Steven Kotler: “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance”

As the author of The Rise of Superman and co-founder of the Flow Genome Project, Steven Kotler is one of the world’s leading experts on ultimate human performance. In this riveting talk, he provides a stunning tour of current research, primarily focusing on “flow states”—an optimal state of consciousness where we both feel our best and perform our best. Researchers now know that flow sits at the heart of almost every athletic championship; underpins most major scientific breakthroughs; and accounts for significant progress in the arts. In business, its impact has been substantial. Coders in flow built the internet; video game designers in flow built the video game industry. “Flow state percentage”—which is the amount of time employees spend in flow—has been called the most important management metric for building great innovation teams. As a result of all of this, an increasing number of companies have put the cultivation of flow at the heart of their philosophies. So what is this mysterious state? How does it work its magic? And—if this really is the secret to ultimate human performance—how can we get more of it in our personal and professional lives?


40 thoughts on “Steven Kotler: “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance”

  1. Flow sounds like a crutch. You 'll be unwilling to do anything unless you are in flow and you can' t be in flow all the time. So you will be like a burnt out junkie, on brain chemicals. Or worse you 'll start trying all kinds of drugs to strive for that flow hack and become an actual addict. Just except your mediocre self and be happy, won't ya? Excuse my mediocre attempts at a message, with mediocre grammar.

  2. Thanks for the talk!
    You answered some questions I had in mind for quite a time. Agree about music – that's one the way I get to a state of flow – my imagination is turning on.

    Why both of you had such a wide open eyes? Just curious, cause wide opened eyes got me in a micro-micro state of flow listening to you.

  3. High speed speach, heavy eye roling, noradrenalin skinny body,
    MDMA psychoactive speed cacain opiates brain
    (serotonin anandamide endorphins norepinephrine endorphins overdose)
    high recomended in the end 1:08:23

  4. I find listening to certain types of music really put me in an over-the-top creative state. The Last Samurai soundtrack, Adrian Von Ziegler from youtube (Celtic music that lasts for hours), and certain artists in trance that can actually inspire emotion (with no vocals) like Afternova and Sound Apparel, have the most effect. I have been listening to music and visualizing different scenes whether they be music video'ish, stage performance related, or movie/script/screenwritten in application. I've been doing that off and on since high school and each type of music puts me in a different creative mind set. For me it all started in 1999 with the Saviour Machine Legend I and II CD's. The longer and more unique the music the more my imagination flows. It's almost like channeling the sound into creative energy… something I have termed Soundergy. I have listened to different meditation CD's throughout the years and I can honestly say that I think some of them reduced my ability. Like MInd-Tek's 28 Minutes to a Supercharged Brain. Then again that could because it locks you in alpha/theta brainwave mode. I got more creative in real life, but my mental ability to visualize and construct creative scenery diminished. I no longer listen to meditation CD's as I have over done it and been experiencing demonic episodes of sleep paralysis. They were absolutely not dreams and real enough to scare the life out of me. I have been paralyzed in brain-on body-off modes before in the past on rare occasion, but the stuff it causes now is too severe for me to ever listen to mind-altering meditation CD's. It's like a portal to the shadows open up over me when I listen to low-frequency sound matrices.

  5. For some reasons I got a headache watching at this video. I thought it to be normal until I realized watching something else or looking away stops the pain. Very odd, I think it's got to do with the colors.

  6. A new and way simpler interpretation of flow

    The study of the affective concomitants of a meaningful and focused engagement finds it best contemporary advocate in the work of the humanistic psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term ‘flow experience’ to reflect self-reports of artists, athletes, and other individuals who uniformly reported a very intense and positive affective state when engaged in tasks that had very high and consistent meaning that engaged their undistracted attention. Dr. C’s presents a ‘top down’ perspective, which although highly metaphorical in nature, nonetheless conforms to neurological truths.

    These truths are quite simple, although they are commonly obfuscated and mis-represented in almost all commentary on the subject. To wit, highly meaningful or challenging behaviors elicit the activity of mid-brain dopamine systems, which cause a feeling of aroused alertness, but not pleasure. Because an individual performing highly meaningful or challenging activities is not engaged in perseverative thinking (rumination, worry, or distraction), relaxation also occurs, which in turn raised opioid levels in the brain. It is the combined interaction of both of these systems that elicits the state of euphoria that is flow, as opioid and dopamine systems mutually enhance or ‘bootstrap’ each other in the brain. This ‘bottoms up’ perspective is ultimately much simpler than Dr. C’s often convoluted perspective, and suggests procedures for eliciting flow that are much simpler too.

    A much more detailed analysis of the flow experience is found on pages 71-74 of the follow free e-book on affective states and rest, which is derived from present day research in affective neuroscience by this author and others..

