Cover of book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance

The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance

by: Steven Kotler

Check out the book on Amazon | your public library.
An amazing book getting into the nitty gritty of flow with entertaining and amazing stories of adventure and adventurous people. This is a good book if you want a summary of flow research, want to know what to do to get to flow more often and in the context of daily life (and maybe some adventure sports too).
64 Highlights | 1 Note
  • Researchers recently coined the phrase “Twenty-First-Century Skills” to describe those myriad abilities our children need to thrive in this century–abilities not currently taught in school, but desperately needed in society. Action and adventure sports demand them all.
  • “Skateboarding is a game of failure,” says Way. “That’s what makes this sport so different. Skaters are willing to take a great deal of physical punishment. We’ll try something endlessly, weeks on end, painful failure after painful failure after painful failure. But for me, when it finally snaps together, when I’m really pushing the edge and skating beyond my abilities, there’s a zone I get into. Everything goes silent. Time slows down. My peripheral vision fades away. It’s the most peaceful state of mind I’ve ever known. I’ll take all the failures. As long as I know that feeling is coming, that’s enough to keep going.”
  • frequently. Not surprisingly, our creativity lies deeply rooted in the right side of the brain: the side dominated by the implicit system.
  • role, as it now seems that without a calm, relaxed frame of mind, the brain is incapable of switching from beta-dominant localized networks to alpha-driven widespread webs. But this isn’t
  • taking.” Focus was the key to getting past the fear—and everything else as well.
  • another enemy. In normal life, our ability to resist temptation is critical to survival, but flow is an action state: the Voice tells us what to do and we do it.
  • Applying this idea in our daily life means breaking tasks into bite-size chunks and setting goals accordingly. A writer, for example, is better off trying to pen three great paragraphs at a time—the equivalent of moving through Mandy-Rae’s kick cycles—rather than attempting one great chapter. Think challenging, yet manageable—just enough stimulation to shortcut attention into the now, not enough stress to pull you back out again.
  • Immediate feedback, our next internal trigger, is another shortcut into the now. The term refers to a direct, in-the-moment coupling between cause and effect.
  • Tighten feedback loops. Put mechanisms in place so attention doesn’t have to wander. Ask for more input. How much input? Well, forget quarterly reviews. Think daily reviews.
  • in what scientists call the flow channel—the spot where the task is hard enough to make us stretch but not hard enough to make us snap.
  • you want to trigger flow, the challenge should be 4 percent greater than the skills.
  • Or, as Stanford neurologist Robert Sapolsky likes to say: “maybe (meaning uncertainty) is addictive like nothing else out there.”
  • This is why the challenge/skill ratio is so important. If we want to achieve the kinds of accelerated performance we’re seeing in action and adventure sports, then it’s 4 percent plus 4 percent plus 4 percent, day after day, week after week, months into years into careers. This is the road to real magic.
  • Seriously, who can’t push 4 percent further than the last time around? Or, for that matter, clarify goals or tighten feedback loops? It’s not too difficult to keep flow’s internal triggers in mind when
  • challenge/skill ratio. If you consistently overestimate or underestimate your abilities, then tuning that ratio is like playing darts handcuffed and blindfolded. To find 4 percent, you need accurate self-knowledge—and this is tricky for fixed mindsetters.
  • “It’s a job to continuously find flow,” says Mike Horn, arguably the greatest living adventurer (among other accomplishments, Horn and a companion became the first to hike to the North Pole during the winter). “You have to train your body to prepare for the state, you have to train your mind to prepare for the state. You have to know yourself, and your limits, know exactly what you’re afraid of and exactly how hard to push past it. That’s serious work. But get it right and not only does it become easier to find flow once, it becomes easier to find it again and again.”
  • The first step in the flow cycle is known as “struggle.” Herbert Benson, the Harvard cardiologist who did much of the foundational research on this cycle, chose that name for a reason.
  • Struggle is a loading phase: we are overloading the brain with information. “For a businessperson,” writes Benson in his book The Breakout Principle, “this may be concentrated problem analysis or fact gathering. The serious athlete may engage in extensive and demanding physical training. The person on a spiritual quest may plunge into concentrated study…or intense prayer, meditation, or soul searching.”
