‘Soul’ Is the First Animated Movie Bizarrely About Flow States

Tim Denning

And it will radically shift how you think.


Image credit: screenrant/pixar

The movie ‘Soul’ is being hailed as a lesson in the little things. This is a noble lesson…yet extremely boring.

I want to shift your thinking, so you can use the movie ‘Soul’ to inspire you to do your version of fulfilling work.

Soul is the first movie I’ve seen to directly reference flow states. It’s a movie about a man, Joe, who loves Jazz. When he plays piano he gets into “the zone” (flow state) and craves to be there. He gets the opportunity of a lifetime to play with a well-known jazz singer. Unfortunately, he’s so excited by the chance to live out his passion that he falls down a manhole in the middle of a busy New York street. This puts him in a coma.

The audience is transported from Joe’s human world into the afterlife. In true Disney Pixar fashion, the movie becomes a series of philosophical questions. Soul is a movie about flow states and human psychology. (“Inside Out” is another animated movie about psychology if you want to knock yourself out on kid’s movies with philosophical meanings.)

Joe finds himself on a conveyer-belt heading towards the big white light (death). Joe is so crazy about his passion for Jazz that he jumps off. Through a series of strange events he ends up mentoring a young soul named ‘22’ who is yet to enter a human body.

22 introduces Joe to “The Zone” which is the space between the physical and the spiritual. When humans on Earth find flow states and enter the zone they are transported to this place.

Joe recalls being in the zone on the same day he fell down the manhole and found himself in a coma. 22 shows Joe what happens when you interrupt a persons’ flow by tossing sand rocks at souls of humans who are currently in a flow state.

It’s strangely satisfying to see people in flow and know they, too, are human and can lose their mojo while doing deep work. Joe is shown that flow doesn’t only come from music. Tattoo artists can be in flow; basketball payers can be in flow; an actor in a stage show can be in flow; a man twirling a sign can be in flow.

Flow can come from extraordinary activities and ordinary activities too.

The place in the movie called the zone isn’t limited to people in flow states. There are huge, dark, grumpy blobs known as lost souls. They sound depressed when they talk. Their body language shows they’ve given up on life. These dark blobs are known as ‘lost souls.’

Joe assumes lost souls are nothing like him. Then a hippie ship captain with a peace sign for an anchor enters the scene, named Moonwind. He has voluntarily decided to rescue lost souls once a week. This distinction he gives to Joe is powerful:

“Lost souls are not that different from those in the zone. The zone is enjoyable. But when that joy becomes an obsession one becomes disconnected from life.”

Moonwind is the first character to explain that flow states can quickly become an addiction if they’re the only thing you chase in life. He cites his obsession with Tetris that once made him a lost soul too. Moonwind and his team of volunteers help lost souls find themselves again by playing music while in a flow state.

Seeing a flow state helps lost souls wake up and think about their lives differently.

Istrongly recommend you watch Soul if you haven’t already. It’s marketed as a kid’s movie when it’s really an adult film designed to help you reimagine flow states. I discovered flow states when I learned to play drums as a kid. I could play drums for eight hours and make it feel like sixty minutes.

I carried that flow state discovery into my obsession for electronic music as a DJ. There were many other activities I became passionate about. Writing helped me find flow states all over again. This time my research into the field of ecstasis changed how I thought about these moments in time.

I realized I was chasing this hard to find thing called ‘passion’ instead of following the path towards flow states. The movie Soul helped me relearn this important lesson:

Chase flow, not passion.

When you learn how to master flow states you can take ordinary tasks — that many people would brush off as meaningless — and turn them into your life’s work. It doesn’t matter what type of work you choose to do. What matters is you enjoy the work you do, and flow states enable that.

Here are the key lessons you can takeaway with you from the movie Soul:

You overthink flow.

When I talk to people about flow they make it too complicated. By overthinking flow you prevent yourself from finding it. Soul teaches you to dumb down flow.

Grandiose moments often transform flow states into once every blue moon events that never happen. You end up waiting your entire life to experience five minutes of flow, when you had access to this beautiful state the whole time. Joe does this in the film. He thinks he needs to be playing piano with a famous jazz singer to get into a flow state and actually enjoy it. He learns at the end of the film that being around music and experiencing flow is enough.

