mist, let’s turn our attention back to our hero, the flow.

What makes flow powerful, and how can we tap into its potential?

1. Dopamine – The Power Booster: Consider dopamine your internal cheerleader. It jumps in during moments of pleasure, reward, and motivation. 

In flow, dopamine fuels our sense of accomplishment and drives our focus. It’s that feeling when every challenge feels surmountable.

2. Serotonin – The Zen Master: Step into any yoga class, and the essence you’re trying to capture is serotonin. 

Regulating mood, emotion, and focus, an uptick in serotonin during flow ensures we remain calm yet entirely alert, even when stakes are high.

3. Endorphins – The Resilience Engineers: Facing a challenge head-on and pushing boundaries? Thank endorphins for making it feel less like a chore and more like a thrilling adventure. 

These natural painkillers ensure we perceive challenges as exhilarating rather than overwhelming.

The Symphony of Success:

When these neurochemicals collaborate, it’s akin to a perfectly tuned orchestra, where:

  • Dopamine ignites the spark, pushing us to dive deep and engage.
  • Serotonin maintains the rhythm, ensuring we remain balanced and in control.
  • Endorphins amplify the experience, helping us move past limits and perceive challenges enthusiastically.

But Wait, There’s More:

The cocktail of chemicals driving flow isn’t just limited to the above. 

Anandamide fosters creativity, norepinephrine sharpens focus, and testosterone builds confidence. 

The aim? Avoid the stress hormone cortisol (mist), which can break our flow and introduce anxiety and distraction.

Flow isn’t a one-time event but a state your brain can enter repeatedly. It’s a dynamic process where challenge and skill are in perfect balance, allowing you to experience the neurochemical magic again and again.

Three Ways to Stimulate Flow:

To unlock this neurochemical superhero within, you can take steps to facilitate flow:

1. Set three Goals: Set clear and achievable goals daily, weekly and monthly. Using the power of three, giving a sense of clarity, simplicity, and purpose enhances the likelihood of entering flow.

2. Focused Attention: Create a distraction-free environment and engage in deep, focused work for a maximum of 90 minutes to harness your brain’s full potential.

3. Challenge Yourself: Engage in activities with the right amount of challenge. Flow emerges when you’re pushed slightly beyond your comfort zone.


The art of achieving flow is deeply entwined with understanding our brain’s chemistry. By comprehending the role of dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and other pivotal neurochemicals such as anandamide and norepinephrine, we can craft an environment and mindset conducive to peak performance. 

For busy professionals like yourself looking to optimise your productivity and experience work not as a chore but as an exhilarating journey, flow, backed by the power of neuroscience, is the answer.

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