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The Rise of Superman - Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance - Steven Kotler

Buch-Review - Hannes Kleist - 09.10.2020

The Rise of Superman - Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance

This book inspired my new research topic of 2021: Flow in business.

How can I get my team to be in flow 80% of the time…

Steven Kotler discusses both fascinating stories from extreme athletes and the latest brain research on how to get into flow.

Preface: The Why of Flow

He starts off with a nice definition of “flow”

Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. Performance goes through the roof. Everything you do, you do better in flow, from baking a chocolate cake to planning a vacation to solving a differential equation to writing a business plan to playing tennis to making love.

I never considered that last part :-))))))

From a quality-of-life perspective, psychologists have found that the people who have the most flow in their lives are the happiest people on earth.

There we go! I will make “Flow” my research project of 2021.

Part One: He Is This Frenzy

High achievers, he came to see, were intrinsically motivated.

Conclusion: I need to rebuild my company around flow producing processes…

“During a peak experience,” Maslow explained, “the individual experiences an expansion of self, a sense of unity, and meaningfulness in life. The experience lingers in one’s consciousness and gives a sense of purpose, integration, self-determination and empathy.”

I will have me some of that, please.

[It’s not] when they were taking drugs or alcohol, or when they were consuming the expensive privileges of wealth. Rather, it often involved painful, risky, difficult activities that stretched the person’s capacity and involved an element of novelty and discovery.

There it is again: Seeking pleasure does not make you happy.

He found long runs were an easy entrance to the zone

After 40 years of hating running, I might give it a go then.

If there is a sudden danger, such as the appearance of a snake, it’s helpful not to stand around wondering how one feels about the situation.


Flow changes this entire dynamic. For starters, in the zone, the brain releases a number of powerful painkillers that deaden us to the damage being done and allow us to push our maximal strength closer to its absolute boundary.

Ah, endorphins — my old friend.

With hypofrontality, attention is narrowing. Parts of the brain are shutting down. Oneness is the result of the narrowing of the doors of perception, not throwing them wide open.

This is so interesting! All the experience of flow are happening, because the body shuts down areas of the brain, that it does not need right now: Sense of time, sense of self, self-doubt…

There’s little difference between the amount of concentration needed by a meditator to achieve “ecstasy” and the amount required by a BASE jumper leaping into a cave.

Alright. So I either train in meditation for 30 years or jump off a cliff…

Yet our fears are grounded in self, time, and space. With our sense of self out of the way we are liberated from doubt and insecurity. With time gone, there is no yesterday to regret or tomorrow to worry about. And when our sense of space disappears, so do physical consequences. But when all three vanish at once, something far more incredible occurs: our fear of death — that most fundamental of all fears — can no longer exist. Simply put: if you’re infinite and atemporal, you cannot die.


But how to produce this blended perspective is the more important question. The state shows up most reliably when we’re using our skills to the utmost. It requires challenge.

This is interesting for us as an agency. We need to find more challenges to keep the devs in flow.

It is an escape forward from current reality, whereas stimulants like drugs lead backward.”

Interesting analogy.

Part Two: Flow Hacker Nation

What matters is not the amount of time you’re present, but the amount of time that you’re working at your full potential. An hour in flow really accomplishes something, but ten six-minute work periods sandwiched between eleven interruptions won’t accomplish anything.

There you are again my old nemesis: Interruptions

Removal of cubicle farms, those open office plans that permit constant interruption. “These interruptions … move us out of ‘flow’ and increase research-and-design cycle times and costs dramatically.


To reach flow one must be willing to take risks. The lover must lay bare his soul and risk rejection and humiliation to enter this state. The athlete must be willing to risk physical harm, even loss of life, to enter this state. The artist must be willing to be scorned and despised by critics and the public and still push on. And the average person — you and me — must be willing to fail, look foolish, and fall flat on our faces should we wish to enter this state. Certainly, risk is needed for flow, but if you don’t want to take physical risks, take mental risks. Take social risks. Emotional risks. Creative risks. Especially creative risks.

I hate putting my art (UI design) out for others to evaluate. But that seems to be a prerequisite to flow.

He was also depending on two other external triggers — “rich environment” and “deep embodiment” A “rich environment” is a combination platter of novelty, unpredictability, and complexity

How to find complexity:

Simple: Seek out complexity, especially in nature. Go stare at the night sky. Walk in the woods. If you can’t find big nature, contemplate the small.

Novelty and unpredictability:

Routines save the brain energy and who hasn’t driven to work without remembering the trip? Yet vary the route next time. Brush your teeth with the wrong hand.

Deep embodiment:

If we want to pull the deep embodiment trigger in less extreme environments, then we simply have to learn to pay attention to all these input streams. Zen walking meditation, Yoga, tai chi, and just about every martial art blend both together.

Such a superpower meditation is.

Also important: Feedback loops:

Tighten feedback loops. Well, forget quarterly reviews. Think daily reviews. A lot of dopamine. When anything can happen, survival could be at stake. Dopamine heightens attention and pattern recognition — two things that are absolutely essential to dealing with the unknown. Of course, being dopamine, this is all exceptionally pleasurable.

So how do you get into flow:

The first step in the flow cycle is known as “struggle.” To amp up focus and alertness, stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine are pumped into the system. Tension rises. Frustration as well. Our problems seem unsolvable, our effort unsustainable, and the whole situation feels as far from flow as one could get. The next stage in the cycle is “release.” Release means to take your mind off the problem, to, as Benson says, “completely sever prior thought and emotional patterns.”

Then flow happens

Afterward, we move into the fourth and final step in the cycle: “recovery.” Flow is an extremely expensive state for the body to produce and maintain.

Another kicker for flow is: Community

Walker discovered that the more social an activity, the higher “flow enjoyment” — the level of joy experienced in flow — was for participants.

Part Three: Time to Rise

Extreme work lives: once we start accessing flow with regularity, performance will dramatically improve and new expectations will follow.

I shall make this my mission!

Students went on a quest to find the most “flow-prone” learning environments around. Montessori topped the list.

Why am I not surprised? Guess were we enrolled our boys ;-)

Get the book on Amazon


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Hannes Kleist
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