343. The Flow State Formula: Peak Performance, Passion & Purpose

Steven Kotler

DISCLAIMER: This podcast is presented for educational and exploratory purposes only. Published content is not intended to be used for diagnosing or treating any illness. Those responsible for this show disclaim responsibility for any possible adverse effects from the use of information presented by Luke or his guests. Please consult with your healthcare provider before using any products referenced. This podcast may contain paid endorsements for products or services.

Human performance expert, Steven Kotler, shows us how to access a flow state to live a life of passion and productivity with the help of neuroscience and an intentional to-do list

Steven Kotler is a New York Times-bestselling author, an award-winning journalist, and the Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective. He is one of the world’s leading experts on human performance.

He is the author of nine bestsellers (out of thirteen books), including The Art of Impossible, The Future is Faster Than You Think, Stealing Fire, The Rise of Superman, Bold, and Abundance. His work has been nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes, translated into over 40 languages, and has appeared in over 100 publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Wired, Atlantic Monthly, Wall Street Journal, TIME, and the Harvard Business Review

Steven is also the co-host of Flow Research Collective Radio, a top ten iTunes science podcast. Along with his wife, author Joy Nicholson, he is the co-founder of the Rancho de Chihuahua dog sanctuary.

DISCLAIMER: This podcast is presented for educational and exploratory purposes only. Published content is not intended to be used for diagnosing or treating any illness. Those responsible for this show disclaim responsibility for any possible adverse effects from the use of information presented by Luke or his guests. Please consult with your healthcare provider before using any products referenced. This podcast may contain paid endorsements for products or services.

I was stoked when I got the chance to speak to human performance expert, Steven Kotler, about discovering purpose by accessing a flow state, and unleashing passions from your vision board out into the real world. 

Being “inflow” is a somewhat vague term frequently dropped in wellness circles that often lack the concrete tools to get you into that state or explain why it’s good for you. However, Steven’s performance principles, grounded in neuroscience, rigorous research, and real-life examples (myself being one of them), demonstrate how a flow state of mind can alter your daily routine and even your life’s trajectory. 

We dig into some of Steven’s core principles from his most recent book, The Art of the Impossible, and dissect the best ways to approach your dreaded to-do list so that you can squeeze more juice – with a dash of Dopamine – out of your everyday life. 

12:02 — What Do We Mean by Peak Performance?

  • Motivation, learning, creativity, and flow
  • Why his work is relevant to these times 
  • How The Flow Research Collective has evolved during the Covid-19 crisis 

24:18 — Reinventing Yourself 

  • Stabilizing your nervous system 
  • Gratitude, mindfulness, and exercise
  • The Passion Recipe 
  • Cherishing hard work 

41:00 —How to Get into a Flow State

  • The power of memories 
  • Using history as a resource 
  • Finding your personal strength 

49:44 — The “No Pressure, No Diamonds” Principle

  • Taking what you want from the world
  • Rising to the challenge 
  • Dealing with procrastination 
  • Doing the hard thing first 
  • Dopamine rewards 
  • The path of mastery 

1:05:15 — The To-do List

  • The difference between high hard goals and clear goals
  • Hand motion and memory 
  • Getting into flow as a writer 

More about this episode.

Watch it on YouTube.

[00:00:00]Luke Storey:  I'm Luke Storey. For the past 22 years, I've been relentlessly committed to my deepest passion, designing the ultimate lifestyle based on the most powerful principles of spirituality, health, psychology. The Life Stylist podcast is a show dedicated to sharing my discoveries and the experts behind them with you. Welcome to the show, Steven Kotler. It's been a long time coming, my friend.

[00:00:28]Steven Kotler:  It's good to be with you.

[00:00:29]Luke Storey:  Yeah, man. I'm stoked. The first time I became aware of your work was a few years ago at the Bulletproof Conference in Pasadena.

[00:00:36]Steven Kotler:  Oh, my God. That was a long time ago.

[00:00:38]Luke Storey:  Yeah, long time ago. I think it might have been the first one they did there. And I remember walking through the tech hall, and then seeing these crazy sort of amusement park-esque trapeze rides, and people flying on these giant swing sets, and all of the stuff. And I stopped and chatted with you for a moment. And I was like, what are you guys doing here? And you said, we're working with flow states. And from that moment on, I was made aware of the phenomenon of flow. And I'm really excited about having a conversation with you about it today.

[00:01:08]Steven Kotler:  Let's do it. That was a long time ago. That was my old company.

[00:01:11]Luke Storey:  Yeah. That was a while back. Since I know based on my study of your work that your goal seems to be peak performance that one can manage with their own physiology rather than relying on the trappings of external devices, and supplements, and all of that, do you still do anything in the physical realm to help elicit those states as you were then?

[00:01:39]Steven Kotler:  We work predominantly using physiological and psychological interventions. And there are a bunch of different reasons. If I want to be really dramatic, when I'm trying to be really dramatic and I'm telling it this way, what I say is, look, I'm not saying substance is pharmacological interventions, can't be interesting and possible here, and I'm not saying there's technological stuff that might be possible here, but when I was a journalist, on five separate occasions, I was shot at.

[00:02:10] And at no point when somebody was shooting at me, going to be like, excuse me, sir, would you put down the AK while I use this brainwave, and trade technology, and get my mind right, so I caould dodge your bullet. That's just not how the real world works, or when the boss says, can you get in here? I know, yeah, we're going to give that presentation next Friday, but instead, we need it today, and do it for my boss, and her boss, and her boss, and your job depends on it. 

[00:02:34] Or the much more familiar example, hey, honey, can you come in here for a minute so I can talk to you? No, there's no time to microdose. Like it's just not going to work in that, right? So, I want something that is reliable, repeatable, works anywhere, and works everywhere. So, that's where we put our focus. And so, it's stuff that it's not that I don't think the other stuff is useful, and occasionally, we run a research project.

[00:03:04] We've got an ongoing multi-year research project into relationship between cannabis, THC, and flow, and another ongoing research project that actually just completed with the folks at Imperial College in London, Robin Carhart-Harris's lab, where they do all the really cool neuroimaging of psychedelics. And we did a very interesting comparison and contrast study between flow and psychedelics in trying to figure out where is each of these tools most useful, right? Those kinds of questions.

[00:03:35]Luke Storey:  I gathered that from your new book, The Art of Impossible. That book is very much about self-regulation and self-management to achieve peak states. And there's so much valuable info in there. And I think for the most part, I mean, there's just a lot to unpack, and I'm sure that's the freshest content in your mind, so I'd like to kind of dive into some of that, because I think there's so much value in there.

[00:03:59] And also, as someone who is very enamored with all of the technologies, and supplements, and things like that, I have a vested interest in helping people build the awareness that they don't need external things to help improve their lives, that really, all the tools we need ultimately are within ourselves. And I think in your book, you did such a great job of laying out a blueprint that people can use.

[00:04:25] So, I think I'd like to start with something that you talked about as the passion recipe. And I think a lot of people have interest and have a difficult time identifying what perhaps is different between something they're interested in and something they're passionate about. And once we've discovered something we're passionate about, how is it possible that we can align that passion with our purpose? And maybe that would be a good place for us to start.

