When I was a kid, watching Evel Knieval jump a row of school busses – as the world watched with me – was absolutely amazing. Nowadays, you’ll see someone you’ve never heard of jump way more busses at the county fair or local rodeo – and do a back-flip in the middle just for kicks.
But that’s nothing compared to jumping the Great Wall of China on a skateboard (with a broken ankle) like Danny Ways. Or surfing the freakishly powerful Millennium Wave, when Laird Hamilton saved his life and completed the ride with the intuitive new move of dragging his right hand in the water on the opposite side of his board to balance himself.
Steven Kotler’s book The Rise of Superman examines “extreme” athletes in a scientific review of ultimate human performance. And the key he reveals is something you experience in your own life:
First discussed in scientific terms by psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in his book of the same name, flow is what powers optimal human experience. You may also know it as “being in the zone,” the popular sports metaphor for the same experience.
Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
You’ve been there, whether at work or at play. In fact, if you happen to be a video gamer, you’re likely there every time you log on (and maybe that’s why you play games when you “should be” doing something else). Unlike other “altered states,” flow is always a positive experience, and in the words of Kotler, “Flow is what makes life worth living.”
Now, there’s a difference between peak human performance, which means being the best you can be, and ultimate human performance. In the latter zone if you mess up, you die … or get hurt really badly.
It’s for this reason that Kotler focuses on extreme sports in Rise of Superman. The life-and-death nature of pushing the envelope puts these athletes into a flow state by necessity, and makes what was once impossible increasingly attainable. More interestingly, being in a state of flow is what these athletes crave even more than the accomplishment.
You might expect flow to be some higher brain state, with the prefrontal cortex lit up like Keith Richards on world tour. Brain scans, however, show that flow deactivates portions of the brain, specifically those related to our sense of self – which may explain the experience of oneness, timelessness, and the absence of distracting ego.
Flow gets your self out of the way, ironically allowing you to achieve at much higher levels. This is, with practice, the same brain state that meditation puts you in.
“Flow might be the most desirable state on earth,” writes Kotler. “It’s also the most elusive.” That’s because flow stems from intrinsic motivation (things we do just to do them), rather than things we’re “supposed to do.”
Which is why Further is about living your best life, not what someone else wants. So treat yo self to more flow this year by focusing on your passion, practice, and ultimate potential.
- Book: The Rise of Superman
- Review: Kirkus on Rise of Superman
- Book: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
- Slides: 17 Flow Triggers
To sum up, what allows us to be our best (and happiest) is a state of absolute focus that transcends self. Meanwhile, we’ve got iPhones glued to our hands checking how many likes our latest selfie has. I think these dots connect themselves, but if not, familiarize yourself with the dementia of the preoccupied.
The shortening of human telomeres – caps that protect our chromosomes from deterioration – has been associated with aging and disease. Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine say they’ve found a way to lengthen these telomeres, potentially opening the door to new treatments for many age-related and genetic conditions.
Shocker! “Pharmaceuticals will play a key role in helping people live extended but healthy lives,” drug makers say. You would expect nothing less from your friendly multinational pusher.
A Tufts University scientist used MRI studies to reveal different brain responses between obese and lean women stimulated by pictures of healthy and unhealthy food. She suggests that “cognitive restructuring” may be able to help rewire food preferences, but doesn’t explain how. Here’s a tried-and-true way to change your food habits that also rewires your brain – A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating.
We all know by now that, at minimum, we should be walking more for our health. Research also shows that something as simple as taking a walk on your lunch break can reduce work-related stress, put you in a better mood, and allow for greater productivity. I can personally attribute a substantial amount of earnings to ideas I’ve had on mid-day walks, so there’s that, too.
Wealth is about resources more than money. While we may all define those resources differently, we can likely agree that most consumer products don’t make the cut. So why do we constantly trade our cash for crap we don’t need? Check these spending biases that rob us of our wealth.
Given the technological, demographic, marketplace, and political changes we’re facing, it may be the first time in history that being self-employed is safer than having a job: 9 Reasons There’s Never Been a Better Time for Solopreneurs. A guy who was way ahead of the curve on this issue is Dan Pink, whose 2001 book Free Agent Nation nailed the future of work. And yes, the Brian Clark featured in that book is an earlier version of me … the road is long and winding.
Expressive writing (which generally means writing your personal story) has a ton a benefits, ranging from improving mood disorders, helping reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improving a person’s health after a heart attack, reducing doctor visits, and even boosting memory. Now research shows that the practice can change our perceptions of ourselves and help us become happier. As long as you don’t expect others to, you know, want to read it.
“It seems like memory is sort of like a camcorder. If you don’t hit the ‘record’ button on the camcorder, it’s not going to ‘remember’ what the lens is pointed at.” It Takes Effort to Remember What We See. This assumes you’re able to pay attention in the first place, and researchers from McGill University have identified a network of neurons that are crucial for controlling attention. This may allow us to treat the condition of ADHD, not just the symptoms.
A Buddhist monk and an advertising guy walk into a bar, and naturally they come up with a meditation app somewhere after the third cocktail. “There’s an irony, to be sure, in using technology to deliver mindfulness coaching to a population that’s more and more tech-frazzled.” Uh, yeah … just a bit. Check out the story behind Headspace, in The Monk and the Madman Making Mindfulness for the Masses.
Turns out Facebook addiction is a real thing. But don’t pay attention to that noise, head over and give the Further Facebook page a like. Just one, you can handle it. Come on, everyone is doing it. You can quit anytime you want. 😉
Until next week … archives!