MALE SPEAKER: I’m really happy to welcome
our two guests and my friends here today,
Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal.
As you know, wellness, optimum living
have been big topics at Google for a while.
And they are complex issues.
I know my colleagues wrestle with these issues a lot,
trying to figure out solutions.
And today, what they will be presenting
and what we’ll learn more about, flow,
I think is a big part of this complex puzzle.
And so I want to give you a little bit of background
with both of these folks before we get started.
So Steven is a “New York Times” best-selling author.
He’s an award-winning journalist and co-founder
of the Flow Genome Project.
And he has many books, including “Abundance.”
And his new book, “The Rise of Superman”
will be the focus on today.
His books have been translated in many different languages.
Articles have appeared in more than 70 publications,
including “New Times Magazine,” “Atlantic Monthly,” “Wired,”
Jamie Wheal is the executive director
of the Flow Genome Project.
And he’s a leading expert in neurosemantics
of ultimate human performance.
And he works with Fortune 100 companies, leading business
schools, Young Presidents’ Organization,
an also Red Bull, with their world-class athletes.
So with that, I’m going to turn it over to Steven.
STEVEN KOTLER: Hello.
Thank you guys for coming out.
I very much appreciate you being here.
I want to kind of just orientate you
a little bit to what we’re going to do.
I’m going to kind of give you an introduction
to flow and start breaking down some of the neurobiology, how
it works under the hood and giving you
kind of the broad spectrum of importance.
And then Jamie’s is going to take over
and he’s going to talk about practical applications
about how you can get more flow into your lives.
As a way to kind of begin, I want
to tell you kind of where I began with this, which
was when I was 30 years old, I got Lyme disease.
And I spent the better portion of three years in bed.
If you don’t know what Lyme disease is like,
imagine the worst flea you’ve ever had,
crossed with paranoid schizophrenia.
So by the end of it, the doctors had pulled me off medicines.
My stomach lining was bleeding out.
There was nothing else anybody else anybody could do for me.
And I was functional, 5% to 10% of the time.
My mind was totally shut down.
My body was in so much pain, I could barely walk.
I was hallucinating.
My short-term memory was gone.
My long-term memory was gone.
It was all gone.
And at this point, I was going to kill myself out
The only thing I was going to be from here on forward
was a burden to my friends and my family.
And it was really a question of when and not if at that point.
And in the middle of all this kind of negative thinking,
a friend of mine showed up at my house
and demanded we go surfing.
And it was a ridiculous request.
First of all, it had been about five years
since I had surfed at that point.
And the last time I had surfed, I
had nearly drowned in a big way of accident in Indonesia
and wanted nothing to do with surfing.
And as I said, I could barely walk across the room.
And she was a pain in my ass.
She wouldn’t leave and wouldn’t leave.
And kept badgering me and kept badgering me.
And after finally about three hours of this,
I was like, what the hell, let’s go surfing.
What is the worst that can happen?
And they she kind of walked me to their car.
And they put me in their car and they drove me to Sunset Beach
in Los Angeles.
And if you know anything about surfing in Los Angeles,
you know that Sunset Beach is just
about the wimpiest beginner wave in the entire world.
And it was summer.
And the water was warm and the tide was low.
And the waves were crap, like maybe two feet high.
And no one was out.
And they walked me out to the break, literally by my elbows
and kind of helped me out there.
They gave me a board the size of Cadillac.
And the bigger the board, the easier it is to surf.
This was enormous.
And I was out there about 30 seconds when a wave came.
And I’m not quite sure what happened,
muscle memory took over, whatever.
The wave came.
I spun the board around.
I paddled a couple times and I popped up.
And I popped up into a completely different dimension.
My senses were incredibly incredibly, incredibly acute,
I was clear headed for the first time in years.
I felt like I had panoramic vision.
And time had dilated.
It had slowed down.
So that freeze-frame effect, if you’ve ever
been in a car crash, that was my experience.
And the most incredible thing was I felt great.
I mean I felt alive, that thrum of possibility.
And it was the first time in about three years
that I had felt it.
And that wave felt so good, I caught four more in a row.
And after that fifth wave, I was disassembled.
I was gone.
They had to carry me to the car.
They put me in the car.
They drove me home.
They had to put me into bed.
And people actually had to come and bring me food
because for 14 days, I couldn’t walk again.
So I couldn’t make it 50 feet away to my kitchen
to make a meal.
And on the 15th day, which was the day
that I could walk again, I got back in my car
and I went back to the ocean and I did it again.
And again, I had this kind of crazy, quasi-mystical
And again, it felt great.
And the cycle kept repeating itself.
And over about six months’ time, when
the only thing I was doing different was surfing,
I went from about 10% functionality to about 80%
So my first question was what the hell is going on?
Because surfing is not a cure for chronic
autoimmune conditions, first of all.
Second of all, I’m a science writer by training.
I’m a rational materialist.
And I don’t have mystical experiences.
And I certainly don’t have them in the waves while surfing.
The whole thing seemed ludicrous.
Lyme is only fatal if it enters your brain.
And I was pretty certain that the reason
I was having these quasi-mystical experiences out
in the waves was because I was dying.
So where all this started for me was a giant quest
to figure out what the hell was going on with me.
What I discovered was this altered state of consciousness
I was experiencing had a name, flow states.
Now, you may know this by other names, being in the zone,
If you happen to be a beatnik jazz musician,
then you’re in the pocket.
If you’re a stand-up comic, it’s called the forever box.
The lingo goes on, and on, and on.
The term researchers prefer is flow.
And they prefer this term for a reason.
It’s actually a technical term.
And we’ll come back to why in a second.
But in flow, what happens is attention
becomes so focused on the task at hand
that everything else disappears.
Your sense of action or awareness merge together.
So the doer and the beer become one.
A sense of self, our sense of self-consciousness
So that means it slows down like I mentioned.
You can that freeze-frame effect, like in a car crash.
Sometimes it speeds up.
And five hours will go by in like five minutes.
And throughout all aspects of performance,
mental and physical go through the roof.
I’m not going to dwell too much on it.
I’m just going to kind of explain it.
And we’re going to go on to a lot of things.
But I want to talk about why flow actually healed me
from Lyme disease, just so you guys understand
what was going on.
We’re going to talk later about the neurochemicals involved
All of them significantly jack up the immune system.
More importantly, they reset the nervous system back
So they calm you down.
An autoimmune condition is essentially
a haywire nervous system.
So the fact that periodic flow states were calming my system
back down is allowing me to form new neural nets.
Neural nets that didn’t lead immediately back to illness.
And this is what kind of gave me a toehold and possibility
to get better.
What I also discovered when I was
researching flow and learning all this stuff
is that the exact same state that
helped me get from seriously subpar back to normal
was helping a lot of other people
go from normal up to superman.
Another thing that I learned very quickly on
is that I really was not the first person
to come to this conclusion.
Flow science dates back about 150 years, to the early 1870s.
By the turn of the century, Harvard psychologist
and philosopher William James was looking at the state.
And he was the first person to figure out
that the brain can radically alter consciousness
to improve performance.
More importantly was the work of one of James’ students,
Walter Bradford for Cannon, who was a great physiologist.
Bradford Cannon discovered the fight or flight response.
And in doing so, he kind of give us our first window
into where this accelerated performance
might be coming from.
This was a very, very big deal.
Before that moment in time, performance enhancement
was essentially a gift from the gods.
