How do you train focus for high performance? In this episode, I talk about focus and flow with New York Times bestselling author Steven Kotler.
How do you train focus for high performance?
Steven Kotler is an expert in flow and the New York Times bestselling author of 8 books, including his latest: Stealing Fire.
What Flow Is and Why It Matters
Flow is technically defined as an optimal state of consciousness, where we feel our best and perform our best.
Synonyms include ‘runner’s high,’ ‘being in the zone,’ and more.
During flow, you’re so absorbed in the task that everything else disappears. Your sense of self vanishes, and time slows down or speeds up.
Flow has several benefits.
According to McKinsey, productivity spikes 500% in flow.
The Department of Defense found that learning accelerates 470% in flow.
Various studies have found that creativity spikes between 400 – 700% in flow.
How to Focus for Flow
In order to maximize flow, you need to concentrate for 90 – 120-minute chunks of time.
Outside of action sports, the highest-flow environment for flow is Montessori education, which is built around 90 – 120 minute periods of uninterrupted concentration.
You want to be able to stay hyper-focused for 120-minute blocks AND you need to find 120-minute blocks in your life.
First, you must train your brain. Then, you must train your life to fit your high-performance needs.
Organizations need to be built around flow principles. If your work environment doesn’t allow you to disappear for 120 minutes, you won’t be able to achieve flow.
Our focus and concentration is terrible – but it’s very elastic and easy to switch.
There is no such thing as multitasking. We are constantly task-switching, which has a cognitive cost.
The average goldfish can pay attention for 9 seconds. We can pay attention for 8 seconds.
Most people online now get bored if the content lasts more than 2 minutes and 37 seconds.
If you watch a movie after watching lots of shorter videos, the first 15 – 20 minutes is uncomfortable because you’re not used to focusing. However, once you give in and relax, you have a great time. This has to do with neuroplasticity.
Focus is very easy to train.
Just 4 daily 20-minute sessions of mantra meditation can improve cognitive performance.
To experience the emotional benefits of meditation, you need to practice for 2 weeks.
Stephen Dixon, one of the world’s most prolific writers, edits one page a day and writes one page a day. If you can do that for 365 days, you’ll have a book. Dixon trained himself to write that page in 20 minutes.
If you can’t focus for 90 minutes, try focusing for 7 minutes at a time.
Pick something you really love and want to do.
Passion matters as a motivation hack – it helps us train focus because we pay more attention to the things we believe in.
If you want really big creative periods, you need to focus for 4 hours.
One of the reasons Steven awakens at 4AM is because the world doesn’t wake up until 6:30AM, so nobody is trying to contact him.
You have to give yourself permission to take the time back from your life.
Maintaining Focus During Your Transitions
Successful people are good at focusing on one thing, but get distracted at the transitions.
When they transition, they check their email or make phone calls. This can cause an emotional reaction, which takes energy from your focus.
Figure out how many things you can do successfully during your average day.
Steven can do 8 things. He writes for 4 hours, and then fits the others into the rest of his workday.
How can you transition between tasks without coming out of that flow state?
It took Microsoft coders 15 minutes to return to a flow state when they were bounced out of it – if they were able to return to it at all.
Train yourself to transition directly without a break.
Use heavy short breathwork to reset your system.
Instead of trying to downregulate your nervous system by checking your email, do a minute of “breath of fire” or Wim Hof breathing followed by 3 minutes of box breathing.
Wim Hof breathing involves really fast inhales that clean out the system quickly so you can’t think of anything else.
For box breathing, do 10-second to 12-second sides around the box.
Steven uses this technique to refresh his system, especially if he’s had a bad writing session, so that he can keep focus.
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