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#62: Your Brain in Flow - Steven Kotler

by FitMind LLC
January 5th 2021

Steven Kotler is the bestselling author of Stealing Fire and Founder of the Flow Research Collective.

Steven is a leading expert on human peak performance. His work has appeared in ... More

you know, like my life was so diminished. I was in so much pain. I was so ill all the time. That, like to suddenly find myself surfing myself back to health was like, What the hell is going on? I'm a science guy. This doesn't make any sense what's going on? And I very quickly figured out that the experiences I was having while serving that a name they're called Flow States. It's hello and welcome to the Fit Mind podcast, where I speak with experts on the mind, from neuroscientists and psychologists to monks and navy seals. They share cutting as research, fascinating stories and proven advice for creating a fit mind, one that's full focus, vitality and joy. I'm your host, Liam the founder, fit mind a mental fitness company and reminder to check out fit mind, our neuroscience based advanced mind training app in the APP store. All right, so today I'm speaking with Stephen Cotler, who is the best selling author of Stealing Fire. Many other books on

founder of the Flow Research collective this episode all about the science of flow states, which are states of optimal being an operating which color will define for us. But he has become a leading expert on this area of psychology. Continuing the work of my high cheek sent me hi famous flow psychologist. And you'll hear all about Stephen's fascinating research in this episode. So here he is. Alright, Steven, it's great to be with you. Good to be with you. Thanks for having me. Yeah. So I've been wanting to talk with you for a while and I was wondering, you know, you kind of become the go to expert on flow. And when you think about how you went down this path to begin with, what is some of the early experiences a flow that you had that got you thinking about exploring this scientifically and writing about it? Early experiences? Don't you know I have a very vivid my

first super deep flow state. I was 13 years old. I was at Seven Springs Ski Area in Pennsylvania on I mean, like, I can tell you everything from like what It was night skiing. Everything is still, like, locked in my mind, including, like the name and the outfit of the cute. At that point, I think 13 year old girl, because I was 13 at the time. Who was riding the lift while I was skiing through my first back scratcher to show off for her. And it just threw me into this incredibly deep, low stating time slow totally slowed down. Yeah, that was the first one. But that had nothing to dio with what led me into the research. That which is a bunch of different stories sort of coming together. But that is my earliest flow state memory. Nice. Yeah. And then So how did you start toe right about these things? And like, how did those pieces fall into place? It za two parts story. I'll try to tell each part very quickly. So I started my career as a journalist. I

was predominantly obsessed with two things sport and science. So I was covering both and in science. I really was interested in neuroscience, some psychology. But at that point I was really interested in what was then called behavioral Neuroscience, which is sort of a link between psychology and neuroscience. So that was a core interest in So is action sports on. And I was running around the globe chasing professional action adventure sport athletes around in the 19 nineties when these were really kind of just beginning to capture the public imagination. There were not a lot of writers who were covering these beats, and but what we were seeing from the inside was astounding. It didn't make any sense. The level of performance, meaning the number and what I was particularly paying attention to is the number of so called impossible feats, things that had never been done and they were never supposed to be done. That was always sort of the thing that I was most interested in. Those moments in time when something to say is impossible but almost possible, Fascinated with that and there was a lot of it in action sports throughout

the nineties, over and over and over again. What we essentially saw is that the limits of human performance extended farther and faster than ever before in history, and why this was happening was very interesting to me, and not just that. Wow there, these athletes doing amazing stuff, which was amazing enough. But in the nineties, action sports was like punk rock, irreverent bunch of people with ah lot of natural advantages, so, like not a lot of money. Not a lot of education. Very crappy childhoods, right? Like broken homes, single parents, lots of drugs, lots of crazy. These were not the people you'd expect to kind of extend the limits of human possibility. So why was this happening? Was a really deep question. Didn't really put it together, that it was flow for a little while. I ended up getting sick. In my late twenties and early thirties. I spent about three years in bed with Lyme disease on and I inadvertently was totally inadvertently used surfing, which produces a lot of

flow for reasons we could get into if you want, as as a way to, like, sort of ended up curing myself of Lyme disease of chronic Lyme with surfing and surfing was producing is profound. Authors take. It's a consciousness again. I didn't really know what they were at the time. I didn't know they were flow states. I just knew that, like I have been sick for a really long time, the doctors had pulled me up medicine. My stomach lining was bleeding out. I was suicidal in, you know, like my life was so diminished I was in so much pain. I was so ill all the time. That, like to suddenly find myself surfing myself back to health was like, What the hell is going on? I'm a science guy. This doesn't make any sense what's going on? And I very quickly figured out that the experiences I was having while serving they had a name. They're called flow States and I that the time because most of my focus on neuroscience plants I didn't really dive into flow psychology. I dove right into what was then sort of the early foundations of flow neuroscience, and if you looked at the neuroscience very early on