You want a better time in 100-yard dash, Hermes can help.
You want to write a better poem, talk to the muses.
But Walter Bradford Cannon turned a gift from the gods
into standard biology.
He give us our very first toehold into the mystery.
In 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow
picked up on this thread.
He discovered that flow was a commonality
among all successful people.
And then in the 1960s and ’70s, the real revolution began,
a guy named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,
who is then the chairman of the University of Chicago
Csikszentmihalyi sort of– well, Maslow discovered the state
in successful people.
Csikszentmihalyi got curious about kind of everybody else
in the world.
So he made what is now considered
one of the largest global psychological studies ever.
He went around the world, asking people
about the times in their life when I felt their best
and they performed their best.
And it was a huge group.
He started out talking to experts.
He talked to expert rock climbers,
ballet dancers, artists, surgeons.
It didn’t matter.
They all said same thing.
They felt their best.
And they performed their best in the state he termed flow.
Then he blew it out to everybody else.
And by everybody else, I really mean everybody else.
He talked to Navajo sheepherders.
He talked to Italian grape farmers.
He talked to elderly Korean women.
He talked to Japanese teenage motorcycle gang members.
He talked to Detroit assembly line workers.
Everybody he talked to told him the same thing.
They felt their best, they performed their best
when they were in the state of flow.
Csikszentmihalyi also came up with the term “flow.”
One of the reasons was when he was talking to all these people
and they describing this state, they always said,
well, I’m using my skills to the utmost.
I’m pushing myself as far as I possibly can.
But it feels effortless.
When I’m in this state, every decision,
every action leads seamlessly, fluidly to the next.
In other words, flow felt flowy.
The other major finding that came out of this,
as I hinted at a second ago, flow is ubiquitous.
It shows up everywhere, in anyone, anywhere,
provided certain initial conditions are met.
What this means is that everybody from jazz musicians
in Algeria, to software designers in Mumbai,
to coders here in Silicon Valley are using flow
to massively accelerate performance.
And it is a considerable bit of acceleration.
Flow amplifies all of our physical skills.
So in this state, we are better.
We are faster.
We are stronger.
We are more dexterous.
And we are more agile.
So our brains.
Flow jacks up information processing.
So when we’re in the state, our senses
are actually taking in more information per second.
We’re processing it more deeply.
So that is using more parts of our brain at once.
And while there’s a lot of debate about this,
it does appear that we are processing it more quickly.
And it’s not just information processing
that is getting jacked up.
Pattern recognition, future prediction, basically all
the fundamental neuronal processes in the brain
are amplified by flow.
As a result of this, scientists now
believe flow sits at the heart of every athletic championship.
So almost every gold medal that has ever been won.
But it also accounts for significant, significant
progress in the arts and major scientific breakthroughs.
In business, McKinsey did a 10-year study.
They found that top executives report being five times more
productive in flow than out of flow.
So you got to stop and think about that.
Normally, I have to explain to most audiences
that five times is actually a 500% increase.
I’m guessing you guys got it.
But what that means is you can go to work on Monday,
spend Monday in flow, take Tuesday through Friday off,
and get as much done as your steady-state peers.
So it is a huge, huge, huge amplification.
And that 500% increase may sound ridiculous
until you consider action-and-adventure sport
So one of things McKinsey discovered
is that average people, average workers, spend less than 5%
of their work life in flow.
One place where this is definitely not true
is in action-and adventure sports.
Action-and-adventure sport athletes,
for reasons that Jamie is going to get into later,
have essentially become the best flow hackers on Earth.
And this has happened over about the past 25 years.
And there are reasons for it.
And we’ll talk about them later.
But I want to tell you what this has produced.
It has produced near exponential growth
in what’s termed ultimate human performance, which
is performance when life or limb is on the line.
Nothing like this has ever happened before.
Sports progression, it’s slow.
It’s governed by the laws of evolution.
At no point in history does it quintuple in a decade.
Yet this is exactly what’s been happening in surfing, skiing,
snowboarding, rock climbing, mountain biking, et cetera, all
the action and adventure sports.
I’ll give you a couple of examples.
Surfing is a great one.
This is a thousand-year-old sport.
From 400 AD to 1996, the biggest wave anybody has ever surfed
is 25 feet.
Above that, it’s believed impossible.
Scientists don’t think it’s possible.
Surfers don’t think it’s possible.
Today, we’re pushing into 100-foot waves.
In snowboarding, in 1992, the biggest gap jump
that anybody had ever cleared is 40 feet.
Now, 40 feet is a big jump to clear on a snowboard.
Today, as you can tell from this image,
snowboarders are pushing into 230, 240 foot jumps.
So near exponential growth in ultimate human performance.
The better news, at the same time all this is going on,
they solved a couple of problems.
For a long time, one of the big problems in flow research
was the subject of state.
How the hell do know if your research subjects are in flow?
The good news about action adventure sport athletes,
sort of, is that the level of progression
has advanced so much in recent years
that if people are not in flow on their performing,
they’re ending up in the hospital or dead.
So this gives you a hard research set to work with.
It’s a hard data set.
If they lived through the experience,
we know they’re in flow.
Simultaneously, combined with this– flow science, as I said,
goes back to 150 years.
Most people are really aware of the first 130 years, which
is when we figured out the psychology of the state.
And we got really good at the psychology of the state.
What’s happened since 1990ish is that our neurobiology
has gotten very good.
Our brain imaging technology has gotten very good.
EEG has gotten a lot better.
And for the very first time in history,
we can look under the hood and we
can figure out what’s going on in flow.
One of the first things that we discovered is there’s– the old
idea about ultimate human performance was based
on what’s called the 10% brain myth.
It was actually a misinterpretation
of William James.
But it’s the idea– and I’m sure you’re all familiar with it–
that most of us only use 10% of our brain.
For ultimate performance, a/k/a flow,
it has to be all of our brain firing on all of our cylinders.
That was the idea.
It turns out that’s exactly backwards.
What’s happening in flow is the brain
isn’t becoming hyperactive.
It’s actually starting to deactivate.
So this is happening for a number of reasons.
The simple reason is it’s an inefficiency exchange.
The brain is a giant energy hog.
It’s 2% of our mass.
It uses 20% of our energy.
So one of the fundamental rules of the brain
is how do I can conserve energy?
So conscious processing is very slow
and it’s extremely energy expensive.
Subconscious processing, on the other hand, is very, very quick
and it’s very, very energy efficient.
So what’s happening in flow is we
are trading conscious processing for subconscious processing.
As this is happening, huge swatches of the brain
are being shut off.
The technical term for this is “transient,” meaning temporary,
“hypofrontality,” hypo, H-Y-P-O, it’s the opposite of hyper.
It means to deactivate, to slow down, to shut off.
Frontality refers to the prefrontal cortex,
the part of your brain that’s back here,
that houses all of your higher cognitive functions.
So why does time dilate in a flow state?
Why does it speed up or slow down?
Because time, as Baylor neuroscientist David Eagleman
figured out, is calculated all over the brain, especially all
over the prefrontal cortex.
As parts of it start to wink out,
we can no longer separate past, from present, from future.
So we’re plunged into what researchers
call the “deep now.”
To give you another example of what goes on in flow,
another portion of the brain that goes off– we
talked earlier about how self and self-consciousness
Why does self-consciousness disappear in flow?