[00:04:53]Steven Kotler:  Do you mind if I back it up three quick steps further and just give people three things that are going to make all of this so much more useful?

[00:05:02]Luke Storey:  Do it.

[00:05:03]Steven Kotler:  Let's start with, what do we mean by peak performance? And peak performance, one way to think about it is it's nothing more or less than getting our biology, as you pointed out, to work for us rather than against us. That's what we're talking about. Now, when we say our biology, what are we talking about there? Well, I predominantly focus on cognitive peak performance. This is not to say that flow doesn't amplify physical skills, and there's that part of this equation, but predominantly, I'm focused on the mental half of the equation.

[00:05:35] And when you look at the biology of cognitive peak performance, you're really talking about a quartet of skill sets. One is motivation. Passion recipe, which you brought up fits into this motivation category. So then, we're going to come back there in a second. There's a bunch of motor skills that fit under the heading of motivation, a bunch of skills that fit under the heading of learning, a bunch of skills that fit under the head of creativity, and finally, a bunch of skills that fit under the heading of flow.

[00:06:03] Now, quick pause to define flow in case you don't know what flow is, it is technically an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and we perform our best. And really, it refers to any of those kind of in the zone moments of rapt attention, get so focused on the task at hand, and everything else just seems to disappear. And action awareness will start to emerge. Sense of self will diminish. And throughout this experience, all aspects of performance, both mental and physical, will go through the roof.

[00:06:30] So, that's flow. Now, why these four skills? Like what does one have to do with the other is the last thing I'll say, and then I'll go answer your question. The way I like to think about it and the way that might be useful as we kind of move through the conversation of this book is motivation is what gets you into the game, peak performance. Learning is what allows you to continue to play. Creativity, especially if you're going after kind of high, hard goals, you don't quite know where they are, is how you steer. 

[00:07:00] And flow, the state of optimal performance is how you turbo boost the results kind of beyond all expectation. So, that's a great overview of what we're talking about. And so, this starts with motivation. We want to get into the game. What does the research show us about motivation? The passion recipe is actually a stepping step. There's one thing before that that's worth bringing up. When people talk about motivation, they really talk about four things. 

[00:07:26] Extrinsic motivation, the stuff in the world. We might want money, sex, fame that we'll go after or that we're motivated to go after. Intrinsic motivation, and there are five big internal motivators. Curiosity, passion, purpose, autonomy, and mastery. And then, they're also talking about grit and goal-setting. Now, when you're trying to improve performance, the place you want to start is always with extrinsic motivation, because that's where the system is designed to start.

[00:07:56] The system basically says, hey, if you don't make enough money to pay your rent and pay for your food, there's too much fear in the equation and you're going to have a very hard time performing at your best. So, what the research shows is we need to make essentially enough money to pay our bills with a little left over for discretionary income. And it's really a little. It's not a lot. But that's where the conversation starts. Okay. So, most of us have that.

[00:08:19] Once you're there, what do you want next? You want intrinsic motivators. As I said, there are five of them and they're actually all designed. And when I say designed, I mean biologically from an evolutionary basis, that evolution evolved the human organism to solve certain challenges in a certain way. So, that's what I'm talking about when I say the system was designed. And this is over millions and millions of years. Intrinsic motivation starts with curiosity. 

[00:08:49] It's the most basic driver. And what's the big deal with curiosity? Quite simply, you get focused for free. There's not a whole lot of levers to work with in any given situation, right? You want to improve your performance in the bowling alley, well, there are two things you've got. You've got your skills as a bowler, and we all know those improve, but slowly over time, and that's a skill acquisition, a learning game. And then, you have the focus, the attention you're going to bring to the bowling. 

[00:09:20] The focus, the attention is your big lever. Brain is 25% of your energy, uses 25% of your energy when it's at rest. Forget about it, I'm trying to pay attention to something. And it's 2% of our body mass. So, it's this big energy hog and the brain always wants to save energy. That's besides the point, but in focus, when you're curious about something, oh, this is cool, I'm into it, you get focused for free. That's the big deal here.

[00:09:48] And focus from a biological perspective is designed, we build into this thing that you were talking about that is so mysterious to so many people and they want it so badly in today's world, which is passion. Passion is nothing more than the intersection of multiple curiosity. So, you could find four or five things that you're curious about, and you could figure out where they all meet, and then you can start learning, and playing there, and getting some wins.

[00:10:15] And by wins, I mean things that produce reward chemicals like dopamine. This is how you build passion. Once the system has passion, it wants purpose, which is attaching that passion to something greater than yourself. Now, why does the system want purpose? We hear about purpose a lot in the world today. And again, it's one of these sort of mystical terms. I've got passion. I've got purpose. I want to help the world. And it sounds very altruistic, and it might be, but from a performance perspective, it's really selfish. 

[00:10:50] When we have curiosity, the reason we pay so much attention to things is because we've got norepinephrine and dopamine, two reward chemicals in our system. These chemicals drive focus by enhancing excitement and attention, right? What is passion? It's a lot of norepinephrine and dopamine. It's that little bit of curiosity turned up to maximum when you take that passion and you attach it to something that is outside of yourself, so that could help not just you, but your species, your planet, animals, plants, whatever makes the planet a better place, help your species survive, you start getting prosocial reward chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.

[00:11:32] And never mind what all these fancy terms mean, they feel good. And the more feel-good drugs you get, the more motivated you are. Once you have purpose, meaning you've taken your passion, you've attached to a cause greater than yourself, the system wants autonomy, the freedom to pursue that purpose. And then, finally, one's mastery, which is the skills to pursue that purpose well. So, that's your full intrinsic stack. And the chunk you were talking about is the front bit, which is how do you turn curiosity into passion and passion into purpose?

[00:12:02]Luke Storey:  That's incredible. What a great breakdown. I mean, that, in essence, is what this book describes in great detail, adding some instructions in there. The piece that's really interesting in there to me, there are many, but one is more of a self-centered mode of being something that one's passionate about. And when that passion starts to then point outward, that that then leads into purpose.

[00:12:26] And I think right now, especially in our world, as things have changed so dramatically for people, and we're locked inside our houses in many cases, and rethinking the ways in which we generate revenue, and the ways we interface with commerce and the economy, I know a lot of people reach out to me, and say, hey, you look like you're living your dream career, which thankfully I am. And many people I think are wanting to make a transition, where they're going, God, I have so many things I'm curious about, I'm passionate about.

[00:12:57] How can I turn that into a career rather than just having a job that pays the bills and meets my basic fundamental needs? So, I think this is a really important area of study and work, especially right now. What have you found to be different in terms of how you're approaching your work, or how it's being perceived or utilized now versus two years ago when things were relatively stable and in a greater degree of normalcy?

[00:13:25]Steven Kotler:  My work, it exploded. I mean, we were busy at the Flow Research Collective before COVID, but flow evolved to help us, among other things, deal with crisis situations. And if you have a crisis situation and everything goes really, really, really well, you get flow. If you have a crisis situation and everything goes really, really badly, you get PTSD, right? In a weird way, they're opposite sides of the same coin, but you've got the same starting point, which is a bunch of like new scary data is arriving and what do you do?

