Episode #55 – Steven Kotler On Finding “Flow” State and Increasing Your Productivity 500%

by John McIntyre

What if you could get 500% more done?


You sit down to write an email.

Brilliant copy cascades from your brain onto the page…

You crush your scariest goals.

You take breaks STRATEGICALLY –

…and have business epiphanies while you’re off hiking in the woods.

Meet Steven Kotler.

Kotler is the author of two bestsellers:

Abundance and Rise of Superman.

He’s here to show you ONE thing:

How to hack “flow” state.

Now –

Flow is the secret sauce behind all great innovations.

It’s the edge of your current SKILL…

…and the naked frontier outside your comfort zone.

Would you like to get more done?

Make more money in your business?

Do you ever wonder “Where did my day go?”

Tune in to this one.

Get ready to explode your productivity

…and unlock more results than you thought possible.

In this episode, you’ll discover:

  • the shocking trait that gives top executives a 500% edge in productivity
  • what the invent of jazz and can teach you about copywriting
  • a proven framework to access FLOW today
  • 2 crucial differences between optimal performance and “self help”
  • one weird “pick-a-sentence” technique to stretch your creative limits
  • how to make your subconscious work for you (HINT: you’ll need 10 seconds and a pen)
  • the disturbing reason people today spend LESS than 5% of their work life in flow

Email Marketing Podcast Episode 1


    Intro and outro backing music: Forever More by CREO

    Raw transcript:

    Download PDF transcript here.

    It’s John McIntyre here, the Autoresponder Guy.  I’m here with Steven Kotler. Now Steven Kotler is the author of a book called The Rise of Superman and another booked called Abundance.  The reason I wanted to get him on today was to talk about what he talks about in The Rise of Superman.

    Now this book is about what he calls The Rise of Superman obviously.  What does that mean though?  It means if you look at snowboarders or action sports, skateboarders, people who are rafting down rivers in Canada or climbing ice waterfalls, doing the crazy stuff.  Those wingtips, the skydivers with wings, which is extremely dangerous stuff where basically, people have to access a certain flow state to stay alive.  That’s what this book’s about.

    The interesting part, and where I thought we’d link it to marketing, copywriting and business, is that these people when they’re in there, these snowboarders, when they’re in this situation is that they have to access this flow state, these different brain chemicals or they’re going to die.  The idea is if we can learn how to hack that state, then we can become better writers, better musicians or better anything in life.  That’s the kind of natural link in there or how I’m trying to do it.  We’ll get into that in just a minute.

    Steven, how are you doing today?

    Steven: Really well, thank you.  How are you?

    John: Fantastic.  Good to have you on.  Before we get into this flow stuff, the listener might not be fully familiar with you.  Give the listener a little bit of a background on who you are and a bit about what you do.

    Steven: I’m an author and a journalist and the director of research for the flow genome project.  What I primarily work on is disruptive technology.  Sometimes I work on disruptive external technologies, vertical farming, that sort of stuff, stem cells, et cetera.  Sometimes I work on disruptive internal technologies.  It’s about flow states which are probably the most disruptive internal technology available to any of us.

    John: Okay, and the idea, I like how you frame it up as though it’s a technology.  That’s something that has evolved in the same way that technologies evolved and that it’s something that we can use in a very practical way.  This is kind of like peak performance.  Guys are like, I guess this is what Tony Robbins, guys like him, teach people how to do.  Is it the same kind of thing as that?

    Steven: No, not at all.  Let’s define flow states for your listeners.  Let’s give people some context and then I’ll answer your question.  Flow states are defined technically as optimal states of consciousness, where we feel our best and we perform our best.  I think everybody has had some experience with these states.  Have you ever lost an afternoon to a great conversation, or gotten so sucked into a work project that everything else falls away, then you’ve probably tasted the experience.  In flow, we become so focused on the task at hand that everything else disappears.  Action and awareness start to merge.  Our sense of self, self-consciousness, those disappear completely.  Time dilates, so sometimes it slows down and you get that freeze-frame effect like you’re in a car crash.

