The saying is… you don’t choose books they choose you. Currently, we're living in the home of professional athletes, Crossfit trainers and now entrepreneurs, an adventurous couple comfortable pushing their own fitness, health, business and now family to new heights. Their personal home library is filled with great titles; books on fitness, health, leadership, and human development for performance and human evolution.
I’m a fan of Steven Kotler’s work on the highly inspirational ‘flow state’ from his work with the Flow Genome Project, thus I was drawn to read his, The Rise of Superman, from 2014. The book is part extreme adventure tales, part science manual with breakthroughs and all fascinating. After personally having quite a difficult year in 2017, I’m craving knowledge and new education that speaks to challenges and hardships, as necessary tools for personal growth for our own inner development; and this book surely delivers.
To quickly gain some perspective of this work, one must grasp the components of flow, an intoxicating state of mind that can slow time, increase perception all leading to increased performance and breakthroughs. The followings are direct excerpts from the book, enjoy.
Four Stages to Achieving Flow State for Superhuman Performance
Struggle - described below as a chemical and mental challenge to overcome a hardship
Release - an ability to remove from the problem/struggle, a relaxation state, a distraction
Flow - The goal is increased performance, clarity, time dilation, an incredibly present state of being
Recovery - The body and mind come down off the flow high, calming down to refuel and recharge
So what happens to us doing the phase of the struggle/challenges, how can we ultimately learn from it? If we have a growth mindset, a perspective that our experiences are present for us to learn from, we can overcome and see value in the struggle. Here is how Kotler states it...
“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 and our efforts unsustainable, and the whole situation seems as far from flow as one can get. How we handle these negative feelings is critical. In struggle, we are using the conscious mind to identify patterns, then repeating those patterns, enough times that they become chunks (aka learning blocks). Until that happens we are awkward and uncomfortable. To move through struggle takes a leap of faith, that the effort will really result in skill acquisition. By definition this demands a growth mindset (versus a fixed mindset).” [p. 120]
Now that we can see that struggle and challenge can lead to growth, we can look outside ourselves. One bold area in the middle of the book, goes deeper into the supreme benefits of team and group performance efforts to play in deeper flow states. While these are the necessary ingredients for entering and performing at peak levels, it was the next segment on solitary and groups that was truly fascinating involving different flow states.
Here are three unique types of flow states based on quantity of people involved:
Solitary flow - a truly solo experience (aka solo rock climbing, no team or belays involved)
Coactive flow - individual activities done in a group based experience (surfers all out together)
Interactive flow - interaction is inherent to the activity (rock climbing partners + teams) [p.132]
“It was discovered that the more social an activity, the higher the “flow enjoyment”, the level of joy experienced in flow - by participants. Higher enjoyment correlates to higher motivation… but the same chemicals also enhance performance and social bonding. As a result in group flow, spontaneity, cooperation, communication, creativity, productivity and performance levels all go through the roof. Resulting in the people who participated in group flow, were the highest performers.” [p.132]
The great news is group flow is eminently hackable… here are the 10 key ingredients to know:
Shared, clear goals
Element of risk - mental, physical, emotional, financial, reputational, etc.
Familiarity - unspoken language and common understandings
Blending egos - sharing the spotlight together as a team effort, rather than solo
Sense of control - autonomy combined with competence
Close listening - fully engaged and present, realtime, authentic dialogue
Always Say YES - group interactions are additive, building momentum, togetherness, innovation, by amplifying each other’s ideas and actions. [p.132]
The good news is that applying just a few triggers can produce big results!
For those of us on the entrepreneurial and hustler bent, this will be of particular interest and insight for you. It has always fascinated me the type of people that go into this bold and courageous work, often leading to bigger highs and lows than a more traditional work role.
“This may be a reason why people who seek out group flow often join startups, or work for themselves. Serial entrepreneurs keep starting new businesses (via small teams) as much for the ‘addictive’ flow experience, as for the additional success. People feel different on the other side of flow: stronger, more confident, more capable. Group flow is a social unifier and social leveler, creating… ‘communitas’ - that deep solidarity and togetherness that results from shared transcendent experiences.” [p. 134-135]
As the sole founder and manager of a media marketing innovation company, this information is challenging to realize and also inspirational in nature. For some time now, I’ve been craving (as stated, in emails applying for roles and positions), a passionate desire to work with an innovation team on a larger shared goal for the benefit of something larger. After reading this, I now realize I have been seeking this ‘group flow’, and intuitively knew there was a deeper benefit available, far outweighing my own personal gains.
Currently, we're working on two projects that comprise of 3-6 person teams, to support them in meeting shared goals, not simply personal ones. I am finding this work inspiring and challenging, yet not all the above listed 10 ingredients are present or inherent to these teams. Sadly in our education and culture, were not directly taught or instructed to adhere to this bold new work by Kotler. Luckily, the culture is promoting and sharing knowledge for the independent learners and students of performance, innovation, productivity and impact. A plus of being in the San Francisco Bay Area, is that we possess large masses of people who are not only passionate about this performance work, but are implementing it, testing it and developing it into practice via their work and lives. It’s said on the west coast, we ‘work to live’ (vs. live to work) and more group flow may be how we can all live better.
If you have gained value and insight from this post, I strongly encourage you to fully read, The Rise of Superman and Kotler’s follow-up book, Stealing Fire, he teamed up with innovator, Jamie Wheal. They also have live trainings and events via the Flow Genome Project, an interactive training center to put all these ideas into real world practice. It is the epitome of cool science.
Zen Hustlers, started by Jared Brick, a new community of passionate entrepreneurs, professionals, business-minded people who are seeking more than just financial growth. We seek a balance of innovation, productivity hacks with inner clarity, greater insight and building flow energy, as we balance on the edge.
Our collective path is one of adventurous discovery, not just end goals, we’re reaching for something deeper by acknowledging our present self, our impactful past and our future potential. We are Zen Hustlers... you're invited to join us!
The Rise of Superman, Decoding the science of ultimate human performance. Steven Kotler, Amazon Publishing, 2014
Stealing Fire, How Silicon Valley, the Navy Seals, Maverick scientists are revolutionizing the way we live and work. Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, Harper Collins, 2017
Flow Genome Project - The official source for flow science and training - http://www.flowgenomeproject.com