[00:14:08] Are you going to like win or lose, basically? And flow is how, biologically, we win in those situations. So, we found ourselves in a very peculiar position when all this started. One, I had just written, The Future is Faster Than You Think, which is a book about exponentials. COVID is an exponential, right? Any pandemic grows exponentially. And in the book, we directly looked at how do you fight next essential crisis like this or an exponential crisis like this with exponential technology.

[00:14:45] So, I had a book that, I mean, literally, the book launched on the day that they released information about COVID, like China. I was on Fox News and I'm supposed to be talking about how my book is super brilliant, and instead, I'm answering the questions about the disease in China that nobody's ever heard of, right? So, we were in this weird position where like I had just written a book about the danger and technological solutions to the danger. And I work on peak performance that is specifically designed for crisis situations. It was a really weird spot to be in.

[00:15:19] And people thought we had answers, which it turns out, we might have, right? But my business exploded during COVID. My staff more than tripled and we weren't super small to begin with. And so, a lot of it has been spent trying to figure out how to maximize ways to really help people during a really, really difficult time. I don't know if that's really a great answer to the question, but the experience was I went from, I already worked long days, like my days start at 4:00 in the morning and they go until 5:00 at night, and I now start at 2:30 or 3:00 and I go until 6:00.

[00:16:02]Luke Storey:  Wow. Damn. When people are finding themselves in a position where they're having to reinvent themselves, as many people are now, what are some practical ways? And I know you lay a lot of this out in the book without even letting-

[00:16:17]Steven Kotler:  Yeah. So, some of it is I know—I'll try to go quickly, because a lot of it is in the book. So, before you actually get to reinvention, you've got to stabilize the organism. You've got to stabilize the system. And let me start with the big fact, which is if you're going to reinvent yourself, you're going to need creativity and creative problem solving to do it. And fear blocks creativity.

[00:16:42] The more anxiety, the more norepinephrine, which is predominant neurochemical underneath anxiety in our system, the more logical and linear the brain wants to be. The extreme example is, of course, fight or flight, right? There's a lot of fear in your brain, says, no, no, no, you don't get to be creative at all. You cannot be trusted with the controls. I'm giving you three options. You can fight, you can freeze, or you could flee. That's it. You're not to be trusted.

[00:17:04] And we think that's the only time that happens and it doesn't. It happens any time you get scared, any time you get nervous, any time there's an ongoing crisis, right? So, the first thing you've got to do is calm yourself down. And there are a number of things that we always start with people. The first thing, and probably, I think this is one of the most important things you can do just in peak performance in general, and it's very counterintuitive, so everybody has what is sometimes called a primary flow experience. 

[00:17:36] This is whatever you've been doing since you were a little kid that like 90% of the time I go skiing, I drop in the flow. It's been that way since I was seven and I learned to ski. It's my primary flow experience. For some people, that's walking in nature, taking the dogs for a walk, dancing the salsa, drawing, calligraphy, reading, on, and on, and on. The list goes on. It's endless. Flow shows up in everyone, anywhere, and it's not tied to tasks or it can show up during anything.

[00:18:08] So, it's just whatever dropped you into flow the most. Now, what happens as we become adults? This is the thing we stop doing, right? We become responsible. We have families. We have jobs, especially during COVID. Oh, my God, it's a crisis. I can't go surfing, right? I can't go horseback riding. And the list goes on and on. Here's why you want to double down on your primary flow experience, and here's why you want to start all stuff here, and when we drop into flow, four things are important for this conversation.

[00:18:40] One, for reasons that are technical and I go there if you care, but all the stress hormones are flushed out of our system. They're replaced by these positive, feel-good reward chemicals, but flow automatically resets the nervous system. So, one, if you're trying to access creative problem solving to reinvent yourself, the first thing you're going to need is to calm the nervous system down and flow does this automatically. 

[00:19:05] And simply by returning to your primary flow activity, especially if you had a little bit of break from it or whatever, you're going to start dropping into flow very fast. It's going to reset your nervous system. Even better, as a bonus, all the neurochemicals that show up in flow, they boost the immune system. Not huge, but in a time of a pandemic, not a bad thing to boost the immune system using the body's own mechanisms for it. That's a bonus. But flow, I said earlier, it's this significant heightening in certain skills.

[00:19:37] And the list is long, motivation, grit, learning rates, creativity, on, and on, cooperation, collaboration, all these things go up. The emphasis here is on both creativity and motivation, which are two things that you're going to absolutely need to reinvent yourself. Flow, the state itself lasts about 90 minutes, but worked on at Harvard shows, the heightened creativity, and possibly, the heightened productivity will outlast the flow state by a day, maybe two. 

[00:20:04] So, you go skiing on Monday, Tuesday, at work, you're more productive and you're more creative. Also, you're calmer, because your nervous system's calmed down and your immune system's boosted. And here's the final thing. Flow is essentially a focusing skill. In the same way that meditation is some kind of focusing skill, flow is a different kind of focus than you use for meditation, or it overlaps, but there's differences. But like any skill, right?

[00:20:32] Like the more flow you get, the more flow you get. If I'm training my brain to focus by skiing on Monday, single point focus while I'm skiing, then when I bring it into work on Tuesday, I've trained the brain out of focus a little bit better. In that particular way, I'm going to have an easier time getting in the flow at work. So, this is why I like to start someplace obvious. Now, how much of your primary activity do you need in a given week? There's not great research.

[00:21:02] What we have, we train about a thousand people a month, so we've got big data sets. And we tell people, and so we train people, aim for about four hours a week. Like an afternoon a week seems to be enough and it doesn't have to all happen at once. So, if you've got three or four hours, that's your block, break it up over seven days if you want, that seems to work okay, too. That's where I start. The next place I go is the really obvious stuff.

[00:21:30] Positive psychology says, if you want to maintain the energy you need for peak performance, you need good hydration, good nutrition, seven, eight hours of sleep a night and a fairly robust social support practice, meaning you want to have regular contact with people who love you. And especially during COVID, we're a little better now, because we're starting to venture back into the world, but this is really important, especially if our contact is over.

[00:21:56] You can have real contact over Zoom and on the phone, whatever, but the reason this matters so much is an energy thing. Whenever the brain encounters a problem, a situation that could be a problem, brain wants to know, hey, is this a challenge? I can rise towards it, or is it a threat? I should run from it. Well, how do you assess a challenge? One of the things the brain always does is it says, do you have posse? Because if you're going to go at this challenge alone, well, that's a big problem, threat level orange, right? 

[00:22:24] But if you've got lots of friends to help, and if you fail, people to pick you up, oh, lot safer. So, more energy, right? So, there's an energy cost with having bad social support. So, on the energy and physical side, that's what you need. Now, positive psychology says, hey, anxiety is bad for performance, bad for creativity, it's bad for a bunch of stuff, how's your anxiety? Primary flow activity, you'll start that, but you also need the daily practice. How do you manage anxiety on a daily basis?

[00:22:56] Research is really clear. You either have a daily gratitude practice, daily mindfulness practice, or get daily exercise. How much do you need? Gratitude practice takes about five minutes to do it the way most positive psychologists suggest. Mindfulness practice, the research has 11 minutes a day of focused meditation is enough for emotional regulation, calming the nervous system down, or about 20 to 40 minutes of exercise. 