  • A profound chemical change takes place during struggle. To amp up focus and alertness, stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine are pumped into the system. Tension rises. Frustration as well. Our problems seem unsolvable, our effort unsustainable, and the whole situation feels as far from flow as one could get. How we handle these negative feelings is critical. In struggle, we’re using the conscious mind to identify patterns, then repeating those patterns enough times that they become chunks.
  • The next stage in the cycle is “release.” To move out of struggle and into flow, you must first pass through this second stage.
  • Release means to take your mind off the problem, to,
  • as Benson says, “completely sever prior thought and emotional patterns.”
  • And the zone, the flow state itself, is the third stage in this cycle. Struggle gives way to release gives way to flow—hallelujah.
  • But just like struggle, recovery is another cycle step that doesn’t feel flowy. Handling the massive delta between the world-at-your-feet sensation that comes with flow and the utterly ordinary, all-too-human reality that shows up afterward is not always pleasant. There’s no more feel-good neurochemistry, no more superhuman powers.
    Note: Fgg
  • It can take a considerable amount of resilience to navigate recovery; here too a growth mindset makes a difference.
  • next round of struggle. And this too doesn’t happen much anymore. In today’s world, rarely do we give ourselves permission to recover; rarely does anyone else. Finish one project and there are always
  • Walsh’s philosophy is: “It’s not how good you are; it’s how good you want to be.” He has a growth mindset.
  • Sooner or later, there’s always a Jaws: a mental hurdle we can’t clear, a decision too dangerous to attack head on. In those situations, sideways is forward. Plus, these days, sideways is often the way life works.
  • Momentum over time—that’s the invisible kung fu.
  • Training is the next concern. Flow is found at the far edge of our abilities. Athletes have to stay in tip-top shape to continue pushing up the challenge level and accessing the state. While some cross-training is always possible, there’s no real substitute for hours on the hill (on a bike, in a kayak, etc.).
  • Hedonism has a bad name and telling people you’re addicted to an altered state where self vanishes and time slows down rarely elicits the best of reactions.
  • how to make a living amid all this flow hunting.
  • He knew that a person who didn’t mind a little hardship had no need of a full-time job.
  • The best incentive for a long-term visit, sensed early by Powell, was that by climbing four or five times a week one could get into magnificent shape, something that weekenders couldn’t.
  • Innovation breeds imitation.
  • Why is “together” such an effective strategy? For starters, the obvious. Humans are a social species.
  • arise. If you’ve ever sung with a church choir, played in a band, played a team sport, taken part in a play, taken part in a brainstorming session, gone dancing, gone to a rock concert, joined a startup, joined a drum circle, done improvisational anything—those highlight moments forever seared in your memory: that too is group flow in action.
  • But Sawyer also discovered that flow states have social triggers—ten in particular—which are ways to alter social conditions to produce more group flow. A number of these social triggers are already familiar. The first three—serious concentration; shared, clear goals; good communication (i.e., lots of immediate feedback)—are the collective
  • Two more—equal participation and an element of risk (mental, physical, whatever)—are self-explanatory given what we already know about flow.
  • Familiarity, our next trigger, means the group has a common language, a shared knowledge base, and a communication style based on unspoken understandings.
  • Then there’s blending egos—which is the collective version of the same sort of humility that allowed Doug Ammons to merge with the Stikine.
  • Always say yes, our final trigger, means interactions should be additive more than argumentative. The goal here is the momentum, togetherness, and innovation that comes from ceaselessly amplifying each other’s ideas and actions. It’s a trigger based on the first rule of improv comedy. If I open a sketch with, “Hey, there’s a blue elephant in the bathroom,” then “No, there’s not,” is the wrong response. With the denial, the scene goes nowhere. But if the reply is affirmative instead—“Yeah, sorry, there was no more space in the cereal cupboard”—well then that story goes someplace interesting. In the
  • risk. That’s why people who seek out group flow often join startups or work for themselves. Serial entrepreneurs keep starting new business as much for the flow experience, as for the additional success.”
  • Don’t be fooled by the danger. In action and adventure sports, creativity is always the point.”
  • Every time we have a creative insight and share it with the world, we come up against some very primal terrors: fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of social ridicule, fear of loss of resources (time, money, access, etc.). There’s significant risk involved in every step of this process.
  • Now, the ‘free’ prefix is used in all kinds of action sports—e.g., freesurfing and freeriding (meaning on a mountain bike), when people are performing outside of competition.”
