What it's like to have a brain in permanent flow state - A qeeg report.

I never thought I’d ever find myself sitting in a clinic with electrodes hooked up to my head, except that’s exactly what happened when I visited Peak Brain Institute clinic in Los Angeles earlier this month. It was to complete my brain map, using a quantitative EEG (qEEG) test, which shed much light on the way my brain is functioning and helped pinpoint opportunities to optimize. 

Read on for a complete breakdown of the report below, but here’s an excerpt from my consult with Dr. Andrew Hill, founder of the clinic:

“You’re stuck in a flow state, essentially. Really, really fast. It might work for you, or it might get in the way. I can’t tell. But this again, suggests that you’re one or two standard deviations faster than average, in general. You’re absurdly fast, Oksana. This is like one of those genius brain patterns that usually comes along with genius level or gifted, 150 and above intelligence, plus anxiety. Kind of what I always see here with a fast brain. So you’re probably in the gifted range for intelligence, probably tend to get anxious and ruminate.”
Dr. Andrew Hill
Founder, Peak Brain Institute

Dr. Andrew Hill, is also a professor at UCLA with a long standing interest in neurofeedback training. Neurofeedback training is exactly what it sounds like — training for your brain.

Neurofeedback, also known as EEG (electroencephalogram) biofeedback, is a therapeutic intervention that provides real-time displays of brain activity. The program then uses sound or visual signals to reorganize or retrain these brain signals. Brainwaves are monitored and positive reinforcement is given when a desired brain state is reached.

Me and Dr. Andrew Hill, Founder of Peak Brain Institute

Wait, but what are brain waves !?

Brain waves are electrical impulses in the brain.

You’re experiencing them right now.

Guess what’s making all your thoughts, emotions and behaviours possible ? The communication between neurons in your brain. Neurons are the building blocks of your brain.

Neurons communicate with each other by electrical changes, producing rhythmic or repetitive patterns of neural activity, which are called brain waves (or “neural oscillations” if you want get technical).

We can actually see and map these brain waves with a quantitative EEG (qEEG) analysis.

There are 4 main types of brain waves:

Beta waves (12 to 32 Hz) — these dominate our normal waking state of consciousness, while we’re processing our surroundings and the everyday stressors of the outside world. Beta is a ‘fast’ activity we need for cognitive tasks, to be alert, attentive, engaged in problem solving, and decision making.

Alpha waves (8 to 13 Hz) — think of these as the calm, yet alert brain states. These are the “flow state” brain waves. Alpha is ‘the power of now’, being here, in the present. It’s the resting, meditative state for the brain. While Beta waves are needed to react and make decisions, Alpha waves help in absorbing new information, overall mental coordination, remaining alert yet calm, mind/body integration and learning.

Theta waves (4 to 8 Hz) — these occur most often in sleep but are also dominant in deep meditation. Theta waves provide the gateway to learning, memory, and intuition. Theta brain waves take place when our senses are withdrawn from the external world and focused inward. It is that twilight state between wake and sleep, as well as our dream state.

Delta waves (0.5 to 4 Hz) — these brainwaves are the slowest. They occur during deep, dreamless sleep, and the deepest meditations. Delta waves act to suspend external awareness and promote healing and regeneration. This is why deep restorative sleep is so essential to health and longevity. 

There are certain levels of all brain waves happening at any given moment, produced at various parts of the brain. Brainwave activity varies based on your brain structure, past injuries, sleep quality, and many other factors, affecting your emotional and cognitive health. Neurofeedback training promises to optimize brain wave activity, whereas a treatment protocol can permanently change brain function for the better. 

But how do you train a brain if you don't know what needs training ?

This is where the brain mapping comes in. It’s an important step that helps pin point exactly the areas of the brain that have too much or too little activity of certain brain waves. Once you know, then you can optimize. qEEG brain maps can help identify sleep issues, impulsiveness, ruminating thoughts, reactivity, anxiety levels, chronic fatigue, and more.