    Sometimes it speeds up and five hours will pass by in five minutes.  Throughout all aspects of performance, and that’s mental and physical, go through the roof.  Tony Robbins and the rest of those guys, they work A, primarily in self-help.  There’s a couple of key differences.  The first is that nothing I tell you here today are you going to apply on Monday and you’re life’s going to immediately start getting better.  It doesn’t work that way.  Flow is ubiquitous.  The state shows up everywhere in anyone provided certain initial conditions are met.  Unlike self-help which is about a 5%/10% improvement, flow offers a step function worth of change.

    Let me give you an example.  McKinsey and Company, the business researching firm, did a 10-year study of top executives.  They found top executives in flow are 500 times more productive than out of flow.  That means you could go to work on Monday, spend Monday in a flow state and take Tuesday through Friday off and get as much done as your steady state peers.  That is a massive application; 5 times more productive is a 500% increase in productivity.  Productivity is just one example.  You could go to creativity.  Studies show that flow provides about a 7X, so 700% boost in creativity.  Learning, the U.S. Military did studies with snipers in flow, and they found that snipers in flow learned 200 to 500% faster than normal.

    So, Malcolm Gladwell’s famous 10,000 hours to mastery, the research shows that flow can cut it in half.  On one end, flow is not self-help because it is a much bigger change.  The second reason is, flow is a little dangerous.  You have to understand.  We now understand kind of the neurobiology of flow, what’s going on underneath the surface.  As you pointed out in your introduction, one of the things that’s going on is a huge neurochemical dump.  You get five of the most potent neurochemicals the brain can produce, all at once in a flow state and that’s kind of the only time that happens.  Now these chemicals are all performance-enhanced chemicals, but they’re also the most addictive reward drugs the brain can produce.

    You’re getting a very, very deep and very, very addictive cocktail of neurochemistry.  When you’re working with flow you have to know what you’re doing because you’re playing with very fundamental biology, very powerful neurochemicals and it can go wrong, disastrously so.

    John: What’s an example?  Like let’s say I’m trying to hack this and I’m doing business, and I’m trying to hack this flow state.  What could go wrong?

    Steven: Well, let me give you a couple simple examples.  I have to back up actually.  To answer your question I have to tell you a little bit more about what we know about flow.  Flow science goes back about 150 years.  The first 120 of those years, or first 130 maybe, were spent figuring out what is the psychology of the state, right.  What are its characteristics and what are some of its psychological triggers?  What brings it on; what precipitates the state?  Out of this research into flow triggers, right, these are pre-conditions that bring on more flow, one of the things discovered is known as the challenge skills ratio.  Very simply, we get into flow follows focus, right.  It’s a state of massively heightened focus.  All these triggers are ways of driving attention into the now.

    One of the easiest ways to do that is the challenge skills ratio.  It means that when you approach a task, the challenge of the task should be slightly harder.  It should slightly exceed the skills you bring to bear, right.  To define flow frequently, you want to constantly be putting yourself into situations where you’re stretching but not snapping.  It’s a very slight gradient, but it’s a gradient nonetheless.  That means that when you’re looking for flow, when you’re seeking this state and trying to get more of this state in your life, you are taking, you’re climbing the ladder of escalating risk.  You are pushing yourself slightly farther, slightly farther, slightly farther, day-in and day-out, over and over and over again.

    It doesn’t matter what your profession is.  For action and adventure sport athletes, this pushed them into situations where if they make a mistake, they’re going to die, but you can see it.  When jazz moved into bee-bop, right.  This was a very, very big risk for those musicians.  When filmmaking in the 70s moved into auteur filmmaking.  Every time these guys pushed, they kept pushing and kept pushing, kept pushing and suddenly they got to the edges of things where they were suddenly betting their lives, in the case of some of the athletes, or their careers, in this case of some of the artists.  You see this with businessmen as well, right.  Businessmen who are good at this will constantly be seeking harder and harder and harder challenges.

    For myself as a writer, this means that I’m now starting to work on my eighth book.  The ideas I’m going at are far bigger than anything I’ve ever gone at before because I want to raise the challenge level, but there’s always that danger of, hey, maybe these ideas are just too big for me.  Maybe I shouldn’t be writing it, you know what I mean, like maybe I shouldn’t be going there.

    John: Yes.

    Steven: Maybe people won’t believe me.  Maybe I’m not.  Maybe I’m stretching too far, right.  There are a lot of other dangers; one of them is this escalating ladder of risk.