, it was clear. And some of this was her Benson's work at Harvard that a lot of people were having sort of spontaneous healing experiences around flow. He wanted to know why he backtracked into the neural chemicals released during State and their impact on the immune system and some other things like that. And it was. It was more of a theoretical idea at that time with since gotten really good evidence for that stuff, and there's a lot of new kind of neural immunology stuff that really goes into why. But back then it was very hypothetical. He was working at Harvard, had some good data, but it was I just had this crazy experience. What? What sort of the light went on when I figured out that the experience that got me from like, seriously sub are back to normal, and I sort of above was helping normal people go all the way up to Superman. It was the same thing on opposite sides of that coin and neuroscience, which was what I was really keenly interested in was giving us mechanism, right? It wasn't squishy. It was like you could steer by it, you could

use it. It was mechanistic. You do this, you get that, you get that. And of course, it's the brain. So it's not that simple. But it was a hell of a lot better than what was going on in psychology because, um, psychology they were just having arguments over, you know? Is it This is it that does this do it? It was like they were arguing over terminology, and I was like, What's under the surface of the terminology? Like, I don't care what you want to call it or to file. I'm practical. I wanna know. How do I get mawr of it? Like if this is the secret toe, you know, people, human performance, not the entire secret, but at least a big component of it. Like, how does it work? How do I get more of it? And that's sort of what really started for me. And I was very, very lucky in that. As a journalist covering neuroscience, I had become very close friends with some of the best people in the world to help me explore this subject. So I was mentored by fabulous fabulous neuroscientist early on, some of them are still work with someone who have passed, passed away

since then, But just great great people on, you know, So that's where it started. And, you know, after 15 20 years of it, I kept trying to get the neuroscientists to start a research initiative like do it inside of academia over and over and over, like the psychologists dominating this. They're doing great work, but it's not answering the questions I wanna answer, and nobody would start this program. And at a certain point, guy named Michael E can never pronounce Michael's last name because Gazzaniga, who was then president of the National Science Foundation. It's a super nice guy. Super smart guy did a lot of early research on split brain stuff. Consciousness really right, thinker. I pitched him essentially the research program that I'm now running 10 years ago, and he basically laughed in my face. I mean, he was sort of laughing with May like you do, you're out of your bite. We can't do this inside of academia, but nonetheless, and I sort of told that story to a number of people who were, you know, biologists

, neuroscientists now, because they were like, Why are you surprised we can't do this in academia? But if you if you do this outside of academia, we will join your board. We will support you and help you make this happen because we believe in you when we think you're the expert on this stuff. But no, we can't do it inside. We got time to do it outside on. So that's sort of that's the quick. That it wasn't quick and dirty, I think, was about 5 10 minutes. Be blah, big blab, blabbing. But that's that's That's the stories. Well, you know It's fascinating how you're taking what was formerly a very subjectively defined state by me. High cheek sent me. Hi. Forget that seems to be a recurring pattern in this field of hard to pronounce names. But you take that subjective state of flow, which I think we should probably define. I'll let you find it next, but then you you're actually applying rigorous neuroscience to it. So because this these states air often occurring in action sports or areas where I'm imagining you can't just

strap on an EEG, I'm really curious how you're going about studying thes states and really mapping out the neural correlates. So let's start with definitions, because that's a great place to start. Flow is scientifically defined as an optimal state of consciousness when we feel our best and we perform our best. And the emphasis on both the emotional content of the feeling the best and the performing our best is key. Here Mawr. Colloquial flow is any moment. Any of those moments wrapped attention and total absorption gets so focused on what you're doing and completely sucked in. Everything else just starts to disappear. Time will pass strange, little slow down occasionally the freeze from effect. Anybody from the car crash. Sometimes it speeds up more often. Speeds up in five hours. Go by in like five minutes and throughout. As I said, all aspects of performance, mental and physical go through the roof. When psychologists defined flow today, they, as you pointed out, they define it by me. Hi Chick sent behind

in one of the largest psychological studies ever conducted, identified six at the time, I didn't find nine. We now know that three of them are free. Conditions triggers that lead to flow. So there were six core phenomenal logical corridor list of state meaning. How does the state make us feel right? Some of these I just mentioned It's complete concentration in the present moment. Task at hand. There's a merger of action and awareness time dilation, which is a fancy way of saying time passes strange, like self centered self vanishes. There's a there's a sense of control, like you could control the uncontrollable, and the experience itself is auto. Tell it, which is a fancy way of saying it's an end in itself, or flow is incredibly pleasurable, addictive, powerful experience and once experience produces flow we will go really a far out of our way to get more of it. So that's how psychologist divine flow and when we measure flow, there are six or seven at this point. Extremely well validated psychometric instruments. That's what they're measuring. They're they're a couple teams in Europe. There's a lot

of flow researchers at this point, By the way, the field has grown very, very big. I think the European Association of Flow researchers and I'm probably getting their name wrong because I always one of those It's European Flow Researchers Association, the Association of European Flow Research, reminds me that Life of Brian skit that I'm not going to do for you, but you know what I'm talking about. There's 100 people in there, and some of them are doing great neuroscience. By the way, it wasn't just me who was doing neuroscience. There's, um, phenomenal people, the O own University in Germany at Karolinska University in Sweden, who are really doing great kind of their mawr psychologists doing neuroscience than neuroscientist dabbling in that way. But like they're really doing phenomenal work and you've got to shout it out right, But they they've developed something called the flow proneness scale that uses slightly different variables. Anyways, my point is, we measured. How much or how little do you? Six things show up during experience. Get all six at once even if they're very, very soft and quiet. Right, like common

flow experience, work flow. You sit down to write a quickie email, you look up an hour later, you've written an essay and like the words air Great Oh my God, that I communicate my points and you didn't notice time passing and maybe your sense of self didn't disappear. But you have to pee really badly. And when you popped back and you're like Oh my God, I gotta run to the bathroom That's a really common experience. That's what's known as micro flow. That's when all the initial conditions sort of show up just really soft. What I was experiencing out in the way of serving when it felt like a mystical experience as macro flow. That's when all those conditions to show up it once and really cranked all the way up. So that's how psychologists define it. If you want to go, you know, one layer deeper. We now have 10 to 12 fairly well established. Both a neuro neuro physiological correlates for flow. We're still arguing. People have still argument over them, like we know that there there's D activity in the prefrontal cortex. The front part of your brain shuts down our