I recorded my consult with Dr. Andrew Hill where we reviewed my brain map results — if you’re curious about what an qEEG report looks like and what you can learn about your brain function, watch this video ! If you’re more into screenshots and an explanation, scroll down below.

So, how is brain mapping done ?

A series of tests: an attention test, a qEEG test with eyes closed and one with eyes open.

You’re not allowed to have ANY caffeine for about 16 hours prior to the test and no alcohol for about 12 hours prior. 

Most people choose to do the brain mapping first thing in the morning so that they can have their coffee or tea right after. Conveniently, Peak Brain LA had both on-site as a treat after the brain mapping was complete. 

In the qEEG cap - ready to map my brain !

1. The attention test:

It was SUPER monotonous. But that’s the whole point.

The attention test used a software product called the IVA-2 CPT. It helps clinicians test and evaluate both visual and auditory attention and response control functioning.

It’s also commonly used to identify ADHD. Using IVA-2 CPT with children ages 7 to 12 had a 92% accuracy in identifying and validating individuals diagnosed by a doctor as having ADHD. On the contrary, IVA-2 CPT also correctly identified the 90% of non-ADHD children.

The test lasted about 20 minutes and entailed watching a blank computer screen flashing either number 1s or 2s at varying speed, with a voice repeating “1” and “2” in a random way. The test part is left-clicking on the computer mouse every time you hear or see the number 1. This goes on for 15–20+ minutes depending on your accuracy. It gets really monotonous and becomes more and more challenging to keep focus on the screen and listening for those 1s. If your mind starts trailing off thinking about something else, it can be easy to miss the verbal cue. Similarly, if your eyes wander from the screen it can be easy to miss the number flashing.

THE RESULTS:

I took this test just past 8am and jetlagged, having not slept well the previous two nights, so I wasn’t expecting my performance to be as good as it was.

Turns out I scored “extremely high” in the words of Dr. Hill. Not a lot of performance bottlenecks.

The scoring is calculated against people of your age with the score 100 being considered the mean/average or the top of the bell curve. A standard deviation is 12–15 points.

Let’s break down the results:

My attention quotient (successfully clicking on the 1s) as well as my response quotient (aka impulsivity or successfully not clicking on the 2s) — the two scores you see at the top — are two standard deviations better than average. Awesome !

Interestingly, while I scored similarly well for auditory and visual attention, my visual response control is about a half of a standard deviation better than my auditory impulsivity control. Meaning I’m better at not being impulsive or reacting visually than I am when I’m listening for something. That said, my auditory impulsivity is still more than a standard deviation higher than the norm which is pretty awesome.

The next measures are attention quotient (successfully clicking on the 1s), vigilance, focus, and speed. Here’s what that means:

Vigilance — noticing when things are new and bringing your attention to that. When something is a “vigilant” or an “alerting” event.

Speed — measures how fast you are.

Focus — the opposite of vigilance or an alerting event. Focus is staying on task when things are not changing. When something is repetitive and you remain on task

It turns out I’m better at Focus than I am at Vigilance. 

According to Dr. Hill, that’s unusual.

Most people are pretty alert to the new thing but start to drift when something’s not exciting and gets repetitive. So normally people score higher on Vigilance relative to their Focus. That’s not the case for me. I scored higher on Focus, meaning I’m able to lock in once I engage, and stay with something in a focused way. That said, my Vigilance score is still half a standard deviation higher than average, so I’m happy with that.

The other interesting consequence of having a lower Vigilance score relative to other scores, is that my Speed is also quite high. Dr. Hill explained htat this is potentially my brain’s way of compensating for the Vigilance. Essentially being extra quick, in order to make up for things I may have just missed by not being vigilant enough.

And I’m compensating with the fast speed to the point that I’m significantly above average on the overall Attention Quotient (successfully clicking on the 1s) score of 128, which is two standard deviations above the norm.

Next we look at my response quotient (aka impulsivity, or successfully not clicking on the 2s), as well as prudence, consistency, and stamina. 

