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Hacking Flow for Faster Learning with Steven Kotler

If you want to learn and memorize better, you need to get into a flow state – but how do you do that? Find out with the leading expert on human performance: Steven Kotler.

"To really achieve anything, you have to be able to tolerate and enjoy risk. It has to become a challenge to look forward to. In all fields, to make exceptional discoveries you need risk—you’re just never going to have a breakthrough without it."

Steven Kotler

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Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, when you are totally absorbed in what you’re doing. You lose your sense of time, your brain takes in more information per second, and you process more deeply. Learn how to get into a flow state with Steven Kotler, director of research for the Flow Genome Project and world expert in human performance.

The 4 Most Important Conditions for Flow


  1. Action/adventure athletes hack flow easily because it’s easy to focus when your life is on the line.
  2. To hack flow, you need to believe in it as if your life was on the line, according to Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard University.
  3. Your goal has to be massively important to you.

Challenge/Skills Balance

  1. Your challenge has to be slightly harder than your skill set.
  2. If you overwhelm yourself, you’ll swamp the system and have a fight-or-flight response.
  3. If it’s too easy, you’ll become bored.
  4. If you want to generate a lot of flow in your life, you have to challenge yourself every day.

Clear Goals

  • Your goals need to be extremely specific – clear, measurable, and something you can see and cite.

Immediate Feedback

  1. It’s easy to find flow in sports because you’re getting constant kinesthetic feedback.
  2. In business, you can’t wait several months for feedback – you need it immediately.
  3. Flow underpins most breakthroughs and drives most creativity.

The 4 States of Flow

The first state of flow is a priming or loading state

  • You must start by overwhelming yourself with information.
  • If you want to hack flow, you can’t attach to the frustration because you need the cortisol and norepinephrine release.
  • Realize the frustration is part of the experience you’re going after and accept it as a good thing.

The second stage is a release, or a relaxation response

  • You must relax completely and take all of that struggle out of your mind.

The third stage is a peak experience, which is a very big high

  • You need to be careful because you can easily get distracted.
  • The flow state is a state of ultimate performance so you want to stay focused.
  • You don’t want to waste the state because the longer you can stretch out your flow state, the longer you can stretch out the next one.

The final stage is a recovery period

  • This is a learning and a memory consolidation state.
  • Flow massively amplifies learning and enhances memory, but the neurochemicals it requires take up a lot of energy.
  • After you are in a flow state for a few hours, you’re going to be depressed.
  • Don’t get hung up on this feeling because otherwise, you won’t be able to return to the struggle stage.

Some Final Thoughts On Flow

  • People who are very good at flow states, aka high performers, don’t use small steps. They start over and do only those things that produce flow. Altruism produces a very unusual flow state called helper’s high.
  • Normal flow states last 2 -3 hours, but flow states brought on by altruism last 2 – 3 days.
  • Video games produce a low-grade flow state, as do sports and music. People who are good at this have redesigned their entire life around flow state.

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