and Dietrich introduced this idea, called the Transient Hypo for mentality means like a total shutdown in prefrontal cortex. There are a lot of different people, including from the European people. And I think myself in the long run, who are now arguing for a more localized front ality, meaning like parts of the pre frontal cortex definitely shut down. But it seems like which exact parts are shutting down when depends on things like what we call task set. I don't know if that word means anything to you, but it's basically all the mental conditions you bring into an activity and things along those lines. So there's all there's arguments about how much or how little everybody is in agreement that you're seeing a lot of deactivation. The prefrontal cortex. Can we pick the exact structures out? People are still debating Onda. Seemingly, we could go all the way down through the networks involved and things along those lines and you are right and wrong about your earlier statement. I'm gonna answer the final question now, which is we have not what we've done it we did with we have can put people

into flow within each he had set up. It's been done, some studies that have been done using things that I'm not super thrilled with, like Tetris or math problems. And I'm just, you know, if you're a Tetris geek or a math geek, perhaps that is really flowy for you, but I think it's experimental paradigms. There are a little weak, but there's been really robust, sort of like first person shooter work, video games. And they've been drawing on people who love first person shooter games and we know video games air flowing. So they've been able to do that. Can we get all the noise out of E G T o. Do we completely trust it? No, but there have been So there's so much work done on the findings with the E g with brain waves are really they're really consistent. Like we know, flow is sort of the border line between Alfa and data were pretty that's pretty constant. That doesn't There's a whole lot of it, like we're doing work that shows you like, yeah, you're getting out of data But you're also getting like a

weird gamma signature coming out. If they have a campus in the Magdalena, there's, um, or going on. But like that baseline data that's been pretty well established. I wrote about Leslie Shearlings work. He worked with Red Bull for a very long time, looking at the E g of top athletes, making decisions and the decision making matrix. They took top action sport athletes, and they give him a decision making paradigm, and they looked like decision making in flow. And you know what's constant there with a lot of athletes. So I wrote about his work, but a lot of other people have worked on it now at this point, and we're starting to get really What's good about the stuff is we're starting to get not we're mawr better. Neural dynamics is being done, so flow over time and full network kind of interactions were getting better pictures of that stuff. So some of that work is being done. We have been working very, very hard I'm trying to classify what goes on in the brain during slow onset. So what you could metaphorically called the first two seconds of flow State on set

Onda we work will publish material this this work sometimes this year or early next year, we're hoping, and it lays out a very, very, very set of testable hypothesis. Hey, at the ends of the floor, you see this quarter that this core this quarter, there's like three or four things and our work that that nobody's pointed out before we were pretty sure is there. But it's all testable. And I think it's the first paper to really look at the neural dynamics, the functional connectivity afloat in a really deep kind of global level. And where that will lead where we're about to start getting busy is building computational models. Alright, that'll be the next step. You asked how we invest this we're building. We're doing this. We're gonna build a bunch of very robust computational models which will allow us has at the same time, we're also taking a biophysical approach. Where were you know we've We've been working to build a biophysical based flow detector mawr of a machine learning algorithm or neural on that that could, in just a bunch of different

data points and be able to tell our you are not in flow based on this work that's a couple years down the road for us, I think, but all like, that's where we're going. We've got a bunch of other work going on some of the really nitty gritty, like we've teamed up with Clem Fox at USC to look it. The relationship between gratitude and flow. So I can tell you that people who have regular gratitude practices tend to get more flood oh, in their lives and our next, the next thing we're gonna do. Speaking of fun and action sports, we're gonna take a group of 30 skiers out to Kirkwood this winter. We're gonna give 10 of them a gratitude practice to use on the lifts we're gonna use. 10 of them will get a sham practice and 10 of them were gonna get probably not even a sham practice, probably something that's pretty decent. Somebody's everybody else will get, like, breath work, meditation do on the left, and we'll all ski the same runs. We're gonna measure flow in one left will be a gratitude exercise. The next one will measure flow using the psychometric instruments, maybe some biophysical stuff like heart rate variability on stuff. Maybe

the same time on we're going to see is gratitude A Can it work is an acute through, like a reframing intervention in real time. Those kind of we're doing that kind of stuff along with the big theoretical, you know, computational neuroscience at the same time. And, you know, with a lot of different people everyone, it's Liam. I have a quick favor to ask. We don't run ads here, But if you're finding this podcast helpful, please take 10 seconds to share this episode. Now with one friend who could benefit. For example, by tapping the three dots in the bottom right corner of apple podcasts, there is the option to text it or email it. It would help us out a ton and spreading the good word and really appreciate your help. If you feel moved to share, okay, back into it. It is really cool. And so when you're talking about, you're gonna measure flow of them on the mountain. Is it? So you mentioned psychometric would that be we'll give. We'll use that will probably use Susan Jackson's flow short scale, which is the best, uh