Prudence — being careful. Can you adjust as you go ? If you make a mistake, can you slow down ?

Consistency — how well can you lock in to a good pattern without too much effort ?

Stamina — as this is a very boring and tedious test lasting about 20 minutes, requiring 1 second of your attention that you have to keep re-engaging over and over again. So people will trail off and the degree to which their performance degrades is called stamina.

So my Prudence, or ability to adjust to new patterns, was great visually and auditorily. My consistency, or the ability to lock in to a good performance patterns, was the highest of all. 

The only straggler was my auditory stamina which was essentially at the average performance for my age. As I mentioned, the average or “the norm” for your age group is a score of 100. 

That said, my overall Response control quotient, which is calculated separately, taking all scores into consideration, was almost two standard deviations above average at 125 points, making my overall performance very high.

Next, Sustained scores. These are patterns of behaviour sustained throughout the entire test. With scores of 119, I’m 1.5 standard deviations above average for managing resources across time.

Difference between Stamina and Sustained scores:

Sustained scores are more about the patterns of errors that you make throughout the test, versus Stamina is about how your performance is tailing off as the test goes on. So sustained scores are more of a combination of stamina and consistency.

Next up, the qEEG test results. 

2. The quantitative EEG test. Eyes closed:

Something that Dr. Hill called out is that qEEG brain maps are more difficult to interpret, because they’re population-level analysis with differences from average based on people of the same age. For example yellow spots means the brain wave activity in that area is two standard deviations above average.

Also important to note, brain maps do not tend to change over time. Brain maps typically remain the same year to year, regardless of changes in sleep status. What could make them change though is if you develop an avid meditation practice or do some sort of brain wave training, like neurofeedback. So the fact that I was underslept and jetlagged when taking this test early in the morning, would not have affected my brain map results.

A few definitions to help orient you:

Absolute power — micro-volts. This the most important measure to look at.

Relative Power — percentages. This row is used to help elaborate on the Absolute Power scores. How high or low a brain wave is relative to the others. 

Why this test?

The “Eyes closed” test is done to see how your brain functions when it’s not receiving any visual distraction from the surrounding environment.

Expected results:

With eyes closed, a good start is to look at the faster brain waves on the right-hand side of the above screenshot— the High Beta, Beta, and Alpha performance. 

With eyes closed, it’s expected that brain waves on the right hand side — the Alpha and Beta — would see lower scores, while the slower Theta and Delta brain waves shown on the left would score higher. As your brain receives less stimulation from the surrounding environment, requiring lesser processing power, your brain is less taxed cognitively and goes into a more relaxed state. 

That was not the case with me

My qEEG results:

I have higher Beta and Alpha activity in the mid- and back-line of the brain. 

According to Dr. Hill, this is unusual to see. 

Seeing higher than average back- and mid-brain Beta waves when eyes are closed could signify hyper-vigilance. That means it may be hard to disengage from the environment. The brain is always scanning and processing, trying to notice everything, all the time. What this could signal is difficulty relaxing in unfamiliar environments. Trouble with sleep onset. Yes and yes. 

Going back to my attention test scores up above, while my Vigilance score was lower relative to Focus and Speed, it was still half a standard deviation higher than average and this came through even more so on the brain map. 

Up next, my brain map results with eyes open:

3. The qEEG test. Eyes open:

According to Dr. Andrew Hill, these qEEG brain maps came out great, nothing excessive.

Some points of interest in my results:

Slightly high Alpha with eyes open speaks to a tiny bit of fatigue in the visual system. It could also be a marker for chronic low-key sleep deprivation, showing up as visual attention difficulty — harder to stay focused on screens later in the day, etc.

In particular, I’ve got a spot in the back-left side of the head with particularly high Alpha activity, which might be the result of a residual injury minor injury (ie falling out of bed as a child). Dr. Hill says this could show up in the day-to-day as receptive language difficulty. If I’m in a large event space (ie conference) surrounded by many people, I may need to actively focus more on the person speaking to me, if other people near me are talking to each other. It would make it harder to filter surrounding inputs, as my brain tries to pay attention to everything.