[00:23:19] Under normal conditions, we tell people, pick one. Do one a day, you're fine, right? Under crisis conditions, maybe two. If your crisis condition is at work, and you're fighting with your boyfriend, girlfriend, sister, mother, whatever, maybe three. Like use your brain, but like these are the basics. So, like this is sort of always where I start the conversation towards reinvention, then the next thing I would tell people to do is the passion recipe, which is in the book. 

[00:23:49] And if you don't want to buy the book, you could go to the passionrecipe.com, www.passionrecipe.com, because I got so many people who kept talking about passion and purpose over the years that we actually built it into an interactive workbook. It's free. There's a free class on it and how to go through it and how to do it in an interactive worksheet that helps you. So, that's exactly what I would do. And that's basically exactly what we would do with our clients.

[00:24:17]Luke Storey:  That's very cool. It's interesting. There's a lot in there that I think is of high value. One of the things that piqued my interest and I got an aha from was this idea around human connection and how vital that is to supporting your perception of any given circumstance as a threat or an opportunity. And I'm thinking, as you were talking, I thought about a business, let's call it an opportunity that occurred in my life recently, and it seemed like such a huge potential problem and maybe even a threat just because there were some stakes at hand.

[00:24:54] And I got on the phone with one of my mentors, an older guy that's got a lot more experience in such things and just kind of had a little war room session with him on it. And by the end of a 30-minute phone call, I was actually excited about the prospect of solving this equation and came out of it with very clear direction. And had I just sat and ruminated with that scenario, I probably would have, knowing myself, just frozen and procrastinated it, and just put it on a shelf, and not wanted to deal with it, but I was so empowered by having someone else kind of unpack it who has no emotional attachment to the outcome and has some wisdom-

[00:25:32]Steven Kotler:  Knowledge.

[00:25:33]Luke Storey:  Yeah, some knowledge and wisdom in that experience. I came out of it, I was like, wow, man, I feel badass. Like I can handle this.

[00:25:38]Steven Kotler:  Two things. One is just Chris Peterson, who's a positive psychologist. He's at the University of Michigan. He has said, you can roughly sum up 30 years of positive psychology in a single sentence, which is other people matter. Now, mind you, I'm an extreme introvert, and I'm still telling you, other people matter. Like I go out of my way to spend as little time around a lot of people as possible, and yet I'll tell you, it's true. Here's a really weird corollary to this that you see so in entrepreneurship.

[00:26:15] So, my friend, Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life, brilliant, brilliant mind, wanted to know, this is a bunch of years ago, in between Second Life and High Fidelity, which is his new version of Second Life, he was looking at questions of entrepreneurship. Where are hotbeds of entrepreneurship? And what are the conditions that lead to like a startup ecosystem in a given community? 

[00:26:38] And he looked at tons of factors, and runs all kinds of analysis, and ultimately, came down to one really strong factor, which was when there were a ton of other startups in the neighborhood with a single startup, people were much more willing to jump into a risky startup and join that company, help build it. And the reason was they knew if their startup failed, they were going to make a bunch of friends in the community. They're going to have a bunch of other jobs that were waiting for them and who cared.

[00:27:10] And that was literally like this, what do you need to have a really thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem? Social support, so people can have backup. So, when they get their ass handed to them, which one out of 10 times, nine out of 10 times in entrepreneurship is what's going to happen, they've got a place to go next. They don't mind the failure, they mind the failure leading to joblessness and poverty.

[00:27:33] And if you solve that, social support services solve that problem, and thus, entrepreneurship. I think that's another way of looking at the same—it's a bigger version of the same thing that you did, right? Here is a big problem, let me call a friend, and, oh, no, not that big of a problem. And you probably ended up with backup plans out of that conversation also.

[00:27:54]Luke Storey:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that's fascinating. I mean, I think it's a principle that is intuitive and innate, yet for those of us that are the rugged individualists, sometimes, that is the least obvious.

[00:28:12]Steven Kotler:  Yeah. You've raised a really great point that is worth sort of talking about, which is it is very hard. You can do it, but it's pretty damn hard to beat your biology, because it's exhausting, right? It's just like you're wired, you can use a vacuum cleaner to pound in a nail, it will absolutely work for a little while. Like sooner or later, the vacuum used is going to shatter because that's not how the system is designed to work or what it's designed to do.

[00:28:43] And the rugged individualism will absolutely—it works to a certain point, right? But then, when it starts to fail is usually at the exact point you can't have it fail, when like three or four crises show up at once. And you're like, okay, I'm a rugged individual, but like I can only put out one fire at once or maybe two kind of thing. And so, at that point, you're just like, oh, okay, I'm wired to do this a certain way, I should maybe-. 

[00:29:16] What I always say, it's you can do it differently, but the thing about getting our biology work for us rather than against us is you just get farther faster with a lot less fuss, if you could pardon the alliteration. But like that's really what happens. You just go so much farther, so much faster, and it's much, much easier. It doesn't mean it's easy. Any place worth going to is hard to get to and we don't like it when it's not.

[00:29:43] I've asked people for decades to tell me about things in their life that made the biggest difference in their lives and led to kind of the biggest changes afterwards in their life. You're talking about people reinventing themselves kind of thing. I've been asking people these questions for almost 25 years just to see what the answers are and the answers are all over the place.

[00:30:05] But you know what I never have, not in 25 years of asking tens of thousands of people at this point, nobody ever says, oh, yeah, I got lucky and this thing happened, and then it was all just—they tell me about, I had to work three jobs to get myself through college, and then medical. Those are stories you hear. And if you ask me that question or you that question, those are the stories we're going to tell, right? We like that kind of hard work, even though our brain tells us we don't. But those are the things that matter the most to us and those are the things we cherish. And that's, in a certain level, the recipe for overall life satisfaction in a weird way.

[00:30:45]Luke Storey:  Backing up a bit to the formula that you were laying out for someone to find their sort of foundation of a pivot, you were talking about regular flow sessions being an important part of that equation, and then leading into moments of mindfulness, or exercise, or rest, where you can kind of rejuvenate in that way. I'm thinking of someone who doesn't even know what their kind of flow formula is, right? I think of myself, I go, oh, yeah, I know if I sit down and play guitar for 15, 20 minutes, it's going to totally change my state and prepare me for an interview or any other-

[00:31:22]Steven Kotler:  So, here's another way to think about it. One thing to do is think about your favorite memories, because as a general rule, a lot of them are going to be flow states. And the reason is it's the same reason flow massively accelerates. Learning flow is this huge neurochemical dump. We get five of these really super potent reward chemicals. Flow appears to be the only time you get all five at once. And a quick shorthand, how does memory work? What's going on there? Neurochemicals are multi-tools. They do a lot of different things at once in the brain. One of the things they do is they tag memories as important, save for later.

[00:32:01] So, the more neurochemicals that show up during the experience, the better chance that experience is going to move from short-term holding to long-term storage. So, if you think back on your positive memories in your life, some of them are going to be, oh, there was this time when I met my spouse, my wife, my fiancee, and whatever, that, by the way, is probably interpersonal flow, right? Conversational flow. So, maybe that's what you're looking for, right? Maybe that's your best. If you're an extrovert, that could be what you're looking for. But those are good places to start, because of how the biology works, you can just mind your own life and trust your own experience there.