, validate. Which measures those six characteristics plus a couple of things because it's really well validated simultaneously we will get I don't know which physiological metrics we could get. Some of that has to do with what sensors can we get that we could convince 10, you know, or 30 action sport athletes toe where without, you know, danger. You know what I mean? Like, I could put chest straps on people. But if I if you crash that you could break your sternum with, like, with with a good polar monitor or something like that. And I don't wanna, you know, action sport athletes tend to go hard on the crash, And I don't wanna like responsible for anybody somebody's season, and I don't you know, So a lot of it is, and a lot of it is like, What is the i r B gonna let us do? What does the insurance gonna let us do? And we don't have all those answers yet. This was a study we're trying to run. Last year in Kobane happened. We was We was slated for, like last march. So now, like not only we have to redo it. We have to reboot it during cove it

and we don't even like I don't even know right now what the insurance just gonna look like. And what, like how how to do it. I'm just hell bent on dio get this year. And so what's the aim of? This is eventually is this headed towards kind of biofeedback where you're already helping people get into flow more easily. But could you talk a bit about the applications of your research? Yeah. So, you know, we're We have gotten very good at training flow. We're very We train about 1000 people a month at the floor research collective and on we measure flow pre and post, and we see a 70 80% in Greece and float on the back end. Now, I have to tell you that first of all, it's it's not just our kung fu is badass. It's like that's what happens when you use the neuroscience to steer by. You get really reliable repeatable results, which is which is fantastic. But there is a spectacular return to baseline after that big peak of 70 80% and it has nothing to do with flow. It has to do with

flow will massively amplify, among other things, motivation, productivity, learning and accelerated learning and creativity and innovation. I could speak much more in depth about like and by all those air catch holder. Sure what I'm talking about? Motivation. I'm talking about intrinsic motivation. I'm talking about grit, Dr Grid and goals are usually when you talk about motivation. What people usually mean is intrinsic and extrinsic. Motivation, right? Like intrinsic means internal things like courage and happiness and curiosity and things like that that could you internally fired up to go do something extrinsic. Motivation is, Hey, if you go do this thing, I'll pay you right or you could get laid or you could get famous. That's extrinsic motivation. And then, you know, goals are what we drive towards, and grit is what we use when the motivation runs out right. Basically, when intrinsic motivation runs out, great is what we turn thio. And there's also six categories. A grit. If your training grit. It's not just

one kind of persistence. There's six different categories by different biology, blah, blah, blah. So I'm using motivation is a catch all for a bigger suite of actual stuff that is based strictly on biology. But the point I'm trying to make is flowing massively amplifies all these skills, but it's like if you're driving a car, the car's going 10 miles an hour and you bump into a tree. You dented the fender, not a particularly big deal. But when you're going 100 miles an hour flows a huge turbo boost much bigger than you're gonna get from standard personal development tools or anything else like that. Because we're hardwired for flow. We're hardwired people being performance in certain kinds of situations, and it's a big step up in function. But if you're going 100 miles an hour in a car and you hit a trade, you're a lot doing a lot worse than denting offender. And we found the same thing was happening and flows so like you could massively increase the amount of flow in your life. But if your motivation protocols air not really well designed, right, if you're all your intrinsic motivators, not pointing in the same

direction would call stacking motivators you're not aimed at the same thing. If your goals are aligned with the where your intrinsic motivation isn't pointed and you don't have the like grit skills to support that blah, blah blah, you'll get a huge boost and flow. But you'll get wobbly from all this other shit. Same thing if you flow, requires us to use our skills to the utmost. That means you have to be good at skill, acquisition and learning and gaining new knowledge. And you have to have some truth filters around the stuff you're learning. So you know what's good information? What's bad information, blah, blah, blah, right? So, like, I don't want to give you the idea that flow heals all wounds. It does not at all. It's a huge step function, but like and this is I've got a new book coming out in January called The Art of Impossible. That is really When I started writing, I was calling it everything but the flow. That's not true at all because there's no you can't write about this stuff without putting flow on every page. But in my mind I was like, Wow, I've spent 30 years training people to get into flow, and I'm really

good at that. And my team was really good at that. And we're doing it a lot and it really works. But it is definitely not the full suite. And I got you know, you get really frustrated the P performance market, because you look around you like these people over here are yelling out habits, and these people over here are focusing attention. And there's the mindfulness crowd or the gratitude crowd, or even the flow crowd. And I'm like, Wait a minute does. It's a biological system. It's a full system, like were designed to work a certain way. It's a all designed to work together and let's take a look full big picture, which is also pretty amazing. But it's finally clear. I'm sure there are gaps in it, but like, Wow, do we know a lot at this point? Yeah, I mean, I wonder without just in the short time we have here, if you'd be able to give some of those connections between the different areas that you see that you think are being ignored by folks who are kind of getting siloed into one area, let me give you a simple example. So when I say the system is designed to work in

speak once and a certain way, as far as I can tell, the motivational stack starts with curiosity, curiosity. When you have the intersection of multiple curiosities, you have passion. That's a greater motivation to than curiosity, right? We could explain your a biologically what's going on. The curiosity is a little bit of don't mean in a little bit of norepinephrine passion, lot of dopamine. Lot of they build on each other is my point. After passion, you get purpose. Purpose is what happens when the thing that is producing passion for you is coupled to a cause that is greater than yourself on thesis for a bunch of neurobiological reasons, we like to be altruistic about Oh, God, purpose. And I'm going to help the world that we just we're social creatures. And like once you had purpose to passion, you had oxytocin and endorphins tomb or feel good performance enhancing neurochemicals to the norepinephrine and dopamine that you're getting from passion