The Alpha brain wave measure with eyes open, is also a good check for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). With an ADD person, the entire Alpha brain map would be solid red. 

Jumping down into relative power, since Alpha is dominating a little bit, that’s why Theta shows up low. Theta is not absolutely low, it’s relatively low, because Alpha is taking up all the energy back there.

Now the Absolute Power Alpha goes up and the pattern carries through down the entire column. The cluster of red lines in the Coherence row for the Alpha column — Dr. Hill says makes it plausible for me to have some thought rumination, worrying, and chewing on things.

This is something that can be a target for neurofeedback. According to Dr. Hill, these are minor bottlenecks in an overall high performing brain and fairly easy to target. 

Up next, a more in-depth breakdown of Alpha brain waves:

With this qEEG chart we’re taking the Alpha brain waves and breaking them out into its slow and fast variants.

Alpha 2 — the fast variant — is driving the faster statistic for me. Typically when there’s too much of Alpha 2, this signifies that your thoughts are having you. My brain is always on and processing quickly.

As Dr. Hill said, I’m stuck in a flow state. Really fast, all the time:

“You’re stuck in a flow state, essentially. Really, really fast. It might work for you, or it might get in the way. I can’t tell. But this again, suggests that you’re one or two standard deviations faster than average, in general. You’re absurdly fast, Oksana. This is like one of those genius brain patterns that usually comes along with genius level or gifted, 150 and above intelligence, plus anxiety. Kind of what I always see here with a fast brain. So you’re probably in the gifted range for intelligence, probably tend to get anxious and ruminate.”
Dr. Andrew Hill
Founder, Peak Brain Institute

According to Dr. Hill, with a brain like this, you also tend to also see ADHD but I’ve got the opposite results based on the next page of the report below:

On the last page of the qEEG report, looking at Theta/Beta and Theta/High Beta — when these are showing up as high or bright orange, it’s 94% accurate for spotting ADHD. 

I have the opposite.

What does that mean ? According to Dr. Hill, this means I’m a touch anxious and have a mind like a steel trap. 

Don’t miss anything. Shifting gears voluntarily…quick and on…reorient… focus…reorient to something else and zero in again.

Apparently, this is quite unusual — my Theta scores are two standard deviations below the average. Which is aligned with what showed up in the other brain maps and my high Alpha frequency speeds.

“This is among the most high performing brains I’ve seen.”
Dr. Andrew Hill
Founder, Peak Brain Institute

Concluding remarks

My attention and response control test showed that I was two standard deviations above average. 

My qEEG report showed that I’ve got a brain with a lot of extremely high performance markers mixed with a couple of very particular bottlenecks. 

Turns out that I am operating in a permanent flow state with high focus, speed, and processingIt’s true, I’ve always been a voracious learner and know I can easily buckle down and work or study for long hours. I’m always thinking. 

However, some bottlenecks showed up from sleep issues, some wear and tear from a past injury, and a touch of thought rumination.

Nothing broad, very discrete things. Which means the bottlenecks can be targeted quickly, effectively, and permanently with neurofeedback training.

Dr. Hill estimates that 20–30 training sessions would get rumination under control — meaning it would happen only when I want it to. As for deeper sleep and faster sleep onset, I’d need 3–4 months of training for complete and permanent change, with noticeable effects starting to take place in about 3–4 sessions or approximately 2 weeks in.

Now the brain map doesn’t tend to change on its own year to year, regardless of changes to sleep status. But the attention performance test can be sensitive to recent sleep deprivation. So considering that I took the test while having been under-sleeping throughout the week prior and being jetlagged, that could’ve affected my attention test scores. Meaning that despite scoring two standard deviations higher than average, I could potentially score even higher had I been well-rested. Boom. 

I hope you enjoyed this qEEG brain mapping breakdown and learned something new. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me here. 

Check out my other blog posts and biohacking adventures here.

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