Steven Kotler on Flow
So there’s two kind of answers to this question.
The first is that the research shows that the people with the most flow in their lives are quote, unquote “the happiest people on Earth.” That is something of a misnomer. So flow always, always, always, always includes kind of pushing yourself to the utmost, rising to the challenge.
One of the psychological triggers is known as the challenge/skills ratio. So all of these flow triggers that we talk about (high consequence, deep embodiment, et cetera) are ways of driving attention to the now.
So one of the ways we know we pay the most attention when the skills we bring to the task are slightly less than the challenge at hand. Flow exists when we are stretching, but not snapping. You are constantly rising to meet your challenge. The studies show that flow correlates directly to life satisfaction. You get more meaning. You get more purpose. Happiness is fleeting. It’s in the moment.
That may not always be the case with flow because rising to challenges are difficult. It’s uncomfortable. I always say that people who get really good at flow hacking, get really, really good at being uncomfortable.
The other thing I wanted to say to kind of go back this is — and I want to talk about why this is not self-help. And it’s not self-help for a couple of reasons. On the positive side, self-help is about 5% increase, 10% increase. It’s about three things I can tell you today that you can start doing tomorrow and your life is going to get better.
Flow is not like that at all. It is not 5%. It’s not 10%. It is a step function-worth of change.
It is a big shift forward. But it comes at a price. Flow is dangerous. These neurochemicals are very addictive. So you’re playing with fundamentally addictive neurochemistry. Flow always requires what we call an escalating ladder of risk. You’re going to keep taking greater and greater chances, pushing yourself farther, and farther, and farther. That can get dangerous as well. And you’re also playing with very fundamental human motivations, autonomy, mastery, and purpose, is sort of what passion looks like under the hood. These are all big flow triggers. These all show up in flow. They all produce more flow. You don’t get to play with addictive neurochemistry and these kind of fundamental human motivations without danger.
People find themselves — they join a startup. They get into lots of flow. Startups are great at producing flow for a lot of different reasons. A lot of the flow triggers are kind of concentrated in startups. And then the startup phase ends and they’re sort of locked out of flow. There is a depression that can come from this. If you get a lot of flow in your life and some day are locked out, you can get very, very, very deeply depressed.