52: Steven Kotler: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance

Steven Kotler is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and co-founder and director of research for the Flow Genome Project. His books include the non-fiction works “The Rise of Superman,” “Abundance,” “A Small Furry Prayer” “West of Jesus,” and the novel “The Angle Quickest for Flight.”

His work has been translated into more than 30 languages. His articles have appeared in over 60 publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Wired, GQ, Outside, Popular Science, Men’s Journal and Discover. He also writes “Far Frontiers,” a blog about technology and innovation for Forbes.com and “The Playing Field,” a blog about the science of sport and culture for PsychologyToday.com.

Favorite Success Quote

“Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make very small use of their possible consciousness, and of their soul’s resources in general, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger.” – William James

Key Points

1. Getting into Flow States can Heal Your Body 

People often underestimate the power of flow in their everyday life.

Stephen was suffering from a serious case of Lyme disease when he began surfing.

And after hitting the surf day after day, challenging himself, focusing on his new skill, and getting into a flow state on an almost daily basis, he went from operating at 10% capacity to nearly 80% in a matter of weeks.

If you are feeling lost, depressed, and anxious about life, then the remedy might not be another prescription or pill, it might be to get yourself into flow on a more regular basis.

Whenever your body and mind go into flow, a whole slew of neurochemicals are released into your system that reset the nervous system, flush out toxins, and repair your cells.

The more flow you can experience in your day to day life the more of these chemicals will be released and the better your body will feel and function.

So if you are struggling in life right now, find a way that you can get into flow today.

Maybe you need to dust off your old mountain bike and go for a ride, maybe you need to go spar at a martial arts gym, or maybe you just need to sit down and write something about which you have a burning passion.

Whatever it is that you need to do, I challenge you to find a way to experience it today. 

2. Flow Follows Focus

The only way for you to achieve flow on a regular basis is to find ways to get into states of intense focus.

You cannot enter into a flow state when you are doing something that is mundane and boring.

It must be something that challenges you and requires an intense level of focus and concentration.

On your path to introduce more flow into your life, you need to find activities that require massive amounts of concentration and find ways to do those activities on a regular basis.

It can be as simple as taking a challenging project at work and shortening the deadline, giving yourself less time to complete a difficult task.

Or it can be taking up a new skill that requires immense amounts of focus to pull off (like snowboarding, surfing, or rock climbing).

Find ways to ramp up the focus that you have in your day to day life and you will rapidly increase the number of times that you get to experience flow.

3. Understand the Stages of Flow

In order to engineer more flow friendly lives, we must first understand the four stages of flow so that we can optimize our activities around these stages.

The first stage of flow is the struggle.

This is where you are faced with a challenging task.

For example, if you are an entrepreneur running a marketing company, maybe you have landed a high-end client and you are faced with the overwhelming challenge of pulling off a new campaign.

The struggle is the time where you are planning, preparing, and figuring out what in the world you are going to do.

The next stage of the journey is relaxation.

And while it might sound a little bit counter intuitive, you need to give your mind and body time to unwind and decompress before you can enter flow.

So after planning your campaign and working diligently, go take a bath or go for a long run.

Do something boring and mundane that will give the subconscious mind the freedom it needs to get ready for flow.

The third stage is flow itself.

This is the phase of the process where you will feel like a super human.

You will be able to work harder, faster, and better than you ever have before and it will feel like everything you touch is turning to gold.

And finally, the hardest stage is what is known as the dark side of flow.

This is the phase where your body and brain are tasked with recovering from the immense focus and willpower required to enter flow state and you will often feel symptoms of mild depression and sadness.

This is normal and is caused by the lack of dopamine in the brain after the huge number of neurochemicals dumped during flow.

It is imperative that you give yourself time to rest and recover after flow and allow your body to recharge before you try to enter this state again.

4. Create a Risk Friendly Environment to Achieve More Flow

One of the reasons that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are so successful is that they will often set up their companies to be very risk friendly.

They give people the opportunity to take small risks and either reap the rewards or handle the repercussions.

This is a genius move because it means that both the owners and employees spend more time in flow.

Flow states are often triggered by risk.

Think about a big wave surfer or a snowboarder.

If they make one mistake they risk losing their lives or severely injuring themselves, meaning that it is relatively easy to get into flow states on a regular basis.

In your own life, you need to create a risk friendly environment that will help you get into flow on a more consistent basis.

Whether this means introducing new risks into business, taking more physical risks, or even tackling projects you are unsure if you can handle.

Find a way to increase risk and you will increase flow.

5. Flow Requires Novelty, Unpredictability, and Complexity

Once you understand the stages of flow and you know how to create a more risk friendly environment to stimulate flow states, there are three more things that you introduce do to help increase the amount of time that you spend in flow.

Novelty, unpredictability, and complexity.

Flow requires focus, and focus comes whenever we are tackling tasks that are novel, unpredictable, or complex.

If you can find ways to increase any one of these three factors you will immediately experience more flow.

If you can increase all three, then you will be darn near unstoppable.

Influential Books

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Bone Games by Rob Schultheis


Connect with Steven Kotler



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