  • More important, freeriding tilted the value structure of action and adventure sports. It overemphasized self-expression. It de-emphasized winning. And especially de-emphasized the idea of a solitary winner.
  • We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for. — ALICE WALKER
  • path. All or nothing tends to be the kind of commitment flow demands—and it demands it of everyone.
  • Flow forces you to evaluate life through a different lens. It gives you reason to live—but live this way long enough and those reasons become more important than dying. This is what the self-help books don’t tell you.
  • “No question about it,” says Flow Genome Project executive director Jamie Wheal, “there’s a dark night of the flow. In Christian mystical traditions, once you’ve experienced the grace of God, the ‘dark night of the soul’ describes the incredible pain of its absence. The same is true for flow. An enormous gap sits between the ecstasy of the zone and the all-too-familiar daily toil waiting for us on the other end. If you’ve glimpsed this state, but can’t get back there—that lack can become unbearable.”
  • I hope you talk a little about how utterly fucked we can become when we get too old or broken or smart to keep it up. Not all of us experience a happy life after doing this shit for a couple of decades.
  • What’s painfully ironic here is that flow is a radical and alternative path to mastery only because we have decided that play—an activity fundamental to survival, tied to the greatest neurochemical rewards the brain can produce, and flat out necessary for achieving peak performance, creative brilliance, and overall life satisfaction—is a waste of time for adults.
  • problem. Even in less extreme work lives, once we start accessing flow with regularity, performance will dramatically improve and new expectations will follow. Those added expectations will push the difficulty level up a few notches, and this extra psychological burden can easily send us past the challenge/skill sweet spot, rendering us unable to access the very state we need to meet those new expectations.
  • In esoteric terms, flow’s tendency toward disruption is the reason it could be considered a “left-hand path.” A “right-hand path” is a path of orthodoxy. It’s cut, dry, and filled with “thou shalt nots.” On a right-hand path, we follow the rules and do what we’re told and no questions asked. This may sound dull, but right-hand paths have a very long history of keeping us safe. A “left-hand path,” meanwhile, is an ecstatic path and mostly gray. It’s little guidance and less security. Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism, warned that a left-hand path is best never begun, and once begun, must absolutely be finished.
  • play with fire, not how to play with fire. On the flow path, we are drawn forward by fire; by powerful hedonic instincts; by our deep need for autonomy, mastery, and purpose deeply fulfilled; by dizzyingly feel-good neurochemistry; by a spectrum of joy beyond common ken; by the undeniable presence of our most authentic selves; by a cognitive imperative to make meaning from experience; by the search engine that is evolution and its need for innovation; and by the simplest of truths: life is long and we’re all scared and, in flow,
  • Is there a lesson here for the rest of us? Of course. There’s no way to avoid the dark side of flow.
  • And the key that Rice and others have found is to embrace that suffering, to move through it, and to keep moving. This means learning to use the bad to fuel the good.
  • Our limits are governed by flow’s ability to amplify performance as much as by imagination’s ability to dream up that performance. So asking the question “Where do our limits lie?” is another way of asking, “How far can we stretch our imagination?” Here in the twenty-first century, pretty far indeed.
  • What does impossible feel like, sound like, look like. And then we start to be able to see ourselves doing the impossible—that’s the secret. There is an extremely tight link between our visual system and our physiology: once we can actually see ourselves doing the impossible, our chances of pulling it off increase significantly.”
  • Folks who did no physical training but merely imagined their fingers going through precise exercise motions saw a 35 percent increase in strength, while the ones who visualized arm exercises saw a 13.5 percent increase in strength.
  • Visualization also firms up aims and objectives, further amplifying flow. With an image of perfect performance fixed in our mind, the intrinsic system knows what needs to happens, keeping the extrinsic system from getting too involved. Similarly, when attempting something that’s never been done before, we’re much more likely to keep fear at bay and stay in the challenge/skill sweet spot if we’ve mentally rehearsed an action ahead of time.
  • impossible, but this has never been take two pills and climb Everest in the morning. Committing to this path demands a radical restructuring of our days and our ways. It demands a considerable tolerance for risk and a considerable shift in culture. We must learn how to play with fire. We must learn to learn faster. We must learn to live thousands of lives in our
  • But what those naked spread-eagles represent a relentless challenging of the status quo, an everlasting belief in our own possibility, a playful excellence in the face of mortal consequences, well, as mentioned, there’s something to be said for the wisdom of our elders.