Because a portion of the brain known as the dorsal lateral
prefrontal cortex, which sort of is
responsible for self monitoring and impulse control,
So self-monitoring, that’s your inner critic, your inner Woody
That’s that nagging, defeatist voice
that’s always on in your head.
In flow, it’s turned off.
When it turns off, we experience this as liberation.
We are literally free from ourselves.
Creativity goes up.
Risk taking goes up.
Performance goes up.
We are much more open to experience.
So what we’ve just been talking about
is neuroanatomy, where in the brain
something is taking place.
If you really want to kind of map an experience in the brain,
you have to talk about neuroanatomy,
where in the brain it’s taking place, neurochemistry,
and neuroelectricity, which are the two
ways the brain sends signals.
I’m going to talk a little about neurochemistry.
Then Jamie’s going to pick it up and talk a little bit
In flow, we get five of the most potent neurochemicals
the brain can possibly produce.
So all of these are performance enhancing neurochemicals.
Norepinephrine and dopamine enhance focus.
They tighten focus.
They drive us more into the now.
It also speeds up muscle reaction time.
They lower signal to noise ratios in the brain
also so we have more pattern recognition.
Anandamide is a pain reliever.
But it also speeds up or increases lateral thinking,
thinking outside the box.
So pattern recognition is defined
as the linking of similar ideas together.
Lateral thinking is the linking of disparate ideas together.
That goes up in flow.
Endorphins, very, very potent painkillers
and very, very powerful social bonding chemicals.
And serotonin keeps us calm throughout.
That’s the chemical at the heart of the Prozac revolution.
So the thing you need to know about all
of these neurochemicals, besides the fact
that they up performance, is how they impact motivation.
So for those of you who don’t know much about neurochemistry
and drugs, all of these chemicals
are incredibly potent reward chemicals.
Let’s talk about dopamine for a second.
Cocaine is widely considered the most addictive substance
When someone snorts cocaine, all that actually happens
is dopamine floods into their brain
and then the brains blocks its re-uptake.
So the substance is in your brain for longer.
Norepinephrine– let me go back– norepinephrine is
speed or Ritalin.
Anandamide is the same psychoactive
that’s inside of marijuana, THC.
Endorphins are opiates.
And just to give you an example, there
are about 20 different endorphins
in the brain and the body.
The most common one is 100 times more potent
than medical morphine.
And serotonin is essentially MDMA.
The point here is that when all five of these chemicals
flood into your brain, it produces
an extremely, extremely, extremely addictive experience.
Flow is arguably the most addictive experience on Earth
because it’s probably the only time, or the only time
that we know of, when all five of these chemicals
get flooded into your brain at once.
Researchers don’t like the word “addictive.”
It has very negative connotations.
So they prefer “autotelic,” which means an end in itself.
What this basically means is that once an experience starts
producing flow, we will go extraordinarily far
out of our way to get more of it.
Which is why researchers talk about flow
as the source code of intrinsic motivation.
So why does this apply in daily living?
One reason is, as a recent Gallup survey pointed out,
71% of American workers are disengaged
or actively disengaged on the job.
The other 29% have jobs that produce flow.
So we really know what the solution is to this problem.
The other thing I want to talk about,
flow doesn’t just amp up motivation.
It also massively jacks up creativity.
It’s hard to put numbers on this.
We did a kind of a loose study at the Flow Genome Project.
And I say loosen loose and preliminary.
And people reported a 7x improvement in creativity.
To give you another example of this,
an Australian study– it’s a neat study–
they took 40 people.
They give everybody a really tricky brain teaser to solve.
Nobody could solve it.
They induced flow artificially using transcranial stimulation.
They literally took an electric pulse
and knocked out the prefrontal cortex
and basically induced transient hypofrontality.
23 people solved the problem in record time.
So creativity goes massively through there.
Again, this comes down to neurochemistry.
So creativity as a skill is usually,
not always, but usually recombinatory.
It’s the product of a novel idea bumping into an old thought
to create something startling new.
So if you want to increase creativity,
you have to increase all of those things.
Well, norepinephrine and dopamine, they tighten focus.
The brain is taking in more information for a second.
So it’s heightening our access to novelty,
which is on the front end of the creativity equation.
Because they lower signal to noise ratios in the brain,
they are also upping pattern recognition,
so our ability to link ideas together.
And then anandamide is increasing lateral thinking
or our ability to link disparate ideas together.
So literally the state of flow surrounds creativity.
And what’s really interesting here is creativity,
as most of you I’m sure are aware,
is a quality that’s really, really desirable.
IBM did a global survey.
I think it was 1,500 CEOs.
Of the quality most necessary in a CEO
today, creativity was the number one answer.
Yet how to teach creativity?
How do we teach people to be more creative, a big problem.
Teresa Amabile at Harvard did a study
where she discovered that not only are people
more creative in the state of flow,
but that heightened creativity actually
outlasts the state by a couple of days.
Which suggests– and more work needs to be done–
but it suggests that the state of flow
actually trains the brain to be more creative.
The other things these neurochemicals do
is they exist to kind of tag experiences.
So a quick shorthand for learning and memory, the more
neurochemicals that show up during experience, the greater
chance that experience moves from short-term holding
into long-term storage.
Neurochemicals are essentially a big tag on experience.
It says, important, save for later.
So flow is a gigantic dump of potent neurochemicals.
So this has a radical impact on learning.
In studies run by the US military
by DARPA in advanced brain monitoring, which
is a team in Carlsbad, California,
they again induced flow artificially,
two different ways.
They used transcranial direct stimulation
and they also used neural feedback.
And they found that snipers in flow
learned an average of 230% faster than normal.
They then repeated this same study
with novices, nonmilitary personnel.
And they found that the time it took
to get from novice to expert by artificially inducing flow
could be cut in half.
So what this tells us is that Malcolm Gladwell’s
famous 10,000 hours to mastery, flow cuts them in half.
So this is where I’m going to stop with learning,
and creativity, and motivation because I think
those are three big categories that apply in everybody’s life.
As a way of kind of transitioning into Jamie, what
I want to say is what has also come out of all this research
is not just what’s going on in flow.
And because we’ve had these athletes as a data set,
we can figure out what they are doing
to get into flow so successfully and we can work backwards.
And we can apply this knowledge across all domains
So what we’ve discovered is that flow states have triggers.
These are preconditions that lead to more flow.
I’m going to turn it over and let Jamie talk about this
and why they’re so important.
JAMIE WHEAL: Thank you.
So about 2,000 years ago, there was this epic, “Old Testament”
rap battle between Rabbi Hillel and the pharisees.
And the pharisees challenged him.
They said, OK, Rabbi Hillel, you think you’re a hot shot.
Can you stand on one leg and recite all of scripture?
And he said yes, I can.
And he did it.
And he stood on one leg.
And he said do unto others as you
would have them do unto you.
The rest of scripture is mere commentary.
And here at Google, it’s your guys’ world
to be organizing the world’s information.
And while that is ambitious and noble,
you guys know, too, that it’s the insights
we gain, it’s not simply the data we gather,
that makes a difference.
And where we are today is truly drowning
in information and just as we always
have been, starving for motivation.
We know better.
We know we’re supposed to eat real foods, mostly plants,
not too much.
We know we’re supposed to do work that matters.
We know we’re supposed to practice gratitude.
We know that meditation is supposed to be amazing
if we ever get around to it and can sit still long enough.
We know all this stuff.
But if you just– a quick glance at the stats behind me.
Look at the toll.
We are less healthy.
We are more obese.