    John: Okay.  The interesting thing here is the ladder of escalating risk goes up.  Also, just the reward.  So, you’ve got a businessman who’s like Steve Jobs, he would be continually pushing the envelope where he’s taking on bigger and bigger and bigger challenges.  It’s risky on the one hand, but it’s also those people in their respective fields, whether it’s music or sports, I mean you mentioned this in the book.  It’s these people who are taking things forward, who are actually making the real change.

    Steven: Yes, that’s absolutely correct, right.  I mean you have to be living in this way, but the other thing is what you find when you scratch the surface, under all people in all disciplines; when researchers look at flow and what flow has affected change, flow has affected society, they now see flow with the heart of almost every world championship or gold medal that’s ever been one.  It underpins major scientific breakthroughs and accounts for significant progress in the arts.  All right, we’ve talked about what flow does in business.  Yes, everywhere you’re seeing people stretch, you’re seeing boundaries being broken, you’re also finding flow.

    This is, by the way, not a new finding.  Back in the 40s, the psychologist Abraham Maslow, up until he had come along early research on flow had mistakenly looked at it and thought we were looking at mystical experiences; something that was common in religious people, people on spiritual paths, but not common in normal people.  Then Abraham Maslow came along in the 40s and he was looking at this state and he wasn’t interested in religious people.  He was actually interested in successful people, across the board.  It doesn’t matter what you do, he was studying successful people.  He wanted to know what commonalities they shared.

    What he found … it didn’t matter who he talked to, and he looked at Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frederick Douglas, and on and on, he found … first of all, a lot of his subjects were atheists so the idea that this was a mystical experience kind of went out the window.  He found that across the boards, most of these people used massively heightened attention to produce altered states of consciousness that allowed them to do some of their best work.  Right, he was looking at flow and he found flow a commonality among all successful people.  This is only continued, right.

    In the 1960s and 70s, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who was then the chairman in the University of Chicago Psychology Department, came along and he went around the world and did a global study asking everybody he could think of.  He started out with experts, rock climbers, chess players, dancers, et cetera, and then surgeons, and then he just started talking to everybody else.  He talked to people writing advertising copy.  He talked to people who were Italian grape farmers, Navajo sheep herders, Detroit assembly line workers, Japanese teenage motorcycle gage.

    Everybody gets it, right.  They all told him the same thing.  They were at their best, they felt their best when they were in this state of flow.  That is when they were doing their greatest work.  The point is not just that flow shows up when we’re pushing the great boundaries.  Of course it does, but it also shows up when anybody is pushing themselves to be their best.

    John: Right, and I love this.  You don’t have to be extraordinary to access this state.  It’s really just about within your personal realm.  There’s that image that a lot of people have seen actually.  This would be a good way to illustrate it.  You’ve got that circle which is your comfort zone, and you stay in there and not much is happening, but if you step outside it too far, then you break down.  If you’re just outside that edge, that’s when you start to access that state.  Everyone, even the people who are the smallest bill, who … there’s nothing seemingly exceptional about them, they have their own comfort zone.  If they step slightly outside of that, they’re going to start to access this state in varying degrees.

    Steven: Yes, absolutely.  We have to make it clear, most people have already experienced flow that probably didn’t know what was going on because it doesn’t show up all that frequently.  In that McKinsey study, they calculated that most people spend less than 5% of their work life in flow.

    John: Yes.

    Steven: Right, now that depends on your job, of course.  Coders, software coders, get into flow all the time.  It’s kind of fundamental.  Video game designers, very fundamental.  Surgeons, very fundamental.  Certain other jobs are more difficult.  I make my living as a writer; flow is fundamental.  I don’t survive as a writer without the state and if you look through my career, like go through the 1,000 magazine articles and the eight books, et cetera, et cetera, what you’re going to see is the ones that have won awards, the bestselling books, the articles that have won awards, all of them were written in flow states.

    John: Okay.  Let’s dive in right here then to this writing stuff.  So you’re a writer and you just mentioned that the best books you’ve read, the ones that have gotten the most attention are ones where you’ve been in a flow state.  This is a great area to dive into because a lot of people, when they sit down to say write an email, or write some advertising copy, or write a sales letter, they get tongue tied.  Most people, I mean it’s the whole classic writer’s block.  They just can’t get started.  What you’re talking about is that there are ways to access this flow state whereby, not only would you get started writing, but you’ll actually write the best stuff you’ve ever written.  How do you get into this?