[00:32:40]Luke Storey:  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I'm sure there are people who are going to look back on their childhood, and remember, oh, I used to really love horseback riding, or things that might even be out of their awareness or out of their regular life practice.

[00:32:52]Steven Kotler:  Totally. Yeah. No, it's often something that's pretty far. I mean, skiing, I've done all the way throughout, but I'll go back, I did professional magic when I was a little kid. And when they shut the ski resorts at the start of COVID, I did a lot of magic. I have a minor in art and I also started drawing again at the beginning of COVID. The gyms were closed. I was working out the best as I could, like everybody else, but like gyms were closed, gears are closed, exercise was sort of closed down to me.

[00:33:32] I needed to flow in easy ways, so I just want to know my history. I was like, okay, what used to work? Well, I used to like studying dinosaurs, but like that's probably not going to happen during COVID, so what's next? Right? And I just sort of went through my life. It's interesting, not to dwell here, because I'm sure you have other questions, but one of the things we find in peak performance over, and over, and over again is that people don't understand that their own history is a phenomenal resource for peak performance.

[00:34:06] And for example, we talk a lot about figuring out what are your strengths and when you're trying to figure out what your strengths are, if you can work in a way that you're utilizing a new strength and an old strength in a new way, that tends to be very, very flowy. This is Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson, the guys we were talking about earlier. This is some of their work on strengths and values. And they discovered that if you're working to use an old strength and one of your core strengths in a new way, that tends to precipitate flow a lot.

[00:34:39] And so, how do you find your core strengths? Well, one of the things I always tell people is you got to look at your history and you have to like pay attention to invisible skills. And what's an invisible skill? If you grew up with drunken and argumentative parents, and as a kid, you had to calm everybody down and de-escalate arguments, well, that doesn't show up on any aptitude test anywhere. But in the real world, the fact that you can calm people down and de-escalate arguments, that's a phenomenal skill, right? That's an invisible skill. And so, there's a lot of strength in our history in places that we don't think to look for it.

[00:35:20]Luke Storey:  I think that was one of the things I found really interesting. One point in your book where you reference the Clifton Strength Finders and Aptitude Test, which I did a number of years ago, and I found it to be so remarkably accurate. And one of my top five strengths at that time, this is around the time I started my podcast and went into kind of the health and wellness media space, one of my top five, it might have even been one was the strength of input, which is where you're just a sponge for information, and you're kind of an aggregate for content, facts, data, principles, truth, right? 

[00:35:58] And I remember at the time, kind of going, okay, well, yeah, that's true. I consume information like a beast, but what do I do with it? And I think intuitively at that time, I sort of did reflect back on early in life and what I saw to be kind of a negative attribute was this obsessive kind of personality I had where there was the Bruce Lee karate years, where like I didn't care about anything except karate, right? And then, there was the heavy metal years, where all I cared about—I mean, I could tell you-

[00:36:26]Steven Kotler:  Oh, dude, I'm a little OCD under the collar as well, man. I like to tell people, I'm on every spectrum. I started OCD, I go through CIA, I ended LSD, I'm on all the spectrums.

[00:36:39]Luke Storey:  But to your point, though, of identifying what your predominant strengths are and using the historical reference to see, oh, how have those strengths actually added value to my life in the past and-

[00:36:51]Steven Kotler:  And don't sleep on your—I mean, every one of your greatest weaknesses is your kryptonites are always your superpowers, right? The OCD, for me at least, the tendency, as long as I understand that I have to come out of the wormhole and back into the world, it's an amazing, amazing, amazing thing for focus.

[00:37:22]Luke Storey:  Yeah. So, I guess it kind of just depends on if you identify those traits within you as a tool or a resource, it's how you use a tool. It's like a gun, right? A gun can be used for many positive tasks or not. And I think in reflection, just as we're having this conversation, I think about that way in which I just aggregate and collect information, it makes me a good podcaster. 

[00:37:46] Because I interview a guy like you, I'm not just passively having a conversation, I'm very invested in your body of knowledge and I dive really deep into it in preparation for an interview. And the ways in which I then share that information and disperse it out into the world, I'm doing so with that level of commitment and passion, because it's something that's innate to me. I don't have to try to become interested in something. Once I'm interested in it, I'm all in until I know everything. It sounds like you're that way with neuroscience and flow.

[00:38:17]Steven Kotler:  I mean, I was a journalists 20—which is, I mean, you get paid to exploit your curiosity. That's what the gig is, right? Now, it was the most amazing thing in the world. I got paid to have adventures. Sometimes, there were physical adventures. Sometimes, they were intellectual ventures, but that's like, are you kidding? Like they pay me for this? I would pay people for this. Like I get to go hang out with Nobel laureates and ask them questions.

[00:38:40]Luke Storey:  Yeah. I mean, that's my gig too. I get to talk to people like you, that when I first started podcasting, I thought, God, if I tried to get half these people to just sit down and have an hour to 90-minute conversation with me for nothing, then it would probably not happen, but because I'm creating a platform, all of a suddenm I'm able to-

[00:38:56]Steven Kotler:  You guys have it easy. I used to have to call up, and say, hey, this is Steven Kotler with The New York Times. You know how hard it is to get a gig writing for The New York Times? You guys, you're like, fuck it, we're going to storm the castle, goddammit, we're doing it ourselves. I wasn't that smart.

[00:39:10]Luke Storey:  Like I have a microphone and a Zoom account, will you talk to me? Sure, it's right when I finished my New York Times best-selling book, I'm happy to give you an hour of my time. Explain the principle, no pressure, no diamonds. I think when it comes to performance, I've noticed personally that if I'm on a deadline and I'm going to suffer if I don't get something big done, that it's a great motivator for me. Is that what that principal is about or is there more to it?

[00:39:36]Steven Kotler:  That's interesting. It could be. I hadn't thought about it that way. Anything worth doing requires hard work, and that's how I think about it more than anything. And I also think when I think about no pressure and no diamonds, like I think you have to crush diamonds into existence. And I often think the world is a lot like that, like you have to, not in a violent, hostile, anything, but you often have to take what you want from the world.

[00:40:16] And it's not going—to put it less dramatically, everybody figures us out sooner or later, but your life is not going to be anything more or less than you make it. And that's right. And to make it into something that you want requires acts of aggression. And I don't mean it like in a hostile way or a competitive, like I just mean you have to, like first of all, to drop into flow, often, you have to trigger the fight response. There's also there's a moment of like diving into the thing and rising to the challenge.

[00:40:52] And that's how I think about no pressure, no diamonds. Procrastination is a funny thing, because it's often a flow signal. It's often a signal so when you're—the system likes to perform as best, right? And whatever you're procrastinating, you're procrastinating because you don't care enough to focus enough to do your best at the thing you're doing or you're too scared, right? It's one or the other. 

[00:41:23] And so, I always tell people that with procrastination, a lot of people, for procrastination especially, your emotions don't mean what you think they mean. Procrastination, we've got this idea in society that it's bad thing, we're bad people. No, the system wants to perform at its best and flow follows focus, right? It shows up when all of our tension is in the right here, right now. And there's a flow trigger known as the challenge skills balance. So, if you want more flow in your life, this is a really good place to start.

