The Rise of Superman


A fascinating book about human flow and how to get into that state more often and at a higher level. Flow is an optimal state of consciousness and available to everyone everywhere. It is a point where action and awareness merge, time flies, and performance goes through the roof. Nobody has found a way to consistently enter into high level flow states as well as action and adventure sport athletes.

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Key Takeaways
  1. Found that the use of the prefrontal cortex diminishes while in flow as rational thoughts are not necessary and even inhibit flow
  2. Compared to non-athletes, athletes didn't necessarily move faster but thought faster
  3. Brain chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine play a big role in flow as they make us feel good, dull pain, help build skills, and better cope with adversity
  4. Unconditional trust, clear goals, rich learning environments and immediate (and often severe) consequences are very important to get into flow state
  5. An appropriate balance between skill and challenge is also vital. If a task is too challenging, you will get overwhelmed and if it is too easy, you won't pay attention
  6. 4 steps to flow cycle:
    1. Struggle - overloading the brain leads to chemical changes in body and how you handle negative feelings
    2. Release - take mind off problem and relax
    3. Flow - this optimal state of consciousness leading to higher levels of performance
    4. Recovery - flow is taxing on both the body and brain
  7. Ability to learn faster than competitors is the only true competitive advantage
  8. Geniuses in action sports are those who consistently push what is thought to be possible
What I got out of it:
  1. The top performers and most influential people in the world will be those who can most consistently and effectively enter this flow state. It is and will continue to be one of the major biohacking trends. Imagine somebody who can enter flow at will, boosting their performance in whatever line of work they're in - from managing billions of dollars at hedge funds to surfing the most dangerous waves at Teahupoo. Some of the world's top performers already realize this and are making huge strides as far as entering this state either through meditation or other techniques. This is an area that fascinates me and something I look forward to diving deeper into.
Part 1 - Key is This Frenzy
1 - The Way of Flow
  • An American gymnast named Kerri Strug sprained her ankle while performing an attempt but in order to beat the Russians and take gold she had to stick her next attempt. She somehow manages to stick it but breaks her ankle doing it
  • Danny Way was attempting to do something nobody had ever done - jump over the Great Wall of China on a skateboard. On his practice run he falls, breaks his ankle and tears his ACL. He leaves the hospital before he can receive treatment and tries the jump again. He somehow manages to succeed and ends up doing it three additional times.
    • Way says that skating beyond his limits puts him in a type of meditation, a zone
    • "I'll take all the failures that come with skateboarding as long as I know I'll get that feeling [time slowing down, flow]...Nothing is too gnarly"
    • Way pioneered sports medicine for skateboarders as he was determined to get back to skateboarding after he sustained life threatening and career ending injuries
  • Albert Heim was a Swiss geologist and he was one of the first to describe a near death experience as he was falling off a cliff. He notes time dilation, panoramic vision and heavenly music as he was falling
  • William James was a philosopher and psychologist who experimented on himself with drugs and other substances. He found that high risk activities amplified mental and physical performance and had a deep impact on people. He concluded that people tend to live way below their potential
  • Walter Bradford Cannon coined the term "flight or fight response" and was interested in what effect extreme emotions have on people
  • Some people have a deeper reservoir of determination or focus that they can go to - their second wind. Some have pushed themselves to the point where they reach their third and fourth winds and nobody truly knows where their limits are until they push themselves to it
  • "When getting into flow and pushing limits you start to achieve the impossible and then you begin to expect the impossible."
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term "flow" and found that everybody feels similar things when they are performing at their best - similar to Maslow's peak experiences (harmony with self and surroundings leads to peak experiences).
    • The what was very different (what activity was being performed to get into flow) but the why was ubiquitous. Happiest people on earth were those with the most peak experiences.
    • In peak experiences, drugs or alcohol were almost never involved but risky and often dangerous activities which stretched a person's ability and was novel or taught them something were.
    • Abraham Maslow - during peak experiences, one feels expansion of self, sense of unity and gives one a sense of purpose in life. This experience is quite common in high achievers and a source of motivation. This state is an end in itself and a highly prized experience by anybody who has been there
2 - The Wave of Flow
  • Teahupo'o is considered home to some of the most dangerous waves in the world - the  wall of skulls. Due to the incredible speeds of these waves, a jet ski has to slingshot the surfer in order to be able to catch it