    Steven: Okay.

    John: What does it mean for you to be in a flow state and then how do get there?

    Steven: Well, so you’re asking a number of different questions and I’m going to back it up further, right.

    John: Okay.

    Steven: Most people don’t … it starts with creativity.  As I mentioned earlier, flow states have triggers.  Creativity is a trigger for flow.  What that actually means under the surface, if you look at creativity coming from a neurobiological level, what you see is risk taking because you’re going to have to do something new.  You’re going to have to put it into the public sphere.  There’s risk taking involved.  Risk is actually a trigger for flow.  Every time we take a risk, the brain releases a neurochemical called dopamine.  This is one of the chemicals that underpins flow and that helps put you into the state.  Risk also focuses attention, it drives attention into the now, right.  Obviously there’s danger, so you get focused attention.

    Simultaneously, you see pattern recognition.  Pattern recognition is the ability to link ideas together in new and unusual ways.  So, creativity, this isn’t always the case but often is.  It’s the result of something novel bumping into something old.  So a novel idea, a novel experience bumping into an old thought creates something utterly new, right.  That’s how it works under the surface and to make those connections for the novel thought to trigger to bump into the old idea, you need pattern recognition.  Where flow comes into play here is it actually amplifies both sides of this equation.

    When we’re in the state of flow, we’re more actually in the state, the neurochemicals that underpin the state sort of surround the creative process.  You get, I mentioned dopamine, you also get a chemical called norepinephrine.  Ignore the fancy names but just what’s important is that these two chemicals together massively increase focus, right.  We’re paying more attention.  We’re taking in more information so that heightens our access to novel information.  We’re paying more attention to what’s going on in the world.  We’re seeing more, we’re taking in more information.  We have actually greater access to novelties, so we have greater access to the front end of the creative process.

    Another thing these chemicals do is they lower signal to noise ratios, which is a fancy way of saying they allow the brain to see more patterns, to make more connections between ideas.  Not only are you taking in more ideas, the brain is heightening its ability to link these ideas together.  You’re also getting another neurochemical called anandamide.  This increases lateral thinking.  This is our ability to link tangentially related ideas together.  These three chemicals essentially surround the creative process so when we’re in flow, all are heightened, right, so everything becomes easier.

    Flow is actually a technical term.  Most people don’t know this but the state got its name because when you’re in flow, every decision, every action leads seamlessly, fluidly from the last.  Flow feels flowing.  The ideas just kind of roll.  There are reasons for this neuro-biologically.  One of them is that your pattern recognition system is all jacked up, so one idea can lead to the next, can lead to the next, can lead to the next, right.  In flow, once you’re in that state, the writing is going to go really, really well.

    The question you’re asking is if you’re not in flow, if you’re facing the blank page, how do you get yourself into that state?  That’s a kind of a different question and it’s got a couple different answers.  I think there are three easy answers.  The first we talked about earlier is the challenge skills cell, right.  How do you push up the challenge level in flow?  When I’m talking to young writers and teaching them about this stuff, I always say there are two tricks I use all the time when I’m stuck in a dope and I don’t know what to do.

    First of all, good writing, I don’t care what you’re writing, means telling the truth.  You have to be slightly vulnerable.  How vulnerable is slightly vulnerable?  Well, I want the challenge to slightly exceed my skill level. I have discovered that for me, that means I have to tell enough of the truth that I’m always slightly uncomfortable with what I’m writing.  That feeling of uncomfortably doesn’t necessarily go away.  I have just learned to recognize it as a level of honesty that leads to good writing, compelling writing, something people want to read.  On top of it, I’m taking risks here.  I’m giving myself the space to push up the challenge level, to take risks and to use those things to slide into flow.

    Concurrently, one of the other things I often do to push up the risk level, and I think this is a very useful technique for anybody and it’s going to sound silly, but go to your bookshelf, close your eyes, shove your hand out, grab a book at random and open it up.  Look at the first sentence you see and steal that sentence.  Take that sentence, write it down; that’s the first sentence of what you’re writing, but you can’t take the words obviously because that’s plagiarism, so replace all the words with your words.  There’s a noun there, you write a noun.  If there’s a verb there, you write a verb.