[00:41:53] The idea is that flow follows focus. It can only show up when all of our attention is in the right here, right now. So, we pay the most attention to the task at hand when the challenge of that task slightly exceeds our skill set. So, you want to stretch, but not snap. So, I would put it emotionally, and this will get me back to procrastination, that sweet spot is sort of near, but not on the midpoint between boredom and anxiety. Boredom, there's not enough stimulation, you can't pay attention. 

[00:42:20] Anxiety, well, there's way too much. So, procrastination, the problem is that there's either not enough stimulation, and you're bored, and so you can't focus, so you're going to put it off until the night before when suddenly, oh, crap, the thing is due the next day, now, you've got my undivided attention kind of thing. So, I used to do this when I was coming up as a journalist, especially early on, to just pay my bills, I had to write about everything, had to write as many articles I possibly could write. 

[00:42:54] And as a result, any editor called me, I would say, yes, right? Whatever it was you needed written, the answer is yes, just call me, I'm your guy. And that worked incredibly well for me, but it meant I wrote articles about tons of stuff occasionally, not often, but occasionally, it'd be stuff I wasn't super interested in. But what I would do is, okay, well, I don't want to put off the assignment that I need to feed myself until the night before because like my cat could get sick or that's a bad idea, so I would up the challenge level. I would say, okay, write this article in the style of Charles Dickens and see if you can somehow get it into Maxim magazine, right? 

[00:43:39] Like I would do something totally absurd, where I'd be like, yeah, I got to try to write this like Dickens, then I'm going to try to convince one of my editors in Maxim that it's okay. I would do stuff like that, or if the reason was I'm too scared, then the solution is chunk the problem down smaller until the chunk you're dealing with is no longer scary and it sits right in that challenge skill sweet spot. So, I always think when people talk about procrastination, I'm like, right instinct, just wrong response, or your instinct is right, put it off until you can perform at your best, for sure. Right instinct, let's temper it so that if disaster happens, you're not going to get your ass handed to you.

[00:44:22]Luke Storey:  That's brilliant. I so relate to that. I think there's a lot of truth in that, that the two scenarios of something just boring you and not keeping your interest to get it done or you having some degree of anxiety about facing that thing, I think that as you're talking, I'm reflecting like, oh yeah, I think I'm about 50-50 on that, because I can create excitement around something that I find rather boring and more tedious task, work, et cetera. 

[00:44:50] If the deadline is looming, then all of a sudden, there's anxiety, and now, there's some motivation to actually put my best foot forward. That's really interesting. I think it was in the book, or perhaps, one of your other interviews, you talked about having a sign in your desk that says something to the effect of, do the hard thing first or something.

[00:45:06]Steven Kotler:  Just do the hard thing

[00:45:08]Luke Storey:  So, you have it there still. 

[00:45:10]Steven Kotler:  Yeah. And so, here's what's interesting. People hear that and they think it's a reminder to be gritty, which it is, but not in the way that most people expect. What it's actually a reminder to do is I always said that peak performance is nothing more or less than a checklist. You get to the end of The Art of Impossible and there are roughly six things to do every day and about seven things to do every week, and some of the things are like what we talked about earlier, a daily gratitude practice, mindfulness practice, regular exercise, right? 

[00:45:47] Like we've talked about some of this stuff already. Primary flow activity is one of the weekly practices. It's a checklist. But what you have to do is you have to do the checklist Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, repeat, because peak performance really works like compound interest. We all have it within us for sure, right? But the difficulty is in the repetition over time. That's where it gets tricky for people.

[00:46:16] And what I have found is that I always start my day with my hardest task, the most important task, the thing that if I get it done, it's the biggest win. And I start my day with a 90-minute block of uninterrupted concentration. I actually start my day with a four-hour block, but if you want to take up this practice, see if you could start with a 90-minute block for your hardest task. We have REM cycles that are 90 minutes long, everyone knows this. We also have waking cycles that are 90 minutes long.

[00:46:44] The brain is actually like really hardwired for focus for about 90-minute blocks, about 110 minutes, right in there, which is a little different. And so, complete concentration of flow trigger, right? And so, how much should you concentrate? Well, about 90 minutes. If you can set aside 90 minutes for your first task at the morning, your hardest task, or make it your first task your work session, that's great. That's fantastic. By the way, how hard you work, well, you should push things to the edge of the challenge skills balance, so you're right in that sweet spot. But the point—you asked a question that I got-

[00:47:21]Luke Storey:  It was about doing the hard thing.

[00:47:24]Steven Kotler:  Oh, the hard thing. Okay. So, what I found is like I always say, figure out how many things you can do in a day, and don't try to do more, and don't try to do less, right? So, figure out how much energy you have, and on average, is that enough energy to be great at nine things, or seven things, or 12 things? Because figure out what it is and try to do that many things in a day, no more or less, because then you're underperforming and you're not going to pull it off.

[00:47:51] But what I find is that because I'm good at flow, I sit down to write, I got to be greedy for like the first two minutes to get into the project, and then I'm in, and then I'm sort of involved. But when I come out, the next thing on my list, that I'm like everybody else, I've just worked for 90 minutes or four hours, and I want a break, I want a timeout, that sort of thing.

[00:48:18] But I've come to realize that if I do the hard thing, which is move immediately on to my next task, one, if I was in flow on the first task, I'm not going to get pulled out, because of some distraction that I went for in those five minutes between tasks, so I'm going to carry some of that flow into the next task. And what I find really, really, truly satisfying and the most fun is to get like three or four things on a to-do list for like, if it's 12 items long in a day, and by the time like I'm done eating breakfast, and most people are actually getting out of bed, I've already done like a half of my list, that's very motivating to me.

[00:48:57] I get a lot of reward dopamine from that. So, the hard thing is they're literally not to remind me to get greedy, it's literally just about those 30-second, two-minute bits between the things, because I'm like everybody, that's where it gets wayward for me. I'm great at the tasks, the writing, the research, the whatever, but I'm like everybody else, I'm susceptible to that break. So, actually, like it's there to remind me to be greedy, and like every now and again, that comes in handy, but it's really there for that exact purpose.

[00:49:34]Luke Storey:  Well, you mentioned the neurochemistry of dopamine when you're successful in doing something, is that a part of why that formula works? Because your brain is getting signals that's like, hey, we're in accomplishment mode, let's keep doing this, because we're going to get before this.

[00:49:50]Steven Kotler:  Yeah, exactly. So, always make a to-do list, and always check the items off your to-do list the minute you finish them, and then go to the next one. And the reason is you get dopamine when you finish a task, right? You've accomplished a goal, a little bit of dopamine. What does dopamine do? It's excitement. It's focus. It's motivation. It's energy. So, I've crossed that off, I've now got a little dopamine. I want to take that into my next task, because I've now got free energy and free focus.

[00:50:20] And the hardest part of any task, as we've already talked about, is the first 30, 40 seconds when you actually have to be gritty, because it sucks you well. Fuck, this is actually work, oh, my God, I got to do work, right? That's everybody at the first 30, 40 seconds of a new task, you're like, oh, yeah, this is harder than I thought. Oh, okay, right? Or it's the other, which is, oh, my God, this is so easy, I can do this in three minutes, and then you get to do two more things on your to-do list, and cross them off, and it's even more dopamine.

