Steven Kotler is an award-winning journalist, New York Times bestselling author, and the Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective. One of the world’s most renowned experts on human performance, his work has been translated into over 50 languages, nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes, and appeared in over 100 publications, including the Wall Street Journal, TIME, and the Harvard Business Review.
I’m excited to have Steven back on the show as a returning guest to discuss his recent book, Gnar Country, as well as his insights and learned experiences on unlocking peak performance and aging gracefully.
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What Is Flow?
Flow is the mental state of being completely focused and in the zone. It’s a state where you become one with your task and your creativity and productivity reach their highest potential. When you are in a state of flow, time seems to stand still and all distractions fade away as you become completely absorbed in a single task.
For entrepreneurs and creatives, this is the foundation of how we do our jobs. It is the place where we’re able to tap into our most creative ideas, make the most progress on our projects, and reach our highest levels of success.
Everyone is capable of achieving flow, but the key is learning how to get into that state consistently. Being able to overcome the mental, physical, and environmental obstacles that prevent us from achieving flow is critical to reaching our potential.
Hacking Your Brain for Flow, Growth and Longevity
Society has long associated aging with the idea of progressive decline. We hit a certain number on the timeline, then supposedly begin losing our capacity to perform. It’s a matter of biology, right?
Steven tells me that the excuse of being ‘too old for something’ is self-fulfilling. People tell themselves the lie and lower their personal ambitions in doing so. Sure, there is some degree of change in the body after a certain age, but how much of the ensuing decline is enabled by mindset?
The connection between the human brain and body is unbelievable. Aside from proponents like Steven, researchers have been fascinated by the power each side has over the other throughout the aging process.
He points to one of his favorite studies, The Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging in Retirement, as a reference. The prominent project began in 1975 and followed hundreds of older adults over the course of 20 years to better understand the impact of mindset on long-term health. Its findings? Older individuals who had positive self-perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than their more pessimistic counterparts.
Steven says that stereotypes around aging are widely-accepted and deeply rooted within society.
The idea that you’re supposed to stop thriving halfway through life is so believed that people inadvertently use it as a form of self-sabotage. The Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging in Retirement is just one example of how the effects can be much greater than we realize – just how much are we potentially missing out on? And what can be done to change things?
This is exactly what Steven addresses with his work in peak performance. The concept, according to him, is nothing fancier than learning to use human biology to our advantage rather than allowing it to work against us. According to him, the second half of life can be just as fulfilling, if not more so, than the first. All it takes is an interest in continued growth.
Kick Ass ‘Till You Kick the Bucket
You’ve heard of deliberate practice – K Anders Ericsson’s principle of repetition as a way of achieving expertise. But what about deliberate play?
While the first only applies to a limited group of formal skills, this second concept goes further to address the abilities of the body: strength, stamina, balance, agility and flexibility.
In some ways, it can be seen as the opposite of deliberate practice, as the focus is enjoyment and diversity rather than a singular, repetitive goal. But the same principles of focus and attention to detail apply.
According to Steven, there are few better ways to prime the body and mind for success in any field than by engaging in challenging social and creative activities within novel outdoor environments. It’s a way to break out of the mindless, daily routines and explore different ways of approaching life.
The best part? It’s something anyone can partake in, regardless of age or ability level. All it takes is a bit of creativity and motivation – a desire to put yourself out there and try something new.
This doesn’t have to be the XGames-style ski tricks that Steven has chosen to learn in his 50s. It can be anything from a leisurely evening stroll on the beach to weight vest hiking with a good stretching program afterwards. He’s a big proponent of the latter, which he says can stimulate the neurons, strengthen the muscles and bones, all while making an impact on our entire neural network.
Beginner or expert, growth past a certain age is dependent on maintaining the learning mindset we had as kids – playfulness, shamefulness and a willingness to fail. When these traits are paired with a thirst for knowledge and an open heart, it’s impossible to remain stagnant. Doing so would be like trying to stop the sun from rising.
It’s safe to say that we’re in it for the long haul, and if Steven’s insights are any indication, it’s going to be a fun ride. We just need to make sure we keep the accelerator pressed firmly down. Live life with intention, challenge yourself to grow and don’t forget to enjoy the journey along the way. After all, that’s what life is all about!