    You’re trying to write in somebody else’s style and somebody else’s voice.  By doing that, you’re replacing their words with your words and once you get that first sentence, you’re going to try to keep going in there, in that voice.  It’s like wearing a costume.  People are much more audacious, bold, creative, whatever you want, when they’re wearing costumes because they’re slightly hidden.  If you start writing in somebody else’s voice and you make it about trying to write your best work in their voice, even though you’re not … don’t copy their sentences, copy their structure.  It requires pattern recognition which will release dopamine which will trigger flow.

    These are two very simple exercises.  The thing you have to remember about flow, this is fundamental neurobiology, this is evolutionary biology.  Everybody is hardwired for optimal performance.  Ubiquitous shows up everywhere, so all we’re doing is we’re playing with ways to drive attention.  These tricks, they may seem really slight and small.  It seems kind of weird that something so small could bring on something so big, but this is just the way we’re hardwired.  We’re hardwired to have easy access to the state.

    John: Yes.

    Steven: You just need to know what you’re doing.

    John: Absolutely.  One thing that works for me, and I think a few of the listeners will relate to this, is when I’m writing say an email versus a sales letter, I’m not sure how much you’ve experienced with advertising stuff, but say with the sales letter, I find it really hard to write them.  I get all tongue tied, but let’s say if I sit down to write an email which is a much more relaxed form of marketing, often how I start an email especially if I can’t think of anything to say, and I’ll do this for sales letters as well … I mean you could do this with an article or a book or anything you’re writing.  I’ll just start writing.  I’m sitting here in my room, it’s 3:33pm and I’m drinking a coffee, and here I am, I’m going to sit here and write you an email or write you a whatever.

    It’s almost like when you remove the plug and you just let things … I mean here’s that word, you just let things flow, things just start.  It’s kind of like the brain starts.  It’s all blocked up, but once it starts going, it really starts going.  Then I can go back after the fact and edit those first few sentences out, but initially, those first few sentences can be the catalyst to actually trigger the rest of the writing.  That’s sort of like the tricks, although that would be another trick.

    Steven: You’re absolutely correct.  There’s two things I want to mention.  One is it’s important to know that flow … a lot of people think of flow as a binary, like a light switch.  You’re either in the zone or you’re out of the zone.  It doesn’t work that way at all.  It’s actually a 4-stage cycle, and a couple of stages don’t feel flowy at all.  At the front end of a flow state is what is known as struggle.  This is a loading phase.

    John: Yes.

    Steven: It means you’re overloading the brain with information.  In the struggle phase as a writer for example, if I’m researching an article, this is when I’m reading books, I’m reading articles, I’m doing hundreds of interviews.  I’m trying to figure out what the structure of what I’m going to write, what shape it’s going to take.  You’re really driving yourself to the absolute brink of frustration.  Then you talked about something very interesting, and this is the second stage of the flow cycle.  Once you’ve overloaded yourself and you’re at the brink of frustration and you can’t learn anymore, and you can’t take it anymore, you need to take your mind off the problem.  You actually need to relax.

    The second stage of the cycle is known as release and it happens, you know, some people get all their inspiration in the shower.  They’ve been working all day and they go into the shower.  It’s because by taking your mind off the problem, what is happening in flow, one of the things that is happening is we’re trading the conscious for the subconscious mind.  We’re handing over information processing duties to our subconscious, right.  We’re doing this for a lot of different reasons.  The conscious mind is very energy expensive.  It’s very slow, it’s not very fast.  The subconscious is much faster, it’s much more energy efficient.

    The brain is always trying to conserve energy.  The minute you relax and take your mind off the problem, brink and make this switch.  The subconscious is much faster than the conscious mind so we can find those patterns much, much easier.  That release period triggers the flow state itself which is the third stage in the cycle; great, huge high and this is followed by a deep low.  On the back end of the flow cycle is a recovery phase.  Those neurochemicals that we spoke about earlier are expensive to the brain to produce.  You need nutrition, you need sunlight and you need vitamins, et cetera, et cetera.  It takes a little while for the brain to be able to build them up again.