. More things go on once you have purpose, what do you need? Autonomy, the freedom to pursue your purpose. And once you have autonomy, the freedom to pursue your purpose. Then you need mastery, which is the skills to pursue that purpose. These are the big Five in terms of motivators, and you'll hear lots of people talking about them individually or sometimes people a couple passion and purpose together. But nobody is talking about Hey, man, The system is designed to work with all of these in a way, and we've got it to the point that we don't have exact out on this. There's case studies now that say, Hey, look, we even know how much autonomy you need if you want to really harness intrinsic motivation, Andi things along those lines. And once you get all those mini flow trip. But when you get them all lined up, not only do you get all that motivation, right, you get motivation a big deal, because focus, which is at the core of everything we dio right attention is the center of everything we dio. It is neurobiological, expensive to pay attention to anything. It just is. It burns a

lot of calories and the brain is an energy hog to begin with, right, it gets like 2025% of our energy at rest, and it's 2% of our body weight. So that's crazy at rest. And when you fired up, it's even Mawr. A lot of that gets burnt on Focus. What are we paying attention to? So any time you get focused for free curiosity, passion, purpose, autonomy, master, all these things provide you focus for free. It's a huge lift. That's the big deal right on. Then, once you have all that stuff, you layer goals onto it and there's three layers of goals. But like the middle layers, high hard goals, for example, how hard goals air top layer. You have your like mission statement for your life. I wanna be an awful hi hard goal is I want to write a book about people performance this year and next year. I want to write a book about the Great Lakes or whatever is your path right? And then you need clear goals, which is shit you're going to do today to support your high our goals that support your mission, and

your mission is totally you know, that's what your mastery. That's what you designed. All the curiosity and passion purpose Donna mastery. There's your mission. Use that design your high hard goal, your that mission statement goals than your high our goals and you're clear goals. As you could see, there's a sequence, and the biology is actually designed pretty much to work in that sequence. And when you get it right and it's by the way, this is what I said. The biology is designed. Evolution designed it to work in the sequence. Right? If you go back to hunter gatherer times right, that curiosity was Wow. I see some animals. I'm that hill in the distance. I wonder if there's dinner over there, right? And the passion is he Oh my God, I'm on the hunt and I love the hunt and oh my God, purposes. Oh, the hunt will be great, but I could just feed myself and my family in my tribe, right? And now I need the freedom to go hunting. And then I need the skills to hunt, right? And what are what? That you This is not hard to see, right

? It's It's actually kind of obvious when you say it out loud like this, but it Zbynek really hard. It's been very obscured by a bunch of psychology. But now, when you sort of have, can you add and it has been obscured by psychology. But when you started to add the neuroscience underneath, the psychology stuff started to get really less obscure. We can now we can talk about it that way. And of course, flow is how you turbo boost the whole thing, right? It takes all these motivation skills and this focus for free and then massively exploits it, right? Yeah, I'm hearing, or I'm thinking of Maslow's hierarchy of needs as you're talking about this a little bit and you know, it strikes me that before our ancestors kind of had the top part of that triangle covered where they weren't sitting around thinking about what's my purpose for my meeting? They were just trying to catch their next meal and survive, and it was harder for them to kind of fill the bottom buckets of physiology and just making it to the next day

. And now we have reverse problem, almost where we're trying to reverse engineer and figure out what are we here for and also give ourselves those flow states that may be used to come more naturally. I don't know if that's true or not like that's that. I'm not sure if our ancestors got no flow mawr than we get into flow right? There's we have way more flow triggers at our disposal now than our ancestors did, so I'm not. Maybe maybe you're right. But I will say that you know, two things on Muslim one Scott Very Kauffman, who's, uh, brilliant scientists and brilliant thinker on a lot of things, just sort of great book on Muslim. Scott works with us, the flow research collective he coaches with us and just some other stuff with us. And he will say he argues in his new book that it's Matt. Even Maslow didn't want. It is a strict pyramid, right that it doesn't really work that way. That's sad what the evidence shows. You know, Dan, economy is a great research on this. Is that really before you get started exploiting

intrinsic rewards, you need to have basic, accurate basic needs met right, like safety and security matter on, you know, economy did this by measuring where income and happiness diverge in America, and this is it was a couple of years ago, so numbers have probably changed a little bit, but it was about 70 $75,000 a year, right? Like one. You're going to care about safety and security, essentially making enough to cover your basic needs and have a little left over for fun. And it's really a little left over. It's not. It's not a whole lot. And that's the point, that income divergence from happiness. Other things you know, as you get older, you know income will grant you freedom. And you know, there's there's other things you get with more money, but you don't actually get happiness, meaning well being overall life satisfaction of those kinds of things. And then, you know, this is This is why in organizations you see you can motivate employees with money and get rid of performance out of them till about $75,000

a year. But after that point they start wanting things like control of their schedule or control of their time, or the ability to work from home or the ability to work on projects that they care about right there going. You start going for intrinsic rewards, and that's what the data clearly shows Dan Pink wrote about this again. Balkanized. Not the whole picture. But he captured Ah, part of it. Really, really, really well in, uh, I can't remember the name. Drop Dr Sorry Blank on the name for a second. But he talked about a tiny mastery and purpose and drive right, and he was building on self determination theory. You know, taking that one step farther. And I think they are impossible, which comes out next. Takes takes pinks work a little the next step because it adds in kind of what we're learning from the neuroscience and some of the same people like Rob Ryan, who was one of the original creators of self determination theory, he's now working on the neuroscience. Intrinsic motivation is with some really great papers on it. So, like the researchers

carrying through some of the same people are involved also, so I like thio, give the listeners action will take aways. So where can they get started, especially in co vid times? Or let's say they're not a Nath leet or they don't have a special skill set. You know, maybe they could go about developing a special skill set, but what's like the easiest, quickest way they could start to get into these flow states more often. Well, there s so I have two answers and you asked during Cove it on. So there are six things peak positive psychology we call. I call them essentially the positive psychology basics on three on the physical side of the equation for physical energy and three answer of cognitive side. And there's one or two flow things that we're talking about. And one thing. If anybody wants more flowing life, go to www dot flow research collective forward stash flow blockers. We've created a diagnostic that we've you know, pretty

