The Rise of Superman is one of the most motivating stories I have ever read about people doing extraordinary things. Most all of us have had the experience of becoming so consumed by a task that hours go by while it only seems like minutes. We lose track of time because we are so engrossed in what we are doing, performing or participating at an optimal level. This is the concept of flow. It is a state of peak performance where we are able to accomplish amazing feats that would seem impossible or improbable otherwise.
Growing up as a soccer player there were times on the field when everything was clicking for our team and you could feel momentum building leading up to an amazing goal. This peak state of performance is when you cross the threshold of typical performance into an elevated state resulting in incredible outcomes. The examples used in the book focus on extreme sports as they serve to highlight obvious examples and how flow has led to incredible transformations in these sports. The most widely known example is that of the 4-minute mile. It was thought for decades that it was physically impossible for a human to run a 4-minute mile. Yet when Roger Bannister broke that record in 1954 a flood of others followed. What people saw as impossible was until they saw what was possible. The key to the first feat was finding the flow state where peak performance could take effect.
One of my favorite examples as I vividly remember seeing both of these performances live on the X Games, was Travis Pastrana pulling off the first backflip on a motorbike. It was believed this was impossible yet a few years later he pulled a double backflip thus pushing the limits of what is possible. In the book, Steven Kotler touches on the neuroscience behind flow states and the combination of brain waves necessary to achieve a flow state. Ultimately we must be relaxed yet keenly aware in order to fall into this state.
The reason I believe this book had such an impact on me is remembering times when I have been in that flow state and good it felt both at the moment and after. There is a reason that extreme athletes tend to continue to push beyond their limits repeatedly. The chemical rewards from our brain create this desire to achieve peak levels of performance. Reading stories of seemingly ordinary people who pushed to new limits is inspiring and comes down to mindset. Each one believed something was possible that no one else had done before and were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to achieve them. It is the combination of that unequivocal belief and action that led to some of the great achievements we have seen in life and sport.
A timely example is the 16 seed UMBC beating 1 seed Virginia in the 2018 NCAA Men’s College Basketball tournament. It was the first time in 136 games that a number 16 seed beat a number 1 seed. But not only did they win that game they won by 20 points as UMBC entered into a collective slow state where they were making wild shots and building on each other’s energy. Flow states happen all around us and it is important that you discover what will lead you to your flow state. What is the one thing? If you already know what it is, then go do it. No excuses.