    During this period, you go from this very big high to this deep low.  A lot of people have a lot of difficulty kind of navigating that low.  Earlier we talked about the dark side of flow.  That low is part of the dark side.  You have to basically learn that you need to go through that recovery.  That’s, by the way, where that amplified learning takes place and if you’re stressed out during recovery because you don’t feel as great as you used to, you’ll block that learning cortisol which is the stressed form on blocked learning.

    Interestingly, you pointed out, you go back and you edit later.  This recovery phase when you’re really down is perfect because in flow, pattern recognition is all fired up so you have lots of ideas.  Not every one of them is a great one.  It feels like they’re all great, right.  This recovery phase, it’s actually, especially for writers I think, perfect because it’s a perfect time to go back and edit and see what was a good idea and what was a bad idea.  It’s interesting that the process you just described sort of maps onto the flow cycle itself.

    John: I absolutely love this idea.  I have this so many times with, not just writing, but just life in general where I’m frustrated and I’m depressed and I’m just pissed off that I can’t figure something out.  Then, maybe I chill out, I go for a walk or I’m off doing groceries or something like that, and all of the sudden it’s like the mind just starts firing.  It just goes into overdrive and it’s like, boom, there’s the solution.  Then I get home …

    Steven: Yes.

    John: … I sit down to work or I start toying … I often get it in conversations with someone.  It’s like the idea clicks in and all of the sudden, you see everything in a whole new light.  I love to remember those moments.

    Steven: Let me take it one step further for you.  This is not directly related to flow, though it tends to produce flow states on the back end.  Two things to know.  First of all, if you can’t get started, if it’s not clicking, there’s one of two reasons.  The first is that you haven’t done enough homework.  You really haven’t filled the brain with enough ideas for it to start pattern matching and making connections between ideas.  Sometimes if the walk, if those little halves that you’re talking about, aren’t working, it’s because you actually need to do more research.  You need to load the brain up more.

    Simultaneously, if it’s not clicking, if you’ve already loaded the brain up and you’re so frustrated, you still can’t find it and nothing’s coming together, you have to understand that this pattern matching and the pattern recognition is fundamental to the brain.  It’s what neurons do at a basic level so there’s nothing fancy going on here and you can actually program the system.  If you want to find out more about this, you can Google the MacGyver Method, which is one guy who’s teaching it.  The simple idea here is, and I do this by the way at the end of every writing day, right before I’m about to go up for the end of work, pull out a blank piece of paper and I give my subconscious an assignment.

    If I can’t write the opening line to my new book, I say subconscious, I would like you to write out the opening line to my next book.  I’d like to wake up tomorrow morning, start writing and have that line please.  Then you write out the question.  You want to write … I use a numerical system, kind of as many things.  You may not know what the opening line is but you know you want it to include the word peripatetic and you know, whatever descriptors, feelings, guts, whatever you have about this, write that down too.  Then, be done for the day.  What is going to happen is at some point, you’re going to forget that you did that, it’s going to click over from the conscious mind into the subconscious mind, right, writing it down.

    That’s why you’re writing it down.  By bringing in the tactical sense with everything else, you’re just kind of giving memory a little bit of a toehold into it.  You’re saying hey, this is important.  Do something with this.  Pattern recognition will take over.  Wake up the next morning just as you planned out, start writing.  It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, start writing.  You will find that the answer to your question, use of that line or whatever, will show up within the first couple of sentences because your brain has done the work while you were asleep, or while you were whatever, and you just have to kind of kick back in and access those files.

    This is simple brain function, but you can program, especially as a writer.  You can program your brain to problem solve for you creatively while you do other things.

    John: Yes, I love it.  It’s just great how simple it is.  What I’ve been telling myself recently is, I’ve got to take time off, but I know the brain’s still working.  I guess it’s giving me the permission almost to kind of go and relax, go bowling or go … I haven’t been bowling in two years.

    Steven: Well, you’re super right.  We teach this.  One of the things that’s really hard, especially for high-performing individuals, is understanding that flow has a cycle and that the brain works a certain fundamental way.  You can’t short circuit the process, right.  If you want to go back into a flow state, you have to go all the way through this cycle.  Most of the brain is like that, most of the things in the brain work that way.  There’s a process, there’s that cycle.

    John: Yes.