You don’t need fame to find flow states.
Fame doesn’t make a flow state memorable.

A near-death experience can destroy your big break.

The problem with flow states centered around big breaks is you could die tomorrow. Joe learns this early in the movie when he falls down a manhole after experiencing one of the best flow states of his entire life. I see people make this mistake all the time.

They wait to find perfect flow states rather than settling for imperfect flow states. The best flow state is the one you can access today while you’re alive and breathing. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Flow is an out of body experience.

Flow is shown in the film to be an out of body experience. That’s how flow makes me feel.

You are transformed to another dimension where it’s just you and your work. The feeling of time changes. Distractions and noises disappear. You step outside yourself and into flow. But why? That’s a big question the movie Soul forces you to think about.

Out of body experiences make you question why you do your work. Once you understand why, everything changes.

We become lost souls at times when we forget about the meaning and purpose of the work we do.

Lost souls who have lost their ability to find flow are not losers.

Lost souls aren’t worth shaming because they’re extremely close to the souls who have found flow. You can find flow and lose it. The film forces you to rethink the meaning your work gives you.

Work without meaning can easily become an addiction. Addiction to work and the brilliance of flow states are closely correlated. Replace shame for understanding. You will and have been a lost soul. Empathy wins and helps enhance flow states.

Helping others find their flow state can help drive your own.

Flow states are a feeling of connectedness to something bigger than yourself.

Helping others find the zone gives your flow state meaning. When I used flow states to chase blogging vanity metrics I was an empty soul. I felt lifeless. Flow states led me to write for others rather than solely for myself.

Interconnected flow is far more powerful than selfish ego-driven flow.

Question “find your passion.”

The movie Soul throws a sledgehammer at the “find your passion” cliche advice that makes people vomit. I love it. Find your passion seems like strange advice. Everybody has encountered a flow state. Not everybody has found something they’re passionate about that they’re willing to die for.

Finding flow states is more achievable than find your passion. Find flow and you’ll find a whole lot more than cheesy passion.

It’s okay not to get what you want.

“Nah, man. I wanted to be a vet. But I’m pretty happy with where I landed. I found other dreams. I found other things that allowed me to find fulfillment.”

This line from the movie comes from a barber. He intended on being a vet — he ended up cutting hair. By not getting what he wanted initially he finds flow states in cutting hair.

The dead-ends can lead to even better flow states.

One thing the movie gets completely wrong.

I disagree with the film’s overall main message. The movie’s premise says you don’t need to find a passion or flow state. Just enjoy the little things.

Flow states are when you feel alive. Should you settle for second best and only enjoy the little things without the use of flow states?

I don’t think so. The movie tries to get you to give up on the idea and settle for small things like eating pizza. This is nice. It’s eloquent. But there is more to life. When you dumb down flow states they’re much easier to find.

When you think about passion and flow as complicated concepts that are so difficult they’re worth forgetting about and trading in for a slice of pizza, you shortchange yourself.

Flow states are easy to find in everyday work when you don’t care about what others think about the type of work you do, or finding big breaks and fame.

Flow states are better when there is no measurement of the output from being in the zone, only the enjoyment of the experience.

Final Thought

The Disney Pixar movie Soul is a journey into many topics, the core one being flow states. There isn’t another movie like it that focuses so much time on the idea of flow states and how they impact your life.

Whether the movie delivers the right lesson about flow states is up for you to decide. But the reminder Soul gives you about flow states is an extremely worthwhile one. Especially, given you, too, can become a lost soul when your pursuit of flow states becomes an addiction rather than a routine habit.

Size doesn’t matter when it comes to flow states. What matters is your ability to achieve flow states in whatever work you choose to do, knowing the type of work will change and it doesn’t matter if it does.

Flow states take your mind to another dimension where the work you do can be interconnected to other living things, transcending yourself, and leaving something special behind before you enter the big bright light and are reincarnated as, perhaps, an octopus.

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Aussie Blogger with 100M+ views — Writer for CNBC & Business Insider. Inspiring the world through Personal Development and Entrepreneurship www.timdenning.com


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