Ep. 215: Steven Kotler – How You Can Step Outside Yourself and “Do The Impossible” Again and Again

steven kotler

Imagine going on a swing as high as you can. Then going higher. Then going so high you loop around.

I get scared thinking about it.

Sergey Brin, the founder of Google, did it the first time he tried. Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal were training people at Google how to get into the state of FLOW. Sergey volunteered.

What is Flow? The state where your brain and body loses all sense of time and you retreat into this perfect area of creativity and productivity.

A state where Steven and Jamie have spent years trying to hack and re-create at will. And this is what they’ve done.

I was talking to Steven Kotler, who’s been on my podcast a few times and Jamie Wheal. They co-authored “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work.”

It’s sort of a sequel to “The Rise of Superman” all about “flow” in action sports.

Steven said. “It’s the moments of total absorption where you get so focussed on the task at hand that everything else just disappears, action and awareness merge, your sense of self disappears, time passes very strangely and all aspects of performance, mental and physical, go through the roof.”

But when I read it I thought, “Where are the chess players?” Where are the creatives?

Programmers get into flow. Musicians, athletes, artists, all sorts of people get into flow.

The question was “how?” I am selfish. I wanted to know for myself: HOW?

So I read “Stealing Fire.” It’s about all the ways you can get into flow and other “optimal states of consciousness.” It teaches you how to step outside yourself, have a 500% increase in your performance, functionality, creativity and have satisfaction.

I had to find out, what are the triggers to get into flow?

They said “risk.”

“Life or death?” I asked.

“You need risk, but it’s definitely not physical risk,” Steven said. “The brain can’t tell the difference between social fear and physical fear.”

Steven and Jamie figured this out when they went to Google to experiment on Sergey Brin’s brain (Google’s founder). They built a swing that loops 360 degrees around and covered him in EEG sensors. You’d have to pump your legs and use all your strength to gain the physical and mental momentum to go in a full circle.

“My ten year old daughter crushed it,” Jamie said. “She did 35 loops in 60 seconds, which is nudging the world record.”

Only a few people actually made it all the way around. Sergey’s one of them.

It takes intense focus. You have to overcome your fear and stay in the moment. You have to use risk to your advantage.

“Anything that drives attention to the current moment drives flow,” Steven said.

It’s not just swings. It’s not just “smart drugs” or “extreme sports”.

On the podcast, Steven and Jamie give a range of techniques and ideas for how to get into flow.

I want in. I want in ALL of the time.

They have a quiz on their website (flowgenomeproject.com) that tells you your “flow profile.” Over 50,000 people have taken it.

On the first company I started I once disappeared into my office and programmed for about 24 hours straight. Completing a month’s project in one day’s time.

We kept that client for life, even when we sold the company.

Flow not only feels good, creates increased productivity and brain function, it’s also a key skill to compete.

I hope I can get back to that state again. Today.  

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  • Baja Pete

    James many of your articles are long winded. It would be helpful if you provided a one paragraph summary along the side at the top of the article so that the reader could decide whether to spend the time to read the rest and also to have a take away point to the article. For me I rarely read through your articles because they take to long to get to the point.

    • Today

      You’re probably not in the intended audience. Sorry.

  • Fabian

    You want to see flow, watch Moto GP. Flow is decadent. I listen to these guys and I get bored. There is no recipe to go into the flow but coke at slow doses if you’re not interested by what you’re doing.

  • Eva

    Thank you for the clear articles, including this one, and the time you spend to make them.
    Contrary to what has been said below, your articles are not long-winded but to the point and subtle which is a very difficult balance to find I’d say.
    (and yes, watching Moto GP may help as well).

    • I have earned 104 thousand dollars last year by doing an online job at my house and I did it by w­orking part time for few hours on daily basis. I followed a business opportunity I stumbled upon from company that i found online and I am so happy that i earned so much money on the side. It’s so beginner friendly a­­n­­d I’m so happy that i found this. This is what i do… please visit my account for webpage

  • Heading over to Flow Project right now to check in on my flow. Thanks James, as always.

    Carl Kruse

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  • David Rieman

    Steven Kotler was amazing, like always. Have picked up and read all his books, because of your podcasts with him. However, Wheeler showed his intellectual snobbery at the end with his thinly veiled anti-Trump diatribe. Where was your your angst during the last 8 years Wheeler? Won’t bother reading anything from him given his need to impose his political ideology.

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  • Georgiy Ivankin

    What was that communication game that they mentioned when they talked about vulnerability?

  • Brian Pun

    James. The title of this podcast bring to mind Roger Federer. Who won more grand slams than anyone else in men’s tennis in recent history. You should interview him about how he does this when he goes to New York for the U.S. Open.

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  • Steve Kislov

    What a great conversation! Loved every moment. Keep it up, James!