much the 10 biggest blocks The flow have been identified by the field. We built the diagnostic around it. So go there, Take that diagnostic. It'll identify the thing in your life that is really standing in the way between you and more flow. So that's a tool anybody can have. And what example of that a blocker e mean one of the most common is distractions, right? The soft, the guys who wrote that book encoders that show flow is really common and in computer coding and engineering really, really common. Um, coders and flow. When they get knocked out of flow, it'll take him a minimum 15 minutes to get back if they could get back in it. Also, there's a there's a big cost and it's distraction. It's somebody knocking on your door right when we go into organizations flow research. So let's ignore the positive psychology stuff. Let's go right to some flow triggers because this is where we are. Floor research shows that complete concentration

is one of the most powerful flow drinkers, and the research really shows that if you want to maximize it, 9200 and 20 minute periods of uninterrupted concentration are best for the very reason that that's how long we are biologically designed to focus. Same reason we dream for 90 minutes. Rem sleep is 90 minutes. We have waking cycles that about 90 minutes long were built the focus through them. So we train people to start their day with 9220 minutes of uninterrupted concentration. Spend it on your hardest, most important task. The thing that if you get it done, it will be the biggest win for the day. Like you could almost declare victory over the days for me, that's always writing. Alright, I gotta I gotta get my 1000 words a day written because it's the most important thing I'm gonna do all day. And so I wake up every morning at four o'clock in the morning and start writing. That's how I do it. Practice Distraction management at the end of the previous day. So anything that could distract me in the morning whether it's social media, email messages on my phone

, whatever everything gets turned off, take five minutes. The end of day, I turn everything off, I get up. I literally try to go from bed to computer in under 3 to 4 minutes. I never look at anything but my like I go straight into my work. Never, ever, ever. Do you want to risk email or social media or anything like that? Neither is gonna produce an emotional reaction beforehand is a real problem you really want to avoid. You want to go in, you know, is even as you possibly can with this little anxiety, your system and you possibly can give it a 1920 minutes and a lot of people say, Oh my God, that's too much time How could I possibly do that? You get a lot of pushback from people, get a lot of pushback from managers. Were like, Well, all I do all day is talk on the phone and, you know, have conversations and I want my on. It's funny because one of the one of the guys, one of my big investors, was a guy named Otto. Come second in command, achy to Jack Welch for years and years and years, and he has a great copy. When I talked to

him about this, he's like, Yeah, they're lying. And a manager who tells you that they can't spend 90 minutes in the morning working on strategy because what they're supposed to do is talk on the, um they're lying. They don't know what their job is. Manager's job is toe be worked at the strategic level and think out what they should dio and then make phone calls to execute on that. It was like that's just bad management. Yeah, and you know, I mean, look, one of the totally off topic, but like one of the curses the modern business world is, I always say, like I've never been in a meeting with more than three people that accomplishes anything, right? I'm 53 years old. I'm really successful. I've worked in 22 different start ups. I've helped 22 different companies start over the years in LA LA. I've never been in a meeting with more than three people that is worth it. And so, like most people's work lives are. I go from meeting to meeting the meeting meeting meeting because it makes me feel like working. And there's such a difference between execution and, oh, I feel like I'm working

and I could give a damn about anything that makes you feel like you're working. I care about execution, period. I like. I always say that, you know, it's especially if you're in and around Silicon Valley. You look, I love meeting these adult people who are like, Oh my God, I'm an idea guy who cares, like I got their arm or idea people that this universe, I if I had enough time, I'm an idea idea guy I like. I don't have enough time to execute on all my ideas. Why would I care about yours? Mine seem to be doing pretty well. So, like you know what I mean? Like I care about Can you execute? Is it really in the real world doesn't actually produce results. Not like I'm working the working, going from meeting to meeting. But anyways, the point I was going to ask for Give me an example. One of things. The hell companies when we work with organization of the very first thing I say and I use this language is I walk in and say, Look, if you can't hang a sign in your this is fuck off, I'm flowing. You can't do this work like we shouldn't even bother Be talking, right? If you've got a completely open off this plan

policy and there's no place boy is gonna have privacy, you don't want to change any of those things. And you okay, cool. I'm not gonna work with you. My organization is not gonna work with you. You you have fun competing against those of us that we're gonna work on cognitive big performance because it's a lot of organizations that are doing this, You know, McKinsey says the top executives and floor 500% more productive now. That was subjective. They went around and asked top executives. How much more productive are you and flow and the average after, I don't know how many people that ask a lot was 500%. That's a big boost. So okay, you go ahead to your open office plan the way you want to run it. And you know, we're going to continue to train up organization after organization after organization and, you know, try to compete. We'll see in the end, right? Like the data doesn't lie based on what you've seen and talking, all these experts and also you mentioned earlier machine learning. How are these emerging technologies like a I

gonna influence your work were already influencing our work way. I used a I, but let me so let me tell you where we're going. Down Strain and it'll start. Answer everything you need to know When you couple ai with the really robust diagnostic quantified self censors were getting euro sensors, physical senses, physiological sensors on flow science. We put all those things together. You very quickly start to see. So flow massively amplifies learning right. The Department of Fence did a really robust study with Chris Burke's team. Advanced Brain Monitoring and they found that soldiers and flow we're learning target acquisition skills, for example to him 40% faster than normal. They redid that study with novice archers, rifleman and handgun shooters, and they took. We would never fired any of those weapons before they put him in the flow. When they trained them up to the expert level, they found it was 50% less time. So a really good dad on flow, massively amplifying, learning in both and Rises

