Kwik Brain 048: Get Into Your Creative Flow with Steven Kotler

How can you hack and boost your creativity? The key is to access your flow states – which flow expert Steven Kotler teaches you how to do in this latest Kwik Brain episode.

Show Notes

How can you hack and boost your creativity? The key is to access your flow states.

Flow has been referred to as the optimal state of consciousness.

In this episode, we discuss this topic with Steven Kotler, bestselling author, flow expert, and director of the Flow Genome Project.

If you haven’t listened to our previous episode, Kwik Brain 046: How To Train Focus & Flow with Steven Kotler, do that first.

We’ll start by discussing what gets in the way of flow – because sometimes it’s not about adding things but getting out of your own way.

Subtraction equals multiplication. When you subtract things out of your life, it multiplies your life.

Factors That Hamper Flow.

1. An Inability to Train Focus.

Focus is plastic, so you need to train it.

If you can’t or are unwilling to train it, you won’t be able to access it.

2. Not Having the Right Balance Between Boredom and Anxiety.

Emotionally, flow exists near (not on) the channel between boredom and anxiety.

We focus best on tasks where the challenge is 4{a2ab13f598b9c192179e3b332480587a5b65c6fbd81f4180faa8ab5c9a3db3bb} greater than our skill set, so you’re a little outside your comfort zone.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that 4{a2ab13f598b9c192179e3b332480587a5b65c6fbd81f4180faa8ab5c9a3db3bb} is the average gradient difference between challenge and skill.

Neurobiologically, you need a little bit of cortisol and norepinephrine (anxiety) to help you concentrate.

Too much anxiety or fear blocks flow.

3. Not Knowing How to Manage Your Anxiety.

Low-grade anxiety makes it harder for you to get into flow.

We are constantly being bombarded by negative stimuli.

Our brain takes in 6 – 9 negatives for every 1 positive.

Of the 400 billion inputs of data we gather each second, most of that goes to our amygdala (the brain’s danger detector) first.

To decrease your anxiety,  restrict your news sources to something with the least amount of bias, and limit the amount you get.

Steven gets news only from The Economist and New Scientist.

Recognize what might scare you and ignore it so your emotions don’t hijack you out of flow.

Too much anxiety can decrease your creativity.

Creativity requires the brain to make very far-flung connections.

The more norepinephrine in your system, the more local the neuronal connections.

Chronic anxiety and OCD look the same in the brain under fMRI.

OCD occurs when your thoughts move in a circle; anxiety does the same thing.

The greater your anxiety, the smaller the database searched by your pattern recognition systems.

3 Reasons You Might Be Stuck When You’re Writing.

1. You haven’t done enough research.

If you don’t know enough, your brain can’t make the necessary connections.

2. You don’t know your limits.

Your brain can fill in the middle if it has the start and the ending because it is a storytelling machine.

Limits are useful for creativity.

The goal isn’t to think outside the box; it’s to be as excellent as you can be within the box.

3. You haven’t found your voice.

Whenever Steven is writing a book, he uses another outside writer whose book feels like his book.

When Steven was writing West of Jesus, he read a lot of Joan Didion.

Read this book in the morning to prime your brain to get to the emotional spot.

Ask yourself: how do I want to make my reader feel? What is the thematic address of this piece? What is the style that conveys it best?

The 4 Stages of Flow.

Stage 1 is a struggle phase.

This is when you load your brain with the information you need.

Stage 2 is the release phase.

You need to take your mind off the information.

For daily flow, low-grade physical exercise like a long hike is great and can help you beat a few days’ worth of writer’s block.

If you’ve been stuck for a long time or need a rapid intervention, you need to physically force an intervention.

Try skydiving.

Creativity isn’t a skill but a state of mind – so to maximize it, you need to shift your state.

There are no skills you can learn to help creativity unless you can learn to shift your consciousness a little.

Stage 3 is the flow state.

Stage 4 is the back-end recovery phase.

Flow is energy-expensive, taking food, rest, sunlight, and various vitamins and minerals.

To maximize flow, you need to incorporate a recovery phase.

At the end of every day, Steven sits in the infrared sauna in his house and does 20 minutes of breathwork.

Steven does box breathing for 12 minutes, a 3-minute Breath of Fire, and then a 5-minute vipassana meditation.

Vipassana meditation is better for creativity than focus meditation.

Steven’s focus training is tucked into his recovery.

Breath of Fire is a breathing technique where you exhale very quickly and are almost hyperventilating.

Box breathing is named as such because there are four sides to it.

Inhale for 5 seconds, then hold your breath for 5 seconds, then exhale for 5 seconds, then hold for 5 seconds.

Steven goes for 3 rounds of 5 seconds, then goes up by 1 second to 12.

The built-in game that you’re playing with yourself is “don’t panic.”

Box breathing is very effective when training focus because when you go above 7 seconds, you automatically trigger the fight-or-flight response.

It’s great to take this panic energy and use it to focus and go right into flow.

Action-adventure athletes get really good at taking their fear and adrenaline rush and going immediately into hyperfocus.

Do you have more questions about creativity and flow? Post your questions and big a-has on social media. Don’t forget to tag me @jimkwik and Steven @steven_kotler!

Do you want to go deeper into creativity? Our Kwik Thinking program is the ultimate program on focus, decision-making, problem-solving and creativity. Click here to access your exclusive rate as a thank you for being part of our Kwik Brain community.

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