The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance – Steven Kotler
Your performance is based on the state of optimum creativity and bliss, called “flow.”
Flow: Performing Like Superman
Three important points will help you perform better:
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When you’re in “flow,” five neurochemicals are released simultaneously.
For flow to happen, some parts of your brain must be switched off, not on.
What we think is possible changes every time we see a new achievement, which is why flow is so important.
The Flow High
Five strong chemicals are released, all at once, when you’re in flow:
- Dopamine, which gets you excited about new ideas, while helping you filter what’s important from the noise.
- Norepinephrine, which increases your heartbeat, blood sugar and breathing speed, to give you energy and attention to the task at hand.
- Anandamide, which works a little bit like cannabis, thus getting your brain to make more new connections and be creative.
- Endorphins, which absolves you from physical pain, because it’s 100 times stronger than morphine.
- Serotonin, which causes the glowing feeling after you achieve a goal.
This complicated expression simply means that your prefrontal cortex is less (hypo) active for a short period of time (transiently).
The prefrontal cortex is part of the neocortex, which, in turn, is the “youngest” part of our brain, evolutionarily speaking. This is where all complex thinking happens (like you crunching numbers to decide which house you want to buy), and it’s what allows us to think rationally about our feelings and be self-aware.
Orientation Adjustment Area
Another part that slows down during flow is your orientation adjustment area, the part of the brain that lets you assess your position in the world relative to other objects around you.
This is what causes surfers to feel “as if they’re one with the wave” or writers to just “think their words onto the paper.”
Roger Bannister Effect
Bannister was the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes. Before he accomplished this in 1954, for decades, people had thought a 4-minute mile simply wasn’t possible.
However, once he did, someone else did it just two months later. His record was broken again twice within the next five years, and ten years later, a high school student ran a 4:00 mile.
Impossible Is So Yesterday
Every time someone accomplishes something we think is impossible, our definition of that word changes.
Great achievements inspire us to go beyond them and achieve even more, and that’s what makes flow so important. Without it, humans would stop pushing the boundaries of performance.
The Core Components
Ten core components that indicate the Flow state:
- Clear goals
- A loss of self consciousness
- Distorted sense of time
- Direct and immediate feedback
- Balance between ability level and challenge
- A sense of personal control over the situation
- Intrinsically rewarding so action is effortless
- Lack of awareness of bodily needs
- Absorption, narrowing of awareness down to the activity.
As flow requires focus, one of the first changes suggested by experts was the removal of “cubicle farms,” those open office plans that permit constant interruption.
Studies have shown that each time a flow state is disrupted, it takes fifteen minutes to get back into flow, if you can get back at all.
A shy man needs only to cross the room to say hello to an attractive woman to trigger this rush.
Flow appears near the emotional midpoint between boredom and anxiety, in what scientists call the flow channel—the spot where the task is hard enough to make us stretch but not hard enough to make us snap.
How hard is that? Answers vary, but the general thinking is about 4 percent. That’s it. That’s the sweet spot. If you want to trigger flow, the challenge should be 4 percent greater than the skills.
The US military trained snipers to fire twice as fast as normal. McKinsey established that executives in “flow” are five times more effective than their steady-state peers.
This is exactly what 150 years of flow research have revealed, and this is what the recent revolution in action and adventure sports clearly demonstrates. Flow brings out the very best in us—and for certain, it’s that very best we’ll need to create a world of abundance.