There’s higher workplace injuries.
There’s dollar values attached to this stuff.
Lifetime fitness, arguably the kind
of access to embodiment and wellness
for like the suburban masses, 75% attrition rate.
And that’s an internal statistic.
75% of the people that say yes, I
want you to take my $150 a month, I want the outcome,
never show up again.
And most chillingly, a study at Harvard conducted–
that, hey, when you are faced with a chronic lifestyle
disease, diabetes, heart disease, smoking
chronic stress, and your doctor says, hey, look, here’s
You really have to change your ways
and if you don’t, it might kill you.
This is what we’re left with.
Seven out of eight of us would rather die than change.
So back to these guys.
[INAUDIBLE] is not just kind of noodling around on the sides.
They actually have a full-bore research project.
It is global.
It is interdisciplinary.
It’s called the Quantified Warriors.
So forget you’re kind of Quantified Self meet-ups
here in the Valley.
These guys are building these supersoldiers of 2030.
And what they’re doing is sort of alternately
fascinating and horrifying, depending
on your point of view.
But there’s something really interesting
that’s been going on.
And Steven talked a little bit about there’s
a 150 years of research.
The last 10 to 20 years has been getting super-interesting.
And if I was in your seats, I’d be saying, OK,
this sounds OK, cool.
But how come I don’t know about it?
If it was really all that, we’d know about it right now.
And there’s actually a problem.
There’s a reason why we don’t have
this as shared working knowledge.
Which is really how do we take information and translate it
Because as Steven said, flow is autotelic.
Flow has this massive neurochemical dump.
It encodes and rewards us to do more of it.
And if we could unlock that, intrinsic human motivation,
what’s possible next?
Because these guys, the Special Operations forces,
Yale is working with Delta Force and the Rangers,
and Red Bull is working with the Coronado SEAL Team Six,
these guys are getting way into the fine details.
But they are explicitly disincented
to share this knowledge.
One of them wants to stay a step ahead of the bad guys.
And the other guys want to step up on the podium.
So what they’ve been learning has not been shared yet.
And certainly part of our mission
is to actually take this extreme, the folks who
risk their lives for a living, and bring it
more into the mainstream.
Bring it to impact entrepreneurs.
Bring it to communities of innovation
where we can harness the same rocket fuel.
So to go back and just kind of shake out
three of the more practical takeaways of what–
if you remember nothing else from today,
please think through these ones.
Number one is what we were just talking about.
Flow is the source code of intrinsic motivation reinforced
with the most potent neurochemical set
we have access to.
Next, it shortens learning.
Which means either I get to spend a lot more time
on the couch or I can actually go further
in my domains of inquiry.
I can learn more.
What happens to human progression
when we can double its efficacy?
And lastly, again Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,
the godfather of flow, did a 10-year global study.
And one of the additional benefits
was that the people who have the most flow in their lives
are in fact the happiest.
So as far as the bottom line in optimal psychology,
that is the “so what” at the end of it.
So to go back to these action sports athletes as a case study
because they’ve been kind of a fringe population.
People don’t pay much attention to them.
The notion ski bum and surf bum aren’t exactly warm
embraces of people who have dedicated
their lives in these domains.
But they really have come up with three
very good and transferable ways for all of us
to get more flow in our life.
And the three re deep embodiment.
When they are doing things, they are
feeling the forces of gravity.
So their proprioceptive sense, like where
are my limbs in space, my vestibular sense,
where is my inner ear in relationship to my hips,
compression, weightlessness, rotation, all of these things
are giving very strong sensory motor inputs
into our body and brain.
And as Steven was mentioning, cells that fire together,
wire together and we create richer and more robust
So we’ve some fascinating studies.
They did a sort of human life-sized Frogger experiment
with college athletes versus just
frat boys and sorority girls.
And they said, OK, who’s going to do better
at this life-size Frogger game and who would you
put your money on?
Well, the athletes and the athletes won.
But not for the reasons we would think.
They didn’t win because they had faster reaction time.
They didn’t win because they could– explosive box jumps.
They won because they could process complex multivariable
equations faster and then act on that information.
So the notion of the dumb jock was also absolutely wrong.
And in comparison– so this goes back
to the sort of ancient Shaolin temple– mastery
and control of body yielding mastery and control of mind.
So you go from basically going on
a dial-up modem– I’m just a brain on a stick, disembodied,
disconnected, only perceiving and receiving information
through one data feed– into broadband or even satellite.
I am now picking up all channels available to me
as a sensing cognition machine.
And those neuron nets are now fired and wired together.
Next, rich environments.
Think about the difference in a surfer
or a skier, big mountain skier, any of these things,
between just playing ping-pong.
And every day that ping-pong table is exactly the same.
And my paddle is.
And the ball bounces the same way.
It all works.
And I can kind of check out.
But in a situation where the environment
is so rich it’s overwhelming and stimulating,
it actually sort of can knock out my waking sense of self
and forces me to pay explicit, acute attention
because if I don’t, I get knocked down.
And lastly, high consequences, which
I just kind of foreshadowed.
In fact, Oscar Wilde I think famously said,
there’s nothing like the prospect
of being hung in the morning to clear one’s mind.
So immediate high consequences have this wonderful effect,
which is very hard in this day and age.
We’re always elsewhere and elsewhen.
I’m thinking about tomorrow.
I’m on my phones.
I’m pitching this.
I’m posting that.
Like high consequences bring me back into the incontrovertible
It is the only place that flow can happen.
And if I get out of it, if I drift, I get spanked.
And it hurts and I learn.
Now, think about how much of our learning and experiences
these days are disconnected from those kind of tight feedback
So let’s translate this to your guys’ world
a little bit because that’s the beauty.
And this would just be kind of a curiosity
if it didn’t matter to us as well.
So think about rich environments.
You guys are obviously in one.
The cross pollination– a lot of the sort
of cutting edge organizational design of workplaces,
whether it’s at Pixar with the atrium
and the serendipitous meetings.
Whether it’s your guys’ cafeterias and restaurants,
with the lines and the management
and all of your commons areas explicitly
designed to create novel, changing
environments, high consequences.
I mean obviously, next door Facebook’s got the shit fast,
break stuff, lean and agile design and development.
The entrepreneurial mentalities that you guys
have where failure is expected because if you’re not failing,
you’re not learning as rapidly as you might.
And deep embodiment, I mean it’s no mistake I think that you
guys here at Google, with founders who
were both Montessori children– which in the flow research
is the most flow-prone educational method
in the world, with sensorial, manipulative children sweeping
and cutting and actually using body and brain simultaneously,
as well as the founders’ passion for all things action
sports and adventure, the DNA of this place
is pretty much set up to be about an optimal an environment
for cultivating this as anywhere you could think of.
So Steven described the five neurochemicals
and described the neuroanatomy a little bit.
But let’s put this in motion.
Let’s actually put this in time, through time
as we might experience it.
Because what this is, what we’re calling the flow genome
matrix, which is literally what’s the genome?
What are the core components?
How do they work.
And if we have that knowledge, what can we do with it?
And just so you guys kind of track
the research, the lineage behind this model,
this comes largely out of Herbert Benson’s work
at Harvard, as well as Dr. Lesley Sherlinis, who
is the sort of mad scientist, EEG guy
behind a lot of the SEAL team and Red Bull
work that we just mentioned earlier.
But let’s just take a look at this process
because the first thing to dispel is that flow is a state.
So it comes and it goes.