Superman, also in the new book Art of Impossible. I really cover why we know we understand it at least a pretty good degree. So we wanna build the intersection of like this. You know, biophysical has flow detector the next thing way. If we can build that, we can then start to validate all the flows, triggers these air, the exact triggers this and we can. We know Already. Virtual reality is great at generating flow triggers. Augmented reality may be better, may prove to be better, but VR, like video games, are good and video games. When people say video games, or if you're wired that way they're 90% addictive or 96% addictive. It's the flow state that they produce. That's addictive, right? It's the You get five of the most potent neuro chemicals the brain can produce inflow. They're all addictive neurochemicals. And that's what's causing that addictive behavior VR video games can get at depending on who's creating the gains. 3 to 4 to five

of flows triggers maybe seven day to them. There's 22 that we know about this probably way more VR can get it. Almost all of them and really robustly so we can use our by office was flow doctor couple of ER to create a high flow learning environment. And I'm aimed at the group of people I'm or interested in Is worker retraining a lot of people? You can certainly use this as an education platform, and so and I'm more than happy to like, you know, how. Create that and let other people do that work. I think in Education platform put you into a curriculum battle with parents. I'm not a parent. I don't like Children. I don't want to argue about what I should be teaching or not teaching your Children. Go ahead. Somebody else could do that part. I am really interested in worker retraining. I think we've got technological unemployment in certain. Second, I don't really think it's unemployment. I think there will be tons of jobs. They'll just be a new fields. So I want to find a way to really re skill

people very, very quickly. And I think flow is a really good gateway into that. So we're doing all the other accelerate performance. Working all that other stuff, but like one of our big downstream projects, is because that worker return that's, you know, you're at the intersection of a I V R sensors. Couple other things. We're probably gonna be involved by the time we're all said and done. So that's one example off where things were really coming together in any way awesome. Yeah, it's it's really exciting, and I just have a couple of rapid fire questions here for you before we wrap up. The first one is just what is your favorite book or most gifted book other than the ones that you've written? Yeah, uh, there's three rob, sure thesis bone games. The user illusion by tour Nando's by can't pronounce his last name. I never could Danish Day, the Danish version of Carl Sagan. I can't when I'm looking at the book, but I could never hold it if I had. I literally have a block

, even though I've given this book way more than any nothing else. And David Kwame is the song of the dodo. Those are the three most. And lately I've been giving away a lot of copies of Charles use how to live safely in a science fictional universe, which is just one of those amazing novels I've written forever. So those those four books right on about why, if you care. But yeah, I'm sure I mean, yeah, I mean, we could pick one. And what hams is the first book. So when I was starting out in doing Flow er early on, when I say I didn't really get into the psychology is because my real introduction to all of it was this book that we came out in 1984 by an outside magazine journalist named were optional fee is called Bone Games. It was about the intersection off what he thought he was like, Wow, endurance sports, like mountaineering and running seemed to be producing the same kind of mystical experiences as you know, some Native American shamanic practice in bed in practice. He was looking at that stuff

, and he it was only interested in neuroscience because the science guy like May and he didn't talk about flow. I like. I don't think he mentioned any of the psychologists in there, but he talked a lot about endorphins and some of the kitchen Colleen's and some of the adrenaline base, you know, chemicals. And that's what he was interested in. So my introduction of shit came from a guy was really interested in neuroscience, which is where, why I started that way. It's a really neat book user. Illusion is the best book on the adaptive Unconscious on You know, a lot of my work is on habits, right flow happens an unconscious level, so really learning to work with the adaptive unconscious and understanding how powerful it is and how much runs this show. It's a bunch of different books that strangers to ourselves is another one. Thinking fast and slow is sort of another one. My favorite is the user illusion. I think it's the best of those and song of the Dodo is I. So I first of all, a lifelong environmentalist

. My wife and I run in animals, a dog sanctuary and really care about those issues. I work a lot on those issues. There's flow, the flow has environmental benefits. Long story. We're not gonna go into it, but like something I care deeply about. And and that book is, First of all, it's a great prime around, like Darwin and Wallace and stuff that I an evolution and stuff I think any buddy everybody should know about. But it's also it lays out what is sort of the theory of island bio geography, which is essentially how extinction works on islands. But the modern world is all islands, right? From an animal's perspective. If you build a four lane highway around a small, wooded area, that's a freaking island. Doesn't matter. It's not the Pacific Ocean, so we've turned everything in the islands. So if you want to understand the impact of extinction, why why we're in the middle of the sixth grade extinction? Why species die off rates are 1000 times greater than normal and why we can't survive with as this thread starts like. That's the very best book

on the subject. It's fun, it's thick, but it's fun to read. It's amazing. And David Quammen if for those people who don't know his work. Just another early outside magazine writer Outside magazine. I did a lot of work from them early on in the eighties and nineties hasn't just super talented writers on staff. David Quammen was one of them, Onda and Rob, for these was a regular contributor, so I, you know, I was usually influenced by that as writers. But these were the two books that I love and Charles used. How did the same thing in science, Fictional universe is just the best, but it's funny. It's unbelievably creative. I've never read anything like it. You will never have read anything like it. It will blow your mind. But it's the best meditation on sort of time and memory and regret and the dangers of living in the past and like a whole bunch of stuff. Except it's a book about a time machine repairman. So go figure, uh, so cool

