How would you feel if you could achieve massive performance gains in every part of your life? This is what you’ll learn to do in Zero To Dangerous: A Flow-Hacking Training Program for High Performers.
Imagine what would happen if you could get more work done in less time and produce a higher quality of work in that time. Not only that, but you might find so much pleasure in the process that the work becomes its own reward.
You might sit down at the computer, start typing, and think to yourself, “Why on earth would anyone want to read this?” Or you start drawing and feel like you can barely draw stick figures.
When I sit down to write in the morning, I usually struggle to write a coherent sentence. My writing is as disjointed as my thoughts. This is still true after 10 years, over a million words, and two books. It can take between 500 and 1000 words for me to have a spark of insight.
When I was in fourth grade, I failed reading. That’s not exactly a sign that you should write books for a living. My teacher suggested to my parents that I might have a learning disability. But Indian parents don’t think their kids have a learning disability, just shitty teachers.
Fast forward to my 20s and I can’t get through a lecture in college. I get distracted by every pretty girl that walks into class, and I can’t survive an 8 hour workday without getting fired at some point.
No matter who you are or what you’ve accomplished, there is an eternal gap between your ambitions and abilities, who you are, and who you want to be. Every day of a creative’s life is an attempt to bridge that gap.
The good news is that there is a creative superpower that can help you bridge that gap, turn your disadvantages into advantages, and lead to consistent excellence. This superpower sends performance through the roof, whether you’re a business leader, an artist, or an athlete.
When they’re in flow
Surfers catch 100-foot waves.
- Snowboarders go 70 miles an hour down a black diamond or conquer 200 foot high jumps.
- Entrepreneurs are able to build successful businesses.
- Steven Kotler wrote 200 pages of a book in two weeks while in the flow. He won a Pulitzer Prize for it.
It is the essential ingredient for peak performance. If you want to achieve your most important personal and professional goals, you need to live a high-flow life.
What is Flow and how does it take you from Zero to Dangerous?
Have you ever had the experience of being so engrossed in something that hours feel like minutes?
- Your work feels effortless, even though you’re working hard.
- You enjoy the process and are detached from the outcome.
- It feels like you have no worries or problems in the world.
- You look at something and wonder, “How the heck did I just do that?”
Then you’ve experienced flow. “Flow feels like the meaning of life for a reason. The neurochemicals that underlie this state are among the most addictive drugs in the world,” says The Rise of Superman at Steven Kotler.
Before I started surfing, a friend said to me, “Surfing is the greatest natural high in the world.” At that point, I had already tried my fair share of unnatural highs. But the first time I dropped into a wave, I realized what he meant. Surfing puts you in the flow. It’s not for nothing that surfers say, “All it takes is one good wave and you’re hooked.”
The Neurobiology of Flow
In the brain, norepinephrine increases arousal, attention, natural efficiency, and emotional control. In flow, it keeps us locked on target, holding distractions at bay. As a pleasure inducer, if dopamine’s drug analog is cocaine, norepinephrine is speed, which means this enhancement comes with a hell of a high, says Steven Kotler.
Flow floods your brain with all these feel-good neurochemicals. As a result, your instincts become sharper. Your ego dissolves, your worries fade, and your only concern is the present moment.
When I get into a flow state during a surf session, I catch waves where I would have hesitated before the flow state. In a writing session, my word counts skyrocket and I’m back in that place where I’m writing for a single audience. I fall in love with the process again instead of chasing the prize.
Flow Triggers – The Key to Peak Performance
For most people, flow happens by accident. They don’t know how to create it.
Unfortunately, most work environments are not conducive to flow. Between open-plan offices, 8-hour workdays, meetings, and constant interruptions, companies put themselves at a massive disadvantage. None of these conditions are optimal for innovation or creative breakthroughs.
The Rise of Superman
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. – Steven Kotler
Artists, athletes, and people who do creative work for a living learn to hack flow because their survival depends on it. If they’re not creative, they have nothing to eat. If employees in companies adopted the work habits of artists, they would work less, get more done, and achieve peak performance. So how exactly do you create this state of flow?
1. Complete Concentration
Attention is the currency of achievement, and complete concentration is the spark that lights the fire of flow. But our attention is under constant attack, from people trying to sell it to advertisers, from emails, Slack messages, and other interruptions. Attention during flow is at its peak.
Flow requires complete concentration on ONE task. That means reducing competition for your attention. As Adam Gazelley says, “Suppression of irrelevant information improves our focus on the relevant by dropping the floor of the irrelevant.” Digital distractions are just one type of irrelevant information. Typically, three types of irrelevant information compete for your attention.