It’s not an ever on kind of thing.
But it’s not like a light switch.
It’s not just, it’s on and I’m in it, or it’s off
and I’m someplace else.
It’s a cycle.
And it has at least four distinct stages.
So if we take a look at how those progress,
the first– whether you’re a more of a fan of M. Scott
Peck and “The Road Less Traveled” or Buddha
and his Noble Truths, either way, life’s a bitch.
Life is struggle.
And that’s how it starts.
And we start by being in over our heads.
We start by finding ourselves in a situation or a condition–
and this could be late night code delivery.
This could be some new, big business problem.
It could be relational, whatever it is.
And we start out of our depth.
And we end up with a bit of a sort of angel
and a devil dialogue on our shoulder.
So our prefrontal cortex that houses our executive function,
what we normally think as me and the thing we’ve
been rewarded in school and rewarded in work
for being smart and controlled and precise
and delivering things on time, we try and solve it
full frontal assault.
But the problem is bigger than that.
It’s bigger than our capabilities.
So we start toggling back to kind
of our primitive sense of self, our amygdala,
and is this a fight or flight situation?
Do I need to pull the rip cord?
And meanwhile, my brain waves are in quite rapid beta.
This is me trying to solve binary problems
and this may not be one.
And then I start getting cortisol
and I start getting adrenaline in my system.
And I’m really starting to get jacked.
And it’s either I’m going to collapse at this point,
right, it’s going to be a fetal position or–
or has anybody ever like put on boxing gloves at the gym
or tried to do something like that
and then you get like Mike Tyson?
You say everybody’s got a plan until they get hit?
Have you guys ever experienced an adrenalized response
where your knees are wobbly?
Or even if it’s just like cop lights in the car behind you
and it drives by.
And it just pools in your legs and you’re like grrh.
And you still feel like you need to like puke
on the side of the road.
That’s the adrenaline response.
So that’ll take most of us out.
Unless, either through just sheer fatigue, or dumb luck,
or knowing that there’s this actually loop on then,
I get into the next phase, which is the relaxation response.
And typically, and sort of pro tip,
when they did the research with the darker snipers,
as well as Olympic archers and everybody else,
the way they got into this, the way
they made that shift was focusing on breath.
So tip of the hat to all your guys’ meditation practices.
Focus on breath, lower your respiratory rate.
And you start approaching equilibrium.
Nitrous oxide enters the bloodstream
and flushes away the fight or flight chemicals,
flushes away the cortisol, flushes away
And then brings in the dopamine, the endorphins,
and the anandamide.
At that point, my brain waves go from faster beta
into a slower alpha wave.
And I’m right there on the doorstep of the flow state.
I move into the flow state.
And again, there are four gradations.
I mean you can have what Steven had,
which was this sort of spontaneous, healing,
quasi-mystical experience, like, ah, man, I’m
one with everything.
Or you could just have it, hey, all the lights were green
and I got to work five minutes early.
How’s it going?
So the point here is that if you go into the deeper flow state,
you don’t just hang out in that alpha where I’m resourceful,
I’ve got insights.
I actually move into an even deeper, slower state
known as theta.
And typically, that’s one that only shows up
in lifetime meditators.
Any of the studies at Madison on Tibetan meditators, that’s
what you would see those guys be able to get into way
more often than us.
And the other time is kind of in that threshold between waking
So if you’ve ever been lying on the couch
and you’re watching TV– “West Wing” used to do this to us all
the time, just soporific, grrh.
But in that moment before you’re unconscious,
you’re in a hypnogogic state.
And it’s so deeply relaxed, most of us just miss it.
We just go to sleep.
We nod off.
But if you’ve got discipline and training,
you can actually stay there and be alert and aware.
And there and only there can come these lightning bolts
And that becomes these gestalt integrations.
That become sort of your chocolate and my peanut butter
and yee-haw, we got some Reese’s.
It becomes those moments of massive lateral integration
that absolutely change the game.
And finally– and this is a critical stage that most of us
We just don’t– oops, I just did that.
There we go.
Most of us forget about the recovery phase.
But I’m sure you guys have come across all this stuff
within the learning theory, which
is that when we think we’re learning,
we’re not really learning.
When we’re doing stuff, all we’re doing is collecting data.
And that most of our pattern consolidation
and actually annexing of new skills
is happening as we sleep, and specifically
when we sleep, in delta waves.
So by no means are we just have camping out for the week
after a flow state in delta.
We wanted to highlight that a lot of that integration, a lot
of my level up to what’s possible
for me now occurs in the delta frequencies of deep sleep.
So that in a nutshell is the cycle.
And think about what this means?
Because now that we know this we can hack it.
And what’s so interesting and exciting about that
is that think about the entire there sort of human development
track, including mindfulness, including optimal psychology,
including tons of the wonderful stuff that’s
both present inside this organization
and kind of happening more and more in the world, most of it
is trying to get our waking, conscious selves, our egos,
to go quiet, back to Steven’s slide
with our inner Woody Allen.
But that’s a real tar baby experience.
Because if I’m reading a book on how
to get rid of the very part of me that’s reading the book,
it’s kind of like hiding your own Easter eggs.
And the more I struggle with it, the stucker I get.
That’s why you see so many uptight baby boomers at Esalen.
I mean it’s one of those situations.
I’m trying so hard that I cannot actually decouple from
the thing I’m trying to release.
So what this lets you do is back into it.
Don’t worry about who you are now and trying to change it.
Just optimize your bio, neuro self system and then
see what your subjective inner experience is.
And that’s potentially game changing and that’s kind
of right where we are on the verge of these days.
So I want to leave you guys with Steven,
on just kind of a sense of the direction of things,
where things are going next.
And then we’d love to invite your questions or queries
and potentially just have a conversation of what’s
Thank you very much guys.
STEVEN KOTLER: So two things.
Jamie gave you a look, high consequence, deep embodiment,
These are three flow triggers.
There are, we believe, 17 total flow triggers.
There are these three environmental triggers.
They’re external triggers.
There are three internal triggers.
These are psychological triggers.
There are 10 social triggers.
There is a shared version of a the flow state,
a collective version known as group flow.
There are 10 triggers that bring that on.
And as far as we know, there is one creative trigger.
There is also the flow cycle, which we just broke down.
So the flow cycle sort of functions
as a map for the experience.
And the triggers tell you what to do,
where you are in that map.
The really important thing and the thing
that I want to leave you with is that we
are at the very, very front edge of this research.
We have a pretty solid understanding
of the psychology of flow.
We understand the neurobiology.
What we don’t know is huge.
We don’t know, for example, the order of the cascade.
Neural chemicals proceed.
Neuroanatomical changes proceed.
Brain waves, we don’t know.
Nobody has a clue.
And the physiological questions, right?
We’ve got mind.
We’ve got brain.
But what’s actually going on in the body,
we’re at the front, front edge of that revolution.
We’re just starting to answer those questions.
And we’re not going to really get all this done until we have
what we’re calling a heat map of flow which
maps the psychology onto the neurobiology,
onto the physiology.
And the reason I’m telling you all this
is we know from the McKinsey study
that top executives are five times more productive in flow.
We know that action-and-adventure sports
athletes have produced near exponential growth
in ultimate human performance.
But we are just asked getting started.
If you talk to a lot of people in this world
and ask them what percent of our capabilities
do you think we’ve actually used,
even with all this kind of flow hacking stuff that we’re doing,
the answer you get is 1%, 2%, 3%, 4% 5%.