, your interest or many, and it's it's great how they overlap, you know, in so many ways I feel like that's the case. If you go deep in any subject you can start to see overlapping and parallels. So my next question for you is just the current technology that you're most excited about or current research. Everybody's always disappointed. They asked me for my favorite technology, and they really like my favorite technology. This year it's my faction. C t 2.0, skis, right, Like like my favorite technology of my fat ski is bad or, you know, this. And this year it za faction. So, you know Yeah, I'm not. I'm really I mean, there's What's that? Everything we write about in Faster is super interesting to me, but it's not. What's interesting is that faster is a book about the convergence of technology. So I can't pick out one technology right now because it's the intersection of these accelerating technologies that really sort of has

my attention on the macro scale and in a microscope, man, my faction skis shit. That's my favorite. All right, two more. What's something that you believe or you an opinion you hold or kind of a contrary opinion that most people would disagree with? Oh God, the fact that the single worst thing you could do for the planet is have Children. Stop having Children, people seriously. It's terrible for the world adopt. But yeah, I'm not. I'm not. And this is not. I am a believer in empathy for all empathy for all means, of course, empathy for all humans. But that means empathy for plants, animals and ecosystems. That's what I mean by empathy for all. And if you care about plants, animals and ecosystems, you have to talk about overpopulation out loud. And I'm not saying forever. But I'm saying Here's an unpopular way to put it. Every time you bring a child in the world, you're taking food out of the mouse of plants

and animals. How's that for a super unpopular? You really hate me now opinion. But it's true, Andi, it's you know what I mean? Like I like, I just always I've said a lot of unpopular things over the years about both substances and the environment, but I haven't liked right. I don't try to exaggerate. I don't try to lie. I follow the data on just tell sort of tell the truth or try. Thio gives an even worse one. This is terrible. This is terrible and I like this is something I can't You cannot say out loud, but you're totally so the data shows. By the way, if you're interested in peak performance, really, if you're ambitious and you're really interesting p performance one of the single worst things you could do is have a kid and let me explain it. Really simply peak performance is all about goal directed behavior that's all about don't mean how doe I react dopamine and norepinephrine

. So when you have a child, you start replacing your addiction to dopamine and norepinephrine with your addiction to oxytocin, Endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine are all about wanting goal directed behavior. Oxytocin. Endorphins are very stable there. About what? I already have their emotions of gratitude and thankfulness. But they Quelch ambition and drive literally like when think about your marriage, right? Or a long relationship in the beginning, Fall in love. Romantic love is don't mean and norepinephrine. This Helen Fisher is fantastic work at Rutgers. Very clear romantic love. That's dopamine, norepinephrine. Long term stable love. What does your brain start producing? Five years of marriage to stabilize the marriage. So you're not going to stray massive amounts of endorphins and oxytocin. But when if wanting and striving requires really, really, really being sensitive dopamine, norepinephrine

. And if you make that switch in the neurobiological level, you're literally Quelch ing ambition. That may be a great thing for certain things, but it's terrible if you're interested in look ambitious p performance like Forget everything else and you pointed out. Like I always said, I got married because I wanted to know what it felt like have sort of like an emotionally monogamous relationship with my with one person for a long time, you know what I mean? And that was what was most interesting. What's the possibility of two people together on Once you start adding other people into that, that that's a different experiment. You're running a difference. So I was never interested in the other experiment. But I also have seen the same data you've seen. Quality of marriages go down every almost everything goes down. After have you kidnapped everybody in the world has had a kid will say Stephen, you are so wrong. You're freaking moron. You don't know what you're missing is the best thing ever. This is the total meaning of

my life and all those things, and I am sure there correct. And I'm an asshole. But I'm telling you what the data shows. All right, So you get finally, you get a 15 2nd commercial that goes out to the world and it can't be wear condoms. What do you say in that? 15 seconds E. I always like to say this. This is this Is this the message of the heart of art? Impossible. So here's my ad for my new book, but it's the It's the key point of the heart of this book. And I think it's so important for people to know 30 years of studying the best of the best performing, you know, at their very best. What is it? The Senate. What are the big lessons? I think there are two that matter Mawr than those one. First. We're all capable of so much more than we know. That is the most resounding message over and over and over again, and to human potential, is invisible. What I mean by that is human potential. Human capability is an emergent property, right? That's a technical term. It means that

the whole is greater than the sum of his parts on hurricane, right? You can't look at a storm and predict is going to become a hurricane. You could say Oh, wow. Gale force winds and this temperature radiant thes air. All individual factors when they all come together in a perfect way of hurricane will emerge The whole That's great in the song, parks, even capabilities the same way, right? Are learning is invisible like your experiences. I'm bad. I suck something. I'm better. I don't suck anymore. What happened in between? I don't know. Like I did this over and over and over again. And I was terrible. Terrible, terrible, terrible. Something I'm not terrible anymore. That until you're better, you can capability. What happens when we use our skills to the out mouse roots push over and over and over and over again. But, like we're hardwired for extraordinary. And it turns out, by the way, Maura Maura, I can't say this for sure, but the buyer it appears like we're wired to go big and not going big. Right? If we talk about five intrinsic motivators air there

if you don't line those up, do you know what the like? If you don't have this right amount of autonomy in your life. Depression, anxiety result. If you have not turned curiosity, passion and purpose stacked them together. Depression, anxiety. There. Most of if you look at the 98 or nine major causes of depression, six of them are basically about not dialing the biology P performance, right? Like we're hardwired to go big. We're hardwired to really extend our capability s. Oh, there's my was more than 15 seconds. I'm sorry. Yeah, inspiring. Thanks so much for coming on, Stevens. And best of luck, with all your research, we're all rooting for you. Liam, Thank you so much. Really pleasure spending time with you today. Thank you for checking out the fit mine podcast. If you enjoyed the podcast, please take the time to leave it a review. I really can't tell you how much I appreciate reviews. This allows us to reach others who might benefit from these conversations as well. And if you'd like to keep hearing expert insights on the mind of meditation when the episodes come out, please subscribe

to the show. Thanks for listening. And I'll see you here next time

#62: Your Brain in Flow - Steven Kotler
#62: Your Brain in Flow - Steven Kotler
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