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How To Train Focus & Flow with Steven Kotler

Steven Kotler is an expert in flow and the New York Times bestselling author of 8 books, including his latest: Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work (with Jamie Wheal).

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How do you train focus for high performance? How do you train focus for high performance? In this episode, I talk about focus and flow with New York Times bestselling author Steven Kotler.

What Flow Is and Why It Matters

  • Flow is technically defined as an optimal state of consciousness, where we feel our best and perform our best.
  • Synonyms include ‘runner’s high,’ ‘being in the zone,’ and more.
  • During flow, you’re so absorbed in the task that everything else disappears. Your sense of self vanishes, and time slows down or speeds up.
  • Flow has several benefits.
  • According to McKinsey, productivity spikes 500% in flow.
  • The Department of Defense found that learning accelerates 470% in flow.
  • Various studies have found that creativity spikes between 400 – 700% in flow.

How to Focus for Flow

  • In order to maximize flow, you need to concentrate for 90 – 120-minute chunks of time.
  • Outside of action sports, the highest-flow environment for flow is Montessori education, which is built around 90 – 120 minute periods of uninterrupted concentration.
  • You want to be able to stay hyper-focused for 120-minute blocks AND you need to find 120-minute blocks in your life.
  • First, you must train your brain.
  • Then, you must train your life to fit your high-performance needs.
  • Organizations need to be built around flow principles. If your work environment doesn’t allow you to disappear for 120 minutes, you won’t be able to achieve flow.
  • Our focus and concentration is terrible – but it’s very elastic and easy to switch.
  • There is no such thing as multitasking. We are constantly task-switching, which has a cognitive cost.
  • The average goldfish can pay attention for 9 seconds. We can pay attention for 8 seconds.
  • Most people online now get bored if the content lasts more than 2 minutes and 37 seconds.
  • If you watch a movie after watching lots of shorter videos, the first 15 – 20 minutes is uncomfortable because you’re not used to focusing. However, once you give in and relax, you have a great time. This has to do with neuroplasticity.
  • Focus is very easy to train. Just 4 daily 20-minute sessions of mantra meditation can improve cognitive performance.
  • To experience the emotional benefits of meditation, you need to practice for 2 weeks.
  • Stephen Dixon, one of the world’s most prolific writers, edits one page a day and writes one page a day. If you can do that for 365 days, you’ll have a book. Dixon trained himself to write that page in 20 minutes.
  • If you can’t focus for 90 minutes, try focusing for 7 minutes at a time.
  • Pick something you really love and want to do.
  • Passion matters as a motivation hack – it helps us train focus because we pay more attention to the things we believe in.
  • If you want really big creative periods, you need to focus for 4 hours.
  • One of the reasons Steven awakens at 4AM is because the world doesn’t wake up until 6:30AM, so nobody is trying to contact him.
  • You have to give yourself permission to take the time back from your life.

Maintaining Focus During Your Transitions

  • Successful people are good at focusing on one thing, but get distracted at the transitions.
  • When they transition, they check their email or make phone calls. This can cause an emotional reaction, which takes energy from your focus.
  • Figure out how many things you can do successfully during your average day. Steven can do 8 things. He writes for 4 hours, and then fits the others into the rest of his workday.
  • How can you transition between tasks without coming out of that flow state?
  • It took Microsoft coders 15 minutes to return to a flow state when they were bounced out of it – if they were able to return to it at all.
  • Train yourself to transition directly without a break.
  • Use heavy short breathwork to reset your system.
  • Instead of trying to downregulate your nervous system by checking your email, do a minute of “breath of fire” or Wim Hof breathing followed by 3 minutes of box breathing.
  • Wim Hof breathing involves really fast inhales that clean out the system quickly so you can’t think of anything else.
  • For box breathing, do 10-second to 12-second sides around the box.
  • Steven uses this technique to refresh his system, especially if he’s had a bad writing session, so that he can keep focus.

Did you enjoy this episode? Share it with your friends! Don’t forget to tag me @jimkwik and Steven @stevenkotler.

Want to learn more about focus?Check out our 30-day focus program, the Kwik Focus Blueprint!


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