I’ve never actually heard anybody
give an answer above 5%.
Which is to say we are at the very
front end of this revolution.
The near exponential growth in ultimate human performance
showing up in action-and-adventure sports
may not be the endpoint.
It may be the starting point for possibility.
So that’s where I want to leave you guys.
And then we’ll open it up.
We’ll take questions.
We’ll have a discussion, whatever you want.
But thank you so much for listening.
AUDIENCE: So thanks a lot for the talk.
I’m a snow boarder, a kite surfer, a motorcycler.
And now I realize why I like those things so much.
I guess it was pretty evident.
But there was also research that showed
that people who ride motorcycles regularly kind of live longer.
STEVEN KOTLER: It definitely– I mean it certainly
jives with what we know about flow and the immune system.
But I would just assume that most who ride motorcycles
actually probably die younger.
AUDIENCE: That’s OK.
Accidents aside, yes.
But what I wanted to ask is generally
like in the computer world– or we also
have several courses at Google here
that claim that if you overclock your processor,
the lifespan decreases.
And what you claiming with your research or some
of the research you mentioned is that it actually improves
various aspects and creates long-term positive effects.
Is that true?
STEVEN KOTLER: Flow?
Having more flow in your life, which
means overclocking your processor.
And you mentioned about the release state
and the importance of that.
And I think we have several courses.
And [INAUDIBLE] and that talk about that and how important
it is to take breaks and stuff like that and so on.
But what I’m interested in is let’s
say I find a way to induce more flow in my life.
Is it actually going to also produce like long term–
or am I going to die early, like Steve Jobs?
STEVEN KOTLER: OK.
So there’s two kind of answers to this question.
The first is that the research shows
that the people with the most flow in their lives
are quote, unquote “the happiest people on Earth.”
That is something of a misnomer.
So flow always, always, always, always includes
kind of pushing yourself to the utmost.
You’re rising to the challenge.
One of the psychological triggers
is known as the challenge/skills ratio.
So all of these flow triggers that we
talk about, high consequence, deep embodiment, et cetera,
flow follows focus.
So all of these flow triggers are
ways of driving attention to the now.
So one of the ways we know we pay the most attention when
the skills we bring to the task are slightly less
than the challenge at hand.
It’s known as the challenge/skills ratio.
Flow exists when we are stretching, but not snapping.
You are constantly rising to meet your challenge.
The studies show that flow correlates directly
to life satisfaction.
You get more meaning.
You get more purpose.
Happiness is fleeting.
It’s in the moment.
It’s I feel really good right now.
That may not always be the case with flow
because rising to challenges are difficult.
I always say that people who get really good at flow hacking,
get really, really good at being uncomfortable.
The other thing I wanted to say to kind of go back this
is– and I want to talk about why this is not self-help.
And it’s not self-help for a couple of reasons.
On the positive side, self-help is
about 5% increase, 10% increase.
It’s about three things I can tell you today
that you can start doing tomorrow
and your life is going to get better.
Flow is not like that at all.
It is not 5%.
It’s not 10%.
It is a step function-worth of change.
It is a big shift forward.
But it comes at a price.
Flow is dangerous.
These neurochemicals are very addictive.
So you’re playing with fundamentally
Flow always requires what we call
an escalating ladder of risk.
You’re going to keep taking greater and greater chances,
pushing yourself farther, and farther, and farther.
That can get dangerous as well.
And you’re also playing with very fundamental
human motivations, autonomy, mastery, and purpose, which
is sort of what passion looks like under the hood.
These are all big flow triggers.
These all show up in flow.
They all produce more flow.
You don’t get to play with addictive neurochemistry
and these kind of fundamental human motivations
People find themselves– they join a startup.
They get into lots of flow.
Startups are great at producing flow
for a lot of different reasons.
A lot of the flow triggers are kind of concentrated
And then the startup phase ends and they’re sort of
locked out of flow.
There is a depression that can come from this.
If you get a lot of flow in your life
and some day are locked out, you can get very, very, very
JAMIE WHEAL: Just to speak specifically
to your overclocking the processor piece as well,
which is that the action sports athletes, when the swell is
breaking for [INAUDIBLE] in Maui,
like they all sit and do nothing.
It’s kind of almost a hunter/gather style.
We sit around, we tell stories, we talk shit,
and then something big and crazy happens.
We go and do it.
And then the swell has come.
The big storm has gone.
And I have a natural downtime.
And so that’s my life as an action sports
athlete cultivating flow.
But what’s my life in your guys’ world as knowledge workers
I do it.
I crush the project.
I come up with a novel solution.
What happens to me then?
I get promoted.
And so the pressure in our controlled environments
to continue to do it and to continue to tap and to go back.
And now, I’m just revving at a higher level.
And I’ve got all kinds of obligations and commitments
to do this on command, I think is real.
And that– which we don’t have up now, but back
to that recovery phase– becomes vital to ensure that I’m fully
replenishing that very expensive state I’ve just produced.
That I’m annexing the information and that
I’m stably integrating it into my both psychology
AUDIENCE: And the question is, for example,
all these sport or energy drinks can boost your adrenalin
It looks like it doesn’t go really well with flow.
Like you can’t release because your body
is like filled with chemicals that actually boost you up.
And so, for example, Red Bull and all these pro athletes,
how does it go together?
STEVEN KOTLER: It’s a tricky question.
And part of the answer is we don’t know.
But one of the things that it does appear
is that at the front end of the flow state,
you’ve got cortisol rising, that norepinephrine rising.
If there’s too much of that stuff– and a lot
of these energy drinks flood the body
with more of these chemicals– it
does appear that that can block the relaxation response.
So essentially what’s happening when
you go from kind of the heightened focus
and the struggle phase into the relaxation
sometimes, that’s when the switch
from conscious to subconscious processing is taking place.
Norepinephrine sort of, when you have too much of it,
it functions sort of like OCD.
You can’t let go.
You’re holding on to the problem and you’re thinking it,
you’re thinking it, and you’re thinking it.
And that could absolutely block the release state.
It could block the rest of the flow state.
That said, there’s caffeine.
There’s a whole bunch of other things in Red Bull.
You can say that Red Bull is a flow precursor in some cases.
It can be a flow blocker.
It’s very individual.
And neurochemistry appears to be individual.
All of our receptors, our receptors
for these neurochemicals are essentially coded genetically,
how receptive they are.
So it really could differ at an individual level.
And we just don’t now.
JAMIE WHEAL: And on the healthy side,
if you really are looking for something like what
might I take or do, the most interesting stuff– and I
just down at Red Bull on Friday and was talking with a Ph.D.
candidate specializing into this, which is– nitric oxide,
we talked about, right, was the neurotransmitter
that prompts you go from struggle to release.
The best exogenous form of it is high concentrate beet juice.
It’s high nitrate.
Most pro-endurance athletes in the world are using it.
It sort of debuted in between Beijing and maybe even
London as far as the Olympic stuff.
And there’s a company, James Smith,
which we have no affiliation with.
But they’re out of England.
They’re royal insignia stuff.
And they do the both high nitrate, measured
in joule shots, as well as placebo ones.
So all the academic community globally uses them.
So two or three hours after ingestion of high nitrate beet
juice, it can transform into nitric oxide.
And that’s potentially, as far as healthy.
And actually has some mechanical impact on this.
It’s probably one of the best things to look at.
I don’t want to talk too much.