  7. These claims are not entirely correct… In truth, Csikszentmihalyi's decades of research on flow demonstrated that people performing what some might consider 'mundane' (i.e., not the rich environment these authors propose) can get into the flow state as well as those facing life-threatening extreme challenges- be they on skis, facing a life-threatening surgery as patient or surgical team. And, in truth, having high stakes is exactly what drives people out of flow-out of the zone- as per Csikszentmihalyi's research and research my research partner and I conducted. In the mid-90s, my research partner, Dr Dan Freigang, and I conducted research into the flow state- with athletes- so we called it 'the zone'. What we learned-and presented at conferences of global sports scientists is this: athletes can be taught to be 'in the zone' for training and competition-and for studying and meeting people of the opposite gender as per our clients Division 1 athletes. And, what knocks people out of the zone is the perception of threat. That could be seeing a lifelong sports competitor looking mighty fit on the starting block of a swim event- or in those lycra reveal-all-musculature before positioning one's self in the starting gate of a ski race. To say that 'high stakes' are critical is not correct; in fact, the trick is to focus on process goals-a turn at a time vs the high stake of maybe crashing and ruining your ski career and body… Such a focus on high stakes becomes its own threat-and drives athletes out of the zone-and us too at our own work. We learned, too, that there are 3 elements of experience that anyone can tune into and turn around to match the challenges of any work or sports or personal experience people face. That includes true extreme challenges I have taught this method to my clients who were blindsided by the curve balls life can hurl like life-threatening illness, life-altering accidents. To really get into the zone-into flow–it's crucial that you perceive that you have the skills and will to meet the challenge. You can work on this by learning to ensure you have the right resources at work–including the right thinking and team members with the right skills and desire…. You can work to build meaning for really getting engaged–for this, you might want to know more about your natural thinking style (brain is muscle different shapes lead us to different points of view which is why some see big picture and drive detailed analyst types to distraction and vice versa). And you can get into flow by focusing on process goals- look at the space (not the gates) in a ski race; set realistic process goals in a project vs aiming for the finish line where not getting there will discourage you (research proves this true). And learn to identify and shift your energy level- your activation- to match the challenge. These 3 elements- we called them 'the 3 A's' have enabled our clients (Dan went on to stay in sports and clients include US Women's Ski Team, US Men's Soccer, Stanford Athletics to name a few; I went on to work with corporations and political organizations including Offices of The US Senate, UBS, BAE Systems, State Street Bank, Tory Burch). And each of us has taught clients who came in one day blindsided by those curve balls of life- life-threatening illnesses to get into flow to select and see their way through state-of-the-art treatment and surgical procedures. So take heart- you can get in the zone for anything. And, in truth, at any moment you are either in the zone or you are not.
    Dr. Pamela Brill
    Author of The Winner's Way- a proven method for achieving your personal best in any situation (McGraw Hill, Kindle)

  8. I love everything from Kotler. But I do wonder, on how I can access flow without doing crazy things. I can increase focus by limiting my thinking, but it's nothing compared to flow. As flow is extremely addictive. What I want to do, is picture in my mind what it is like to be in flow to the point my subconscious believes it, thus releasing the chemicals in the brain. What the brain believes it makes real. We can see this in Napoleon Hill's book, THINK AND GROW RICH. But I know there is more to this idea, and I think Kotler and Wheal get more involved in the depth of how the brain makes things real.

    Wouldn't it be interesting if we could without the need of anything but our brains induce the chemicals at will? Like the 29% of the people who work jobs that produce flow. It would not only fix the addictive issue, and enhance learning. Which I am all about learning faster and better.

  9. Buy a good juicer and juice your own beats for Nitric Oxide (NO). Also supplement high quality L-Arginine. L-Arginine ups levels of NO in the body. I've worked several ways of inducing flow. Mostly now I'm focused on Heart Opening Techniques and Embodiment and Pressence. I preticually like David Deida ideas of feeling into everything. Sometimes I feel I can feel the floor the people around me. Very interesting. I realise most New Age Spirituality is about enduing flow.

  10. Two questions: What is the opposite of Flow? I don't mean shitty depressive state. Is it baseline? Normalcy? I have been thinking of cutting down energy drink and just drink only when required to activate it. Also in the Jason Silva video Steven Kotler says that only schizophrenics are privy to it. I disagree. Flow can happen when you are most mellow as well. I mean in the eyes of Taoism the whole universe is a Giant Flow.

    So, if you agree that opposite of Flow is baseline, you can activate it by cutting down coffee and energy drink and drinking only when necessary. If you agree that Flow happens all the time, then you agree with my latter part. Thing is drugs like nootropic or street drugs or even marijuana after 'fasting' can activate it. Question I want to know is how to activate it at wil naturally… Don't tell me meditation. Lol that is boring. Also I don't think you can quite plan it because Steven didn't expect it during his surfing epiphany.

    In Zen they say: "When you seek it, you cannot find it."

  11. "They all said the same thing: They all felt their best and performed their best while in this state of flow"
    But they didn't know about the state of flow until asked about it.
    So here's the corrected version.
    "They all said the same thing: They all felt their best and performed their best while they were feeling their best and performing at their best".

    I"m not bashing flow, I'm just saying there's little logic to the first statement in this comment. You went up to an elderly korean woman and asked her about flow and obviously you had to describe to her what flow was, so then she said "yes, I was in flow, the thing you are describing that I know nothing about other than it is a state of heightened well-being and mental agility"

  12. Extremely interesting. The question of 'flow' appears to be very close to what the English philosopher Colin Wilson spent the best part of his life investigating. He called it 'Faculty X' and he approached it initially from  an artistic perspective in The Outsider. Kosler approaches it from an 'action sports' perspective, while Maslow approaches it from a medical viewpoint. I do hope that the insights that are gained will be used in a serious and productive way, to help us take the next step on the evolutionary ladder

  13. I am here because I experienced a 'flow' state on a pretty deep level. Needless to say I want more. Surely just learning and understanding this topic increases the possibilities of me experiencing this again……I hope 🙂

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