[00:50:50] So, basically, I want to play that game with myself until my body says, dude, your prefrontal cortex is overloaded, your working memory is overloaded, then it's time to go take the dogs for a walk, or I'm hungry, time to go eat, or I'm exhausted, time to take a nap, right? Like if I can keep playing the dopamine reward tat, like that's the game I want to play every day, all day, because that's momentum. And on top of everything else, we were talking earlier about intrinsic motivators.

[00:51:21] Flow is the biggest intrinsic motivator, it gives you all of your pleasure reward chemicals, but second to flow, mastery is our favorite motivator. The progress towards meaningful goals is our favorite thing. So, crossing off items on our to-do list is also not like you're getting a little bit of dopamine each time, but the cumulative effect brings this towards the path to mastery, and that's its own reward, so now, once again, we're going a lot farther, a lot faster with a lot less fuss. 

[00:51:55] Less like I've got a sign that says do the hard thing, because if I don't do the hard thing for 30 seconds, it becomes a much harder thing. That's the corollary, right? Like if you don't do that, cool, alright, I want the brake, whatever, but now, when I come to the next hard task, I have to refocus and I got to get back into flow, I got to do a whole bunch of other stuff, it's actually a lot harder.

[00:52:21]Luke Storey:  Is there any value in sort of the converse of that using the same principle in going after more microtasks that don't actually require a lot of grit and stacking the success limitation of the little ones to build up, or is that just going to be a procrastination trap?

[00:52:42]Steven Kotler:  It's a phenomenal question. Really, it's a great question and I don't know the answer. I haven't seen the research. There's a bunch of different ways you can look at it. I can tell you, my personal experience is that when I tend to play with microtask is after my second hardest task, not before, because usually the first hardest one is my writing, and I kind of love that no matter what. Like even if it's terrible, I kind of love that.

[00:53:15] It's usually the second thing on the list that's the real—like I got to get the writing done for me to feel fulfilled in a day, and like I can't do anything else ahead of that, and I won't. I've learned that about myself. So, I always prioritize that, but it's usually the second task is the one—so I don't do it between my second task, but if I finish the second task and I look at my list, and I'm like, oh, wow, I can get four microtasks done before breakfast, yeah, I totally do that for the exact dopamine reward you're talking about. 

[00:53:45] And I find that useful, right? And what I also find useful about it is if I can get more stuff done, it builds a little bit of less time stress into what I have to do in my afternoon and time stress is a fear limit. It produces fear, which blocks creativity. Everything I do requires creative problem solving and creative decision making. I do research, I write, I run a company, like all the things I do require creative problem solving all day long. So, I want to keep anxiety in check. 

[00:54:21] And time stress is a huge one for me, right? Before I got successful, it was money stress. After I got successful, it was time stress, you know what I mean? Like same as everybody else. And so, if I can buy myself that extra feeling of time, that means when I sit down to my afternoon writing session, if I have a bad paragraph that I bump into and I need to spend 40 minutes on that bad paragraph, I can do that, because I'm not time-stressed.

[00:54:50]Luke Storey:  What value is there in physically writing down big goals or even small tasks associated with those goals versus keeping it in Evernote or in some digital format?

[00:55:01]Steven Kotler:  Once you have autonomy and mastery, you need goals. That's where it comes in the stack. And what is the system? The biology needs at least many more, but for most of us, at least three levels of goals to work at its best. So, you need mission statement goals at the top of the pyramid. I want to be the best writer in the history of the universe. Then, you need high, hard goals. These are like the one to five-year subchunks that go into the mission level goal.

[00:55:28] The mission level goal is usually like an impossible zone and the chunks are the high or the hard, I'm going to get a degree in journalism, I'm going to get a job working for a magazine, I'm going to write a book about fishing, I'm going to write a book about like all the steps you would take to be the greatest writer in the history of the universe. And then, you need the daily tasks, right? Today, I'm going to write 500 words in my new book, and when I'm done, my readers are going to feel happy.

[00:55:53] They're going to read the words and feel happy, right? Like that's a clear goal. And as I said, figure out how many clear goals you can do in a day, and be excellent at them, and that's what you do. Those levels, if you've kept those levels right, you're in business. Now, you asked a question of, why do you want to write all these goals by hand instead of on Evernote? 

[00:56:15] And with high, hard goals and mission level goals, I think you can write them on whatever you want, but for the clear goals, one of the things you are doing in creating a clear goal list is you trying to get stuff out of your working memory. You're exporting shit that's in your head onto the page. This lowers cognitive load, all the attention. One, this is a big flow trigger, because when I lower cognitive load, I liberate some extra energy, and you can use it for focus and attention in the present moment to clear goals, sort of work as a focusing mechanism and as a flow trigger that way.

[00:56:54] But because we've been writing by hand for a very long time, we've been writing my computer for a very short time, there seems to be some kind of biological, evolutionary hard-wiring between hand motion and memory, and maybe it's the bigger hand motion that comes from writing, maybe that's it, right? And it's maybe writing at a tablet might actually get this done. I haven't seen work that says that, but I don't chance it. I just write it on a piece of paper, right? Like just clear goals list every day. I do it at the end of the day for the next morning, so I come in and I know immediately, what am I doing now? What am I doing next? So, I can keep all my focus on what I'm doing, and drive flow and performance.

[00:57:39]Luke Storey:  I actually love that you recommended that, because there have been various times since over the past 10 years or so that I've digitized much of my life and reluctantly accustomed myself to different apps, and communicating on Slack, and doing all the things. And I've tried so many times to put my to-do list and my goals into digital format, and it never sticks. I always-

[00:58:01]Steven Kotler:  I've tried. I mean, by the way, I started looking at the research into this, because I had the exact same experience, because for years, I didn't keep an online calendar. So, try to have an executive assistant run a company without an online calendar, but if it went into the calendar, it wasn't doing the job. Like I needed to write it down by hand to trust that actually, like this was the thing. The computer didn't work for me.

[00:58:33]Luke Storey:  Yeah. I was glad to hear that. I guess if you have a paper calendar and you're working with other people, you'd have to constantly be taking pictures of it. So, I have adopted the eye calendar.

[00:58:46]Steven Kotler:  By the way, I keep both. I have, literally, when I wake up, now, what I do now is, usually, I've moved it from the end of the day to the morning pretty much recently, but I will wake up and I will open my electronic calendar that my assistant gives for me, and I will then take the stuff that's on the calendar, all the other stuff I want to do in the day, and then make my clear goals list.

[00:59:12]Luke Storey:  I'm do that.

[00:59:13]Steven Kotler:  Yeah, that's exactly what I do. I have found that just by literally taking it off the calendar and getting it on—I do a daily gratitude practice as well, so like I'll write the clear goals list, and then like right below it, same sheet of paper, the gratitude, my gratitude work. And no, I don't keep a diary or a journal, like it's literally on scraps of paper and they get thrown out at the end of the day.

[00:59:38]Luke Storey:  Well, there's another interesting piece to that, I think, too, and that is how potentially distracting and addictive the digital world is. So, it's like I know that if I get up and open my computer, I might be very intent on doing that hard thing first, but then all of a sudden, ding, ding, ding, ding, all of these other info.