And omega-3 might have some positive influence
on like getting into flow.
Is it like research some behind it?
JAMIE WHEAL: What might?
JAMIE WHEAL: That’s a mixed bag, man.
I mean in the last six months, there’s
been a fair amount of sort of not so positive stuff
on omega-3’s, and just questions on prostate cancer in men,
and various other sort of ancillary things.
That said, the chief physician for the Coronado SEAL teams
gave a presentation specifically on the role of fish oils
and high-grade fish oils, on depression,
on physiological recovery, on sort
of stability of mental states, all kinds of things.
And their evidence, at least with the data
sets they were working with, was overwhelmingly positive.
So I don’t know right now.
And I kind of wish I did because I like that certainty.
AUDIENCE: So you mentioned the researcher
who had done a lot of work on the brain waves and then
with your diagram.
Can you tell us a little bit more
about him or her and how they came up
with their research, et cetera?
STEVEN KOTLER: Yeah, Dr. Leslie Sherlin.
He is probably the world’s leading researcher
on kind of the brain waves, neuroelectricity
of high performance.
He– five years ago, six years, I
don’t know when they actually started the project–
he teamed up with Red Bull.
So there was at guy Red Bull, whose name
is Andy Walshe, a friend of ours,
who’s the head of high performance.
His job is to take the best athletes in the world
and make them better.
He teamed up with Leslie and they
built essentially a neuroscience skunkworks.
So the problem with EEG has been noise.
So I can put an EEG on your head and I can look at brain waves.
But if you yawn, if you blink, all that stuff
is going to register as static, as noise.
It’s going obscure the signal.
So motion, which is if you want to look
at action-and-adventure sport athletes, it’s a real problem.
And we’ve only recently gotten to the point
that our algorithms can actually filter out the noise of motion.
So Leslie has developed what they call Brain Sport.
It’s a wireless, portable EEG.
And I think they’ve looked at 5,000 athletes.
They’ve compared the top 1% athletes,
the elite of the elite, with the top 5%, with the top 20%.
And just kind of looked at them across the board.
So that’s where a lot of this research came from.
JAMIE WHEAL: Yeah.
And actually just to finish on that,
the interesting thing they found was there was not a default MO.
There wasn’t a consistent pattern.
It wasn’t like the action-and-sports athletes
all performed like Tibetan monks or something like that.
But what they realized was it was
almost like the shock absorber on a motorcycle.
It was resilience and the ability to– they
could come into the flow state from a bunch
of different locations, depending on sports-specific,
genealogy, training, whatever.
But it was their resilience and their adaptiveness
that distinguished the elite from even the advanced right
AUDIENCE: A quick question on audio stimuli.
I know there are software programs, CDs out there,
that can supposedly bring your mind down
to these different wave patterns.
Have you done any research on that?
If those things actually work or if they
can help advance the flow?
STEVEN KOTLER: I’m going to let Jaime talk
about this in a second.
But there’s one thing I really want
to say because it’s a pet peeve.
It makes me crazy.
There are a lot of companies out there
who are, hey, this produces flow.
And its single correlate research.
It’s we can get your brain waves to alpha-theta.
Or there’s some data that says cardiac coherence produces
flow, and blah, blah.
So there’s a lot of companies, a lot of widgets,
and a lot of things that trigger one of these things.
Flow is a huge cascade.
It’s a full body/brain reaction.
There is nothing out there that produces–
except some of the work that we’re
doing at the Flow Genome Project.
And we’re not there yet.
But we’re sure trying to map it.
But most everything’s that’s out there is a single correlate
So we’ve got music that can drive your brain
waves towards alpha, towards alpha-theta.
It’s going to produce parts of this experience.
But it is a full-on, deep flow experience
with a full neurochemical dump?
There’s nothing that says that it can happen.
And there’s not any evidence of it.
So these single correlate fixes, they’re getting at it.
They’re moving in the right direction.
But the truth claims make me pretty nervous.
JAMIE WHEAL: Yeah.
And simply from the research I’ve
seen, bineural beats, which is what you’ll see a lot of those.
And they stagger themselves slightly
and it’s supposed to entrain your brain.
I haven’t seen a lot of corroborating research
to actually support all of those truth claims.
The stuff that has had a little bit stronger evidence based
on backing is isochronic brain wave entrainment.
And the nice thing about it is you
don’t have to have headphones on.
You can actually just listen to it.
But even beyond that– I mean there’s a reason
that the whole electronic scene has blown up
so hugely in the last five to 10 years.
There’s a reason, Burning Man culture,
all of those bits and pieces, is that very high fidelity, loud,
cleanly separated sounds absolutely
have a psychodynamic effect.
And you can take that to West Africa.
I mean there’s ancient traditions on that.
So even without the fancy technology under the hood
that someone may be selling you, clearly music
has a powerful psychosomatic effect.
AUDIENCE: How do the sympathetic and parasympathetic
nervous systems come into play in all this?
JAMIE WHEAL: Well, can you go ahead
and just take another couple of steps into that and give us a–
So specifically in the struggle, release, recovery– or sorry,
struggle, release, flow recovery phases you showed earlier,
the struggle phase kind of reminded me
of what I had heard very anecdotally and
unscientifically about the sympathetic nervous system.
And then the alpha waves kind of reminded me
of the parasympathetic nervous system.
And I was wondering if that’s true?
JAMIE WHEAL: Yeah.
I mean the short answer is don’t know.
And I think it’s the tracking– I
mean being able to track the neurotransmitters
in a live human, right, tricky, as well as to be
able to have multivariable sensing.
So just to give you guys an understanding,
like where is the marketplace?
Where’s the cutting edge?
So we mentioned that darker, Quantified Warrior project.
They love the Red Bull guys because the Red Bull guys
are just trying real stuff with people.
They’re actually out there with their athletes
and trying to get them better.
Where government and military projects are much more
kind of– just the way they move, and innovate, and think
is just distinct.
And so they love the Red Bull guys
because they’re trying stuff.
We go to the Red Bull guys and we’re
talking with the scientists.
And we’re like, hey, have you put this together with that?
Well, what about these three things?
And even those guys, bless their hearts,
aren’t actually doing an integrated, multivariable
metrics and management.
So the short answer is we don’t know yet.
And I would picture that those are
the kind of fascinating questions that
hopefully in the next five years or so we’ll be starting
to help facilitate those conversations and those
AUDIENCE: Is the fight or flight response,
would that be an example or symptom of that struggle phase?
STEVEN KOTLER: So the fight or flight is.
It’s one example.
It’s one extreme example.
But when you talk to the action-and adventure sport
athletes about it, what they will tell
you is that they ride the heightened focus of the fight
or flight response in the flow.
They sort of get into the gap before actually the fear
becomes an emotion.
They see it kind of rising and they just
ride that focus into flow and block that response.
Flow is flowy because its choice is wide open.
One of the reasons you can make almost picture-perfect decision
making is because you have lots of options.
You’re taking in more information, et cetera,
In the fight or flight response, your options
are fight, flight, or flee.
It’s totally the opposite.
So you are right, it is totally the opposite.
But you can ride one into the other.
JAMIE WHEAL: So the first thing is, yeah,
anyone in their right mind should be afraid
when you’re rolling the dice on 16 feet per second per second.
So natural and healthy.
And then the question is, is it back to Steven’s point
about the challenge and skills?
Is it enough out of my comfort zone that I am nowhere else?