    • Laird Hamilton caught the "Millennium Wave" here and changed the way people look at surfing. In the middle of this monster wave, in order to keep his balance he dragged his hand in the water to keep his balance. A move nobody had ever done before and at the time was considered the most significant ride in surfing history
  • Flow is a type of consciousness which requires a very specific type of focus - extreme focus on what you are doing and everything else drifts off. Here you have clarity, emotional stability and an automatic nature
  • Csikszentmihalyi described 10 characteristics of flow:
    1. Goals are clear
    2. Concentration
    3. Loss of self consciousness
    4. Dilation of time
    5. Direct and immediate feedback
    6. Balance between ability and task at hand
    7. Sense of personal control
    8. Intrinsically rewarding
    9. Lack of awareness of bodily needs
    10. Narrowing of awareness to just the task at hand
  • Extremely creative state as every decision could mean life or death
  • Brain rewrites itself to accomplish tasks as efficiently as possible. Allows us to turn off consciousness and just react
  • Sense Labs (formerly Neurotopia) is a company that helps people be able to better focus, multi-task and manage stress. They have teamed up with Red Bull, the Mavericks and Applied Sports Science to help take their athletes to the next level
  • Athletes have an advantage in that they are forced to put their brains in states which are conducive to flow
  • Flow is the ideal state for creative decision making
3 - The Where of Flow
  • Dean Potter developed a free-style mountain climbing technique with no ropes or other harnesses and he thought that this would help him climb some of the most treacherous mountains in the world
  • When in flow, one loses sense of self and certain higher thinking regions of the brain actually turn off. Allow us to be more creative and make quicker decisions since one takes in more and better data when in flow
  • Feeling of "oneness" with the wave, mountain, or whatever activity is common with action sport athletes. Fear of death disappears in this state
  • It was found that athletes didn't necessarily move faster but thought faster than non-athletes
4 - N/A 5 - The Flow Shortcut
  • Before Shane McConkey made it big as a professional skier and BASE jumper, he was bussing tables
  • Mothers, Musicians and Marshmallows:
    • Mothers - many thought that prodigious talent would be innate but few of the subjects were child prodigies. Prodigies are made and not born and encouragement from their mothers is extremely important
    • Musicians - number of hours of practice distinguishes experts from everyone else but this is not the most important factor - deliberate and well structured practice is what truly makes the difference
    • Marshmallows - a self-restraint experiment which showed that the children who were able to wait to eat the marshmallow were more successful and happier later in life. However, most action sport athletes do not put off temptation
      • Philip Zimbardo classified these children as either presenters or futures. Presenters live for the now and are more social and futures tend to be happier and more successful. Flow makes people combine these two personalities
Part 2 - Flow Hacker Nation
6 - Outer Flow
  • Rich environment and immediate consequences help get into flow
7 - Inner Flow
  • Imperative to live in the absolute now as people are terrible multitaskers.
  • Have CLEAR goals and strive to get direct and immediate feedback
  • Challenge to skill ratio needs to balance or else you're either overwhelmed or don't pay attention
  • Flow is not binary
8 - The We of Flow
  • Banding together as a group enhances flow and allows limits to be pushed even further. The more social the activity the more likely flow is to happen. S
    • Social triggers which help facilitate flow include serious concentration, clear goals, good communication (immediate feedback), equal participation, element of risk, familiarity, blending egos, sense of control, close listening, always say yes (conversation additive and not combative)
  • Group in Yosemite banded together and created a group flow for rock climbing and pushed limits further than ever before.
  • Groups help each other break psychological and tactical barriers
Part 3 - Time to Rise 9 - N/A 10 - The Dark Side of Flow
  • Chasing after flow can be dangerous as the feeling is very addictive and pushing yourself to the limit can be very dangerous - Shane McConkey died following the flow and dozens of others have as well
  • Not being able to get into the flow is very frustrating
  • After finding that flow it is hard to find something that will make you as excited. This leads many to drugs, alcohol or sex when they can't find flow
  • The idea of adults "playing" seems ridiculous in today's age but this is extremely important for people to find their flow state
11 - The Flow of Next
  • Every generation of athletes has a higher vision of what "normal" is compared to the previous generation. This helps push limits even further and at this point it seems like imagination is the biggest limiter
  • Once can explicitly visualize what you want to do, it becomes much easier to accomplish
  • Once something is done one time, it becomes much easier to repeat
  • Doing an action and visualizing an action the same in your brain
  • Learning even just one time that something you thought was impossible is in fact possible changes the brain and how you think
  • Ability to learn faster than competitors is the only true competitive advantage
12 - Flow to Abundance

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