The Rise of Superman
Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance
Author: Steven Kotler
Where to get: Amazon
Who should read it: Anybody who’s interested in performance psychology or flow states. People who have experienced a state in which they were able to effortlessly perform or were “on fire”, but don’t know the why or what behind it. Anybody who’s interested in action and adventure sports and want to know why they are able to do such amazing things and have such rapid progressions of skills. People who want to know the science behind why people are able to do the impossible. Anyone who is interested in becoming more creative or better at any activity.
Who shouldn’t read it: Those who aren’t interested in psychology or how the brain/body work. People who aren’t interested in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. People who aren’t willing to take risks in life, especially not physical risks. People who find more contentment in watching others do spectacular things instead of trying to do them themselves. This book certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but because you’re on this site, most likely it will appeal to you.
Overall idea: Humans have a very specific state that they can go into called “flow”. In this state, brainwaves change, biochemistry shifts, and our perception of reality is drastically altered, all of which combines to give us the ability to transcend the impossible and push the boundaries of human performance. And not only that, but it also feels like pure bliss. By understanding what triggers this state, we can create environments that foster it. The results are not only ultimate human performance, but also quite possibly the answers to many of humanity’s deepest struggles.
“Flow is more than an optimal state of consciousness—one where we feel our best and perform our best—it also appears to be the only practical answer to the question: What is the meaning of life? Flow is what makes life worth living.”
– Steven Kotler, The Rise of Superman
We have almost all experienced a state in which we’ve felt unstoppable, like no matter what we do, we couldn’t be stopped. Tasks feel incredibly easy and fluid while pain and exhaustion give way to energized bliss. Time slows down and our focus increases.
What all of this is describing is a state known as flow. While there a many other names for it- the zone, the pocket, being on fire, etc., it’s all describing the same thing. For most athletes (and artists as well) this place is Nirvana. We choose to routinely put our bodies and minds on the line in search of it.
The Rise of Superman is all about the flow state. Pulling from the works of Abraham Maslow and Mihaly Csikszentmiahly, as well as modern scientific understanding of flow, Kotler is able to pull the curtain back to reveal the nuts and bolts behind this mystical state. He looks at how drastic shifts in biochemistry and brainwaves cause the flow state, as well as the most common triggers for these shifts.
While all of this may sound slightly technical and boring, Kotler is also a brilliant storyteller. He uses the setting of action and adventure sports as the backdrop, and for good reason. Action and adventure sports athletes are masters of flow. They have to be. In many cases, it’s the only thing keeping them alive. Kotler explores this concept, as well as the idea that flow is what’s made action and adventure sports what they are today. No other sporting arena has seen such ridiculous advances in skill and achievement in such a short period of time, and Kotler theorizes that flow is the reason.
Entertaining and suspenseful stories from this world are used throughout the book to illustrate Kotler’s points. Even if you don’t care about flow states, the stories of close calls and impossible feats by the pioneers of action and adventure sports should be enough to make you enjoy the book.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows with flow, and Kotler does an awesome job of highlighting the dark side of flow as well. Because of the nature of flow, and the chemicals that are released in the brain during flow (endogenous equivalents to cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, opiates, and MDMA), the state can be incredibly addictive. And because the easiest way to get into flow is to attempt risky tasks that are slightly above our skill level, the dangers of continually chasing flow can be life-changing, if not fatal. We were glad that Kotler didn’t shy away from this aspect of flow and that he provided a number of sobering and very real accounts of flow gone wrong.
But that being said, there’s something seriously wrong with you if you can read this book and not get inspired. Kotler’s big-picture “so what?” gave me goosebumps as to the possibilities that are out there if we can learn to regularly harness the power of flow.
The Rise of Superman is one of the best books I’ve read on performance psychology and the flow state. It provides a clear understanding of what’s going on in the state and how to get into it. And it’s entertaining as hell. I highly suggest that you check out this book, either in the print or audio format. For more information on The Rise of Superman, click on the picture above or go to the Amazon link at the top of the post to purchase it.
As always, we love to hear from you guys. Let us know what your thoughts are on this book or if you have any suggestions for other books that you think that we should check out!
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