In fact, I have a friend who is the CEO of a big company.
He says I don’t like road biking because when I’m on the road,
I’m still in my day.
I love that trail that we ride because I am nowhere else
for the three minutes it takes to get down it.
And so the beauty is can I find that place where I’m nowhere
else, but not in the hospital?
STEVEN KOTLER: Most people have had tons of flow experiences.
You probably have them almost on a daily basis
and you don’t actually realize it.
And here’s why.
Flow exists on a spectrum.
It like any emotion, like anger, right?
You can be a little irate or you can be homicidally murderous.
So there’s micro-flow when action and awareness start
to mere, maybe time starts to dilate,
and you’re paying attention to the [INAUDIBLE].
Macro-flow, where you get all of the various conditions of flow
If you’ve ever lost yourself in a great conversation,
the whole afternoon disappears.
If you’ve ever gotten so sucked into a work project
that nothing else seems to matter for a little while,
those are all micro-flow experiences.
They’re on the same spectrum leading up
to these giant, deep flow experiences.
So, as I said, there are 17 flow triggers.
The more flow triggers that get packed into an event,
the greater the chance you’re going
to move into a really like truly deep flow
experience rather than a micro-flow experience.
But we have these micro-flow experiences.
We recognize deep flow.
We know it immediately, time dilated or something.
Like you’re like, oh, my god, I’m in that state.
But what we miss is that we’re in micro-flow all the time.
And if you actually can start watching for it,
you can start extending it and deepening it.
You can play with it and really start to utilize it.
STEVEN KOTLER: By the way, when they do flow studies,
as a manager, one of the most common flow
experiences among middle managers in conversation
Work usually involves money.
So it’s high consequence.
It’s a higher consequence environment.
And then you start looking at the social triggers, group
Work conversations tend to drive them.
You don’t have them in casual conversations at home
when you’re hanging out with your friends.
But work conversations tend to produce this more often.
Can you tell us a bit more about the flow dojo?
And is there a physical space that exists?
What are you doing there?
When do you plan to do with the dojo?
JAMIE WHEAL: What I’ll do is I’ll just describe it to you.
But yes, I mean our answer really
is what would it be like to sort of combine
a Montessori-prepared environment, but for grown-ups,
and exploratory style, interactive, sort of
exhibits in installations?
But instead of for science, have it be for embodied cognition,
with a sprinkling of X-games.
So you have fun, safe ways to give people the sensorimotor
inputs that these athletes typically use themselves
and then put a layer of quantified self on top of it.
So giant geodesic dome playground training centers,
whereby we can all train our games.
We can all burn and fuse additional neural pathways.
And we can put ourselves into that nonseeking
state of hyperperformance.
And ultimately back to the drowning
in information, starving for motivation.
At least our assessment of most developmental technologies–
there’s so much great stuff out there.
Most of us fail in long-term practice.
So if we can go back to that autotelic piece
and harness flow states in service of whatever
my goals in life and work are, but ultimately even
the following of well-worn lineage paths in the wisdom
traditions or whatever else is up, if we can do that,
it’s something pretty amazing.
And certainly communities with you guys,
places like this where there’s such sort
of high-value human capital, the ability
to optimize that, both in the moment and longitudinally,
feels really useful.
It feels like a way to help impact it.
STEVEN KOTLER: Let me add two quick things to that.
One, the more flow you have, the more flow you have.
So this all about attention.
You’re training the brain go into the flow.
So you can train the brain on the ski slope to go into flow.
It’s going to bleed into your work at the office.
You’re going to find yourself getting to flow more easily.
If you can learn how to do this one area, it transfers over.
And I want to just kind of give you
an ephemeral look at the flow dojo.
I want to give you just kind of like this is the gear,
this is what we’re doing, this is what it looks like.
One of things we have– and there’s lots and lots of toys–
but one thing is we have is a 20-foot looping surf swing.
So you stand on a surfboard.
Your feet are strapped in.
Your writs are strapped in.
And you can be upside down, 25 feet off the ground or pulling
3 and 1/2 gees at the bottom of the loop.
So you’ve got high consequence, novelty, unpredictability,
and complexity, our rich environment,
lots of those things as well.
All of those flow triggers are there.
So we’ve got that.
Simultaneously, you are wearing Leslie Sherline and the Brain
Sport helmet, the EEG helmet.
So we know flow exists near alpha-theta.
So the entire giant surf swing is lined in LED lights.
So it is real-time neurofeedback.
So you’re wearing this thing.
You’re pulling all these flow triggers.
But you can also drive your brain.
If you are in alpha-theta, it glows red.
If you are in beta, it’s blue.
So you have real-time neurofeedback.
And to solve the mystery– because our real goal– well,
one of our real goals is to really advance
flow science and culture– you are wired head to toe
with all the quantified self, data-gathering stuff.
So not only are we using these flow triggers and neurofeedback
to drive you into flow, we are data capturing along the way.
And I hate the term “big data.”
I don’t think it means anything.
But hopefully, this allow us to take a big data approach
to flow, which hasn’t been done before.
Csikszentmihalyi did it at psychological level.
Nobody has done it at the neurobiological level.
And that’s what this is about.
AUDIENCE: Have you considered looking
into the personalization aspect of flow?
Because I’m not sure that everybody
experiences flow in the same way.
I mean not for the same activities.
For example, some people this you studied are like athletes.
But– I don’t know.
I mean there are scientists who think
that differently, et cetera.
There’s all this research about personality types, et cetera.
The Gallup organization itself, to solve their problem
of 71% of engagement, developed their own system,
which is called StrengthsFinder.
STEVEN KOTLER: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: And I think people who use their talents according
to them are a kind of like in the flow states
because they are using their talents.
JAMIE WHEAL: Yes.
So what is my typology?
What kind of a person am I and what
is my unique signature and entry points?
We’ve actually been doing, again,
a very preliminary, but intriguing initial flow
And we’ve had several thousand folks
take it just in the last three or four weeks.
And interestingly– the categories we had was
hard-charger, so the classic action sports profile we just
described and most of what you just described; a deep thinker,
someone a little bit more introspective,
potentially doing coding or creative work;
one more socially oriented; and then potentially one more sort
of— the quintessential kind of [? Loewe Haas ?] personality
types, sort of the yoga, meditation, et cetera.
And 50% of the respondents were deep thinkers.
They actually found themselves more
introverted, quiet, reflective avenues into flow.
And again, to Steven’s point, what
we anticipate– I mean I would be stunned if it didn’t show up
this way– is that there is no such thing as a monolithic flow
state, as we really get into it.
There will be kind of a scatter plot on a heat map.
And it will depend on the person,
it will depend on the environment,
and it will depend on the tasks at hand,
how exactly they get in there, which cascade they trigger
and to what extent.
And we will see probably areas of clustering.
But probably a much broader, complex equation than we
first talk about.
STEVEN KOTLER: And the one thing I want to add
is we talk about the action-and-adventure sports
athletes as this great example of flow hacking.
But we’re in Silicon Valley.
The three things that built this Valley
are network design, circuit design, and software design
And you can’t do any of those things well,
really, really well, without flow.
Coding and flow goes hand in hand.
The research goes all the back.
The same thing with all those categories.
So if you’re looking for a nonathletic example of what
happens when groups of people start getting into flow
on a regular basis, Silicon Valley
is not a bad place to start.
MALE SPEAKER: Big hand for Steven and Jamie.
STEVEN KOTLER: Thanks guys.