- Auditory: anything you can hear (people in a coffee shop, phone calls, etc.).
- Visual: everything you can see (open browser tabs, your phone, notifications, etc.)
- Kinesthetic: everything you can feel (room temperature, chair, etc.)
To achieve the kind of focus that leads to flow, you need to reduce the cognitive load of everything above.
When I write, there is nothing on my desk. My phone is not in the room. I have noise-canceling headphones, and I use Notion in full-screen mode. Notion’s designers obviously understood how to hide irrelevant information, because the moment you start typing, the interface disappears.
Deep Work and Interval Training
The ability to focus on a cognitively demanding task for an extended period of time, what Cal Newport calls “Deep Work,” is a skill. Like any skill, it can be learned, but it requires practice.
The easiest way to start building this skill is through interval training. Don’t underestimate the importance of starting small. Try avoiding distractions for 20 minutes, then 22 minutes, and so on. But you need to put something in its place, and each of the following activities is fair game:
- Building something with your hands
- Play an instrument
The point of interval training is to focus your attention on a single thing and increase the amount of time you can concentrate.
Create the right environment
The environment affects our emotions and our actions. In order for flow to occur, you must design the right environment. Eliminating all sources of distraction is the most important ingredient in creating an environment that leads to flow:
- Keep your phone out of the room or put it on airplane mode.
- Use headphones to drown out all noise.
- Block all distracting websites.
- Limit yourself to one or two apps and work in full-screen mode.
In addition to being distraction-free, the environment must also be inspiring or enticing. Since most action sports take place in nature, the environment is rich by default. For you, that might mean making your workspace colorful. If the space you’re in inspires you, the work you create will inspire others.
2. Clear Goals
Many people set vague goals like “write every day.” That might mean writing a grocery list, a status update, or an email.
- A clear goal is something you can control and measure.
- It gives you a target to hit
- You know whether you will reach the goal or not.
Writing for an hour every day or writing 1000 words a day is a clear goal. The easiest way to reinforce the clarity of a goal is to put a number in front of it and changing your behavior produces better results than setting goals.
3. Immediate Feedback
Immediate feedback, our next internal trigger is a shortcut into the now. The term refers to a direct, in-the-moment coupling between cause and effect. The smaller the gap between input and output, the more we know how we’re doing and how to do it better. – Steven Kotler
If you surf, snowboard, or play a musical instrument, there is immediate feedback built into the activity.
You’re either standing up or eating shit on a surfboard or eat shit.
You either sound awesome or like someone murdering poultry with their violin.
But with other art forms, immediate feedback is a little harder to come by.
Writers are usually alone in a quiet room. This is where it helps to have coaches, mentors, and a second set of eyes on your work. These people will see things you can’t.
For knowledge workers, this might mean creating a rhythm for consistent feedback between managers and employees. Instead of once a quarter, provide feedback once a week.
We need feedback on our performance in order to adjust our performance.
3. Set a Challenging Goal – The Challenge to Skills Ratio
In the process of developing any skill, there will be a point where you bridge the gap between your ambitions and abilities. Things that used to challenge you no longer do.
When I first started snowboarding, I was scared to death of going down a black diamond. The first time I saw the top of one, I said to my friend, “There’s no way I’m going up there. Those people look like ants from here.” But after three years of snowboarding, I bridged the gap between my ambitions and abilities. I could fly down blues without falling. I no longer needed bunny slopes as warm-up runs. Without challenging myself, I couldn’t get into the flow.
“This is because of what is known as the challenge-skill ratio. You’re aiming for the midpoint between boredom and anxiety, the spot where the task is hard enough to make us stretch, but not hard enough to make us snap,” says Steven Kotler.
So what does this look like in practice?
I feel comfortable surfing 4-6 foot waves most days. But 8-foot waves are just enough to make me stretch. If I paddled out in a 20-foot wave, it would be a death sentence.
As a writer, that might mean I write 1400 words instead of 1000. As your skills increase, you have to keep adjusting the triggers for flow.
Knowing how to hack flow is the Ultimate Competitive Advantage for Peak Performance.
- I’ve written two books with a publisher.
- I’ve hacked flow almost every day for the last few years.
- I’ve interviewed Steven Kotler several times on the Unmistakble Creative Podcast.
But I was still amazed at how much I learned in Steven’s flow hacking workshop. The flow expert Rian Doris, who works with Steven, says that it has fundamentally changed the way he works.
If you are serious about becoming an elite performer in your field, there is nothing closer that will give you the keys to the kingdom. And I say that after 700 interviews with some of the highest performing people in the world.
Check out Zero to Dangerous if you’re interested in achieving high performance.