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Fast Focus & Flow (Q&A with Steven Kotler)

In our latest episode with flow expert Steven Kotler, I ask him all your burning questions about how to maintain a state of peak performance.

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Steven Kotler

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In our latest episode with flow expert Steven Kotler, I ask him all your burning questions about how to maintain a state of peak performance. If you haven’t listened to our previous episodes with Steven, you can find them here and here.

Can you live in a flow state?

  • It is impossible to live in a flow state. Even the best flow hackers in the world plateau.
  • However, you can shorten the amount of time between flow states. As you get better at it, you’ll move through cycle more cleanly.
  • People love the flow high so they stay in it as long as they can. But doing so exhausts the dopamine supplies in the brain, making it much harder to rebound.
  • One of the best way to fight writer’s block is to stop when you’re most excited – in the middle of a sentence or even a word.
  • Dopamine and norepinephrine (your focus-enhancing chemicals) only last 20 minutes.
  • By the time you notice you’re excited, you’re already deep into a flow state, so the chemicals will only last for 5 more minutes – which means you’re not giving up that much.
  • This is why TED talks are 20 minutes long.
  • This is also why you get exhausted when watching a James Bond movie, because they exhaust your dopamine and norepinephrine levels are exhausted.
  • Quitting while you’re at your peak means you don’t have the memory of failure or ending and it makes it easier to return.
  • The easiest way to hack motivation is to stack motivation.

What technology can I use to improve my flow state?

  • There has been an explosion in transformative technology, and it works amazingly for some people.
  • Steven uses technology but tries not to depend on it because he wants to be able to focus intensely whenever, wherever he wants.
  • When you experience fear, your abilities drop to your level of training. This is why Navy SEALS say: Fight how you train. Train how you fight.
  • Steven uses breathing techniques to get into flow because you can use that anytime.

How can I use music to improve my flow state?

  • Steven makes 1 – 2 playlists for each book he’s writing that mimic the way he wants his book to feel, and he listens to them over and over.
  • When he was writing Stealing Fire, Steven listened to a lot of Sun Kil Moon and Radiohead.

What is Steven’s morning routine?

  • Steven drinks coffee, then gets from his bed to his desk as fast as possible to start writing. Your brain wakes up in alpha, so Steven wants to preserve that.
  • Steven writes for 4 hours, then writes a gratitude list.
  • Steven lists 10 things he’s grateful for and writes a paragraph about one.
  • Focusing on the positive lowers your anxiety and cortisol levels, and anxiety can limit creativity.
  • Steven takes an hour-long hike with his dogs to refresh and has breakfast.
  • It’s hardest to transition back into work after breakfast, so Steven does box breathing for about 5 minutes.

What can I do regularly to access flow states more regularly?

Have the conversations that will allow you to have 90 – 120 minutes of uninterrupted concentration

  1. Talk to your colleagues and loved ones.
  2. If you don’t have the conversation, the guilt will steal energy you could be using to focus.

Train your focus on a daily basis

  1. Start by focusing for 9 minutes. The next day, do 10.
  2. You need to do this slowly. The goal isn’t to get there overnight.
  3. Long-time horizons for change are very helpful.

Train risk

  1. Do something every day that scares you a little. If you’re shy, talk to strangers.
  2. You want to cultivate the habit of ferocity. When faced with any scary situation, you automatically lean in – you don’t have time to think about it.

Want more from Steven?

Find him on Twitter, his website, or at the Flow Research Collective. I also recommend you read The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance and 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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