[00:59:59]Steven Kotler:  Yeah, that's why you want to practice distraction management ahead of time, right? This is either the daily things that you need to do is, this, I do, do at the end of every day, I end my day by, I know I'm going to start writing the next morning, so anything that could blot that. So, email gets turned off, all my messages and alerts, everything just gets shut down so that I'm uninterrupted until 8:00 AM when I'm actually open for business.

[01:00:31]Luke Storey:  Yeah, very smart. Well, I'm inspired by your prolific production of books. I've been working on a book for a few months and I have a newfound respect for writers, especially ones like you, that continually just churn out amazing books. So, you're truly an inspiration there. And I've been taking a lot of mental notes here, because it's no joke. I mean, everyone did-

[01:00:51]Steven Kotler:  Oh, dude, so Flow for Writers is your friend. If you go to my website, if there's a thought leader out there who's wanted to write a book in the past five years, I've trained them. You have no idea how many people have come through this workshop and produce books on the other side. And I've saved them a lot of years. It's sort of everything I learned about how to write a book, how to sell a book, how to market a book. Like all of it plus flow science, plus the science of creativity pushed together. Yeah. We've been doing it for a while. It's all digital. And yeah. Shameless promo interlude, but it probably will help you.

[01:01:37]Luke Storey:  Oh, that's amazing. No, I'm on it. Done. Absolutely. And actually, well, my next question was really, in closing, where can people find you, your work, anything you want to promote?

[01:01:49]Steven Kotler:  Stevenkotler.com is me. And if Flow for Writers is your thing, if you're a writer, you'll find that under the training tab. And for the rest of everything else we do at the Flow Research Collective, whether you're interested in training flow with us or just want to learn a ton more about flow and don't spend any money, go to the flowresearchcollective.com, click on the video tab. There's hundreds of hours of free content there for you. And Art of Impossible, Amazon is your friend. And if you're not going to Amazon, if you're going into the world, support, you're in this. 

[01:02:25]Luke Storey:  Awesome. And my very last question is this. Who have been three teachers or teachings that have influenced your life and work that you'd like to share with us?

[01:02:33]Steven Kotler:  Shoutout to Rob Hastings, who is my junior year English teacher. I was a punk rock fuck up kid. My sixth grade teacher told me I wouldn't live to see 30 and she wasn't wrong. And I had a teacher, he let us argue about literature. And like I mean, argue, like you're 16 years old and you're screaming at classmates over Ethan Frome, or like Tessa Doob, or Bills, or like books that you would never be passionate about, but he let us get passionate about it.

[01:03:08] And so, yeah, that was actually the first time I realized I was smart, I had no idea that I could use my brain and do anything with it. But I realized I was winning these arguments, because I was understanding the books better than other people. And I was like, wait a minute, I am actually good at something, huh, go figure. Shoutout to Robert Hastings. Shoutout to, oh, my God, John Barth, who I started under in grad school, the godfather of American metafiction and just taught me so much about writing that I would never be anywhere without him.

[01:03:44] And my first mentor in neuroscience was Dr. Andrew Newberg, who was then at the University of Pennsylvania. He's now at Jefferson University. And he was the guy, when I started to notice that all the athletes I was talking to were talking about—like everybody I was talking to who are doing amazing things, they were all talking about flow, but the athletes were always like, don't tell anybody, but like when I'm surfing, I'm becoming one with the ocean, or don't tell anybody, when I'm mountaineering, I'm one with the mountain.

[01:04:15] And I'd be like, okay, I won't tell anybody, but everybody was telling me this stuff. And Newberg had just done the first brain imaging on monks, meditating Tibetan Buddhists who felt one with the universe. And so, I called him up, and I was like, look, is there any possible way the thing that you're seeing in the brains of monks could be the same thing that I'm seeing in the brain of action sport athletes? And that was sort of the beginning of my work in neuroscience of flow. That was 1999 and it sort of went from there.

[01:04:49]Luke Storey:  Wow. Cool. Thanks for sharing that.

[01:04:51]Steven Kotler:  Sure.

[01:04:52]Luke Storey:  Well, sir, thank you so much for joining us today, man. I was really looking forward to this conversation. You've been on my list of interviewees for a couple of years now.

[01:05:00]Steven Kotler:  I'm sorry I was disappointing. I have that effect on people.

[01:05:04]Luke Storey:  No, it was great, man. It's great to get to know you and I'm so happy to find your resource for writers, because I mean, I'm reading and listening to everything I can to help me with that. So, good.

[01:05:14]Steven Kotler:  It's one stop shopping. Really, I was sitting with Neil Strauss who wrote The Game, and like I think between the two of us, we had like 10 New York Times best—I mean, it was a lot of talent. And we started going deep on all the like ticks, tips, and tricks, and techniques that we had sort of like, what did you use? What did you use? And I had this big, long list, and I came home, and Neil sort of like parked it, and I was all excited.

[01:05:45] I was like, this is cool, let's do something. He's like, yeah, whatever, I'm busy. But I just sort of obsessed over it. I was like, kept working on the list, and finally, like I got to a point, where I was like, holy crap, if you would have taught me this when I was 25, you could have added a zero to my income and you could have saved me 10 years. And I was like, oh, maybe I should teach this to other people. And so, it seems to be working.

[01:06:09]Luke Storey:  I'm excited for that. Yeah. Neil is one of my favorite writers, and a friend, and someone that's been on the show a couple of times, and he's like the guy that I've resisted calling to bug about like, so hey—I mean, I'm like, imagine he gets probably five calls a week from friends like me.

[01:06:25]Steven Kotler:  By the way, like this is the other reason that I've built Flow for Writers, because like I was like, fine, it's a course, you can go there and do this, don't ask me these questions. 

[01:06:35]Luke Storey:  Smart. Yeah. I mean, because it's a very, very unique skill. And even if one is a good writer, which I think I am, the skill set is not just in writing, it's like getting to the writing, right? 

[01:06:47]Steven Kotler:  Yeah. I mean, I cover everything that you need to know in the craft, in writing, meaning like, and I'm sure there's stuff I'm missing, but like how do you do an interview? How do you find an expert? How do you structure a book? It's a huge question. All that stuff. And how do you write them? There's neurobiology underneath engaging fiction or underneath engaging writing. Like when people read my books, even though the ideas are big, they're fun reads. Like they're gripping, entertaining work. And the reason is because there's biology for excitement. And if you know what it is, you can use it and your readers are going to have a better time.

[01:07:33]Luke Storey:  Wow. Very cool. Thanks for sharing that today and congratulations on the book. And I look forward to talking to you soon.

[01:07:41]Steven Kotler:  Thanks, man. Thanks for your interest. I appreciate it.



Link to the Search Page
Tru Kava
Link to the Search Page

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated the statements on this website. The information provided by lukestorey.com is not a substitute for direct, individual medical treatment or advice. It is your responsibility, along with your healthcare providers, to make decisions about your health. Lukestorey.com recommends consulting with your healthcare providers for the diagnosis and treatment of any disease or condition. The products sold on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


No related episodes for this episode.

continue the discussion at the life stylist podcast facebook group. join now.