    Steven: It’s very useful to know how learning works under the surface, how creativity works under the surface, how flow works under the surface, because once you can figure that out, if you have to do something creative for a living, there are … not shortcuts, but there are ways to kind of maximize the process, right.

    John: It’s almost like you’ve got to … I was just thinking then that you  just learn to embrace it.  Instead of thinking like, well, how do I get on a high every single day, it’s like well, what stage am I in and how can I just maintain to keep showing up each day, keep showing up to work despite the fact that I feel frustrated because I know that in a few days, or next week, that state’s going to trigger, then I’m going to get a whole bunch of work done.  Then afterwards, I’ll be able to relax, do some editing, chill out, take a nap, all that sort of stuff.  You can embrace it, ride the roller coaster.

    Steven: Yes, absolutely.  On a certain level, you don’t want to take the roller coaster personally, right.  That’s really the truth of the matter.  You can’t really escape it, as far as I can tell, but you can’t take it too personally.  You need to understand that it’s a process and that what you’re feeling as frustration, for example, on the front end flow state, when you can’t start writing, when nothing’s coming together, that frustration is actually part of the process.  It’s a good thing and not a bad thing.

    John: Yes.

    Steven: Knowing this, over time and kind of practicing with it and living into I guess, gives you the confidence to kind of handle the emotions, have the emotional control to kind of get through it.  The other thing that’s so important, as you pointed out, you need that recovery phase.  You often see this in business.  I was talking to a salesman a couple days ago, there were just really high-stakes sales, and he was talking about how he’ll get into flow state.  He’ll go on a tear.  He’ll quadruple his sales and blow his quotas out of the water, 300% greater for a period of time.  On the back end of that, when the quarter’s over, he’ll actually need that deep recovery period, but instead he works for an organization where they say, oh my God, you did so great.  Here, here’s half the territory and we’re going to triple your quotas.

    There’s no time for recovery, the challenge level goes way up and he’s blocked from flow.  We talked earlier about action adventure athletes.  One of the reasons these guys got so good at getting in the flow so repeatedly had nothing to do with anything they were doing consciously.  It’s their sports are very weather dependent.  If you’re going to ride big waves, you’d have to wait for the storms to come in.  If you’re going to ski these amazing lines, you need perfect powder.  What happens is, storms blow in, everybody charges really hard for a few days, gets in the flow, does whatever, the storms leave and there’s a built-in recovery period on the back end.

    This doesn’t happen in our daily life very often and high performing people rarely give themselves time to recover, and it’s really important.  It’s really important to know that when you chill out and go back and edit, and kick your feet up and relax, that’s critical.  Just like taking your mind off the problem is critical.  These are counterintuitive things that kind of go against what high performers normally do which is just buckle down and buckle down, drive forward and drive forward, through hell or high water.

    John: Yes.

    Steven: You have to know that slow and steady wins this race.

    John: Absolutely.  It’s kind of like, yes, ever player or high performer has been through that stage where all they want to do is just work, work, work, work, work, because they’re a hustler.  If they just work harder than anyone else, they’re going to get there.  Then eventually, everyone realized that when you do that and you burn out, and then you crash, then it’s much worse than if you’d taken a short break every now and then.

    Steven: Yes.

    John: Cool.

    Steven: Absolutely.

    John: Alright, well let’s wrap it up here.  I really appreciate you coming on to talk about flow.  Before we wrap this up though, give the listener a heads up about where they can go to learn more about your book, or books, and then we’ll say goodbye.

    Steven: Absolutely.  You want to check out riseofsuperman.com, stevenkotler.com, or my organization, theflowgenomeproject.co.  On the flow genome project website, there’s a flow diagnostic free-of-charge.  Anybody can sign up and take it, and it basically is kind of a quick survey that looks at the categories in your life, the things that you do, that you like to do, where you’re most likely to find flow.  It’s a great primer if people want to get started.

    John: Cool, I’m going to go check that out right after we sign-off here.  One other thing that’s a little bit unrelated to flow is your other book, Abundance, which I read two years ago.  I absolutely loved it.  It put me in the best and extremely positive state just about the future of mankind.  If you’re looking for something that’s going to pump you up and get you excited, go and check out Steven’s book, Abundance, as well.  Steven, thank you.  Thanks for coming on the show.

    Steven: Thanks for having me.

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