Rise of Superman is about flow and action sports athletes. They achieve high levels of flow with regularity not seen in other fields. Steven Kotler explains how we can apply theirl techniques to reach flow in normal day to day work.
Why would you want to, anyway? For one, flow signals activities that go a long way toward happiness1.
In fact, when Csikszentmihalyi dove deeper into the data, he discovered that the happiest people on earth, the ones who felt their lives had the most meaning, were those who had the most peak experiences.
I’ve had after-dinner programming sessions where I look up and all of a sudden it’s 2am. Getting into flow at a desk takes a combination of things: a distraction-free workspace, headphones to block out noise, an interesting problem to work on, and on and on. Sometimes you get in flow, sometimes you end up scrolling through Twitter.
You can try that hit or miss approach or you can jump off a cliff with a wing suit on.
Different methods will get you to different levels of flow. I’m not planning on jumping off even a jungle gym anytime soon. What else can I try? It might just take picking a ball up.
Kotler points to traditional sports and includes a quote from Bill Russell:
“My premonitions would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew all the Celtics by heart but all the opposing players, and that they all knew me. There have been many times in my career when I felt moved or joyful, but these were the moments when I had chills pulsing up and down my spine.”
You don’t have to be on the Cetics, either. This made me think of times when I’ve been in flow in the past few years. A pretty reliable method was playing basketball—poorly. Luckily there are plenty of other people at the same skill level.
When you’re running around the court you’re not usually consciously stopping and thinking about where on the court you need to go. Unless you’re setting a play up. Which is rare because, again, I don’t play at a high enough level.
I did a group rowing class recently would say I was in flow for parts of it. Particularly the end when it was timed for distance. At one point, the instructor was speaking to me directly and it took me about 15 seconds to realize she was even standing right next to me.
Being around a team or other people working toward the same goal helps you at least gets you out of your own head. I imagine this is part of why group cardio classes are popular.
Flow is worth searching for. I’ll start with looking for it at a local gym before jumping off ledges.
- I’ll probably read one of Csikszentmihalyi’s books next. His name pops up everywhere when learning about performance and happiness. ↩︎