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  • MALE SPEAKER: I'm really happy to welcome

  • our two guests and my friends here today,

  • Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal.

  • As you know, wellness, optimum living

  • have been big topics at Google for a while.

  • And they are complex issues.

  • I know my colleagues wrestle with these issues a lot,

  • trying to figure out solutions.

  • And today, what they will be presenting

  • and what we'll learn more about, flow,

  • I think is a big part of this complex puzzle.

  • And so I want to give you a little bit of background

  • with both of these folks before we get started.

  • So Steven is a "New York Times" best-selling author.

  • He's an award-winning journalist and co-founder

  • of the Flow Genome Project.

  • And he has many books, including "Abundance."

  • And his new book, "The Rise of Superman"

  • will be the focus on today.

  • His books have been translated in many different languages.

  • Articles have appeared in more than 70 publications,

  • including "New Times Magazine," "Atlantic Monthly," "Wired,"

  • and "Forbes."

  • Jamie Wheal is the executive director

  • of the Flow Genome Project.

  • And he's a leading expert in neurosemantics

  • of ultimate human performance.

  • And he works with Fortune 100 companies, leading business

  • schools, Young Presidents' Organization,

  • an also Red Bull, with their world-class athletes.

  • So with that, I'm going to turn it over to Steven.

  • [APPLAUSE]

  • STEVEN KOTLER: Hello.

  • Thank you guys for coming out.

  • I very much appreciate you being here.

  • I want to kind of just orientate you

  • a little bit to what we're going to do.

  • I'm going to kind of give you an introduction

  • to flow and start breaking down some of the neurobiology, how

  • it works under the hood and giving you

  • kind of the broad spectrum of importance.

  • And then Jamie's is going to take over

  • and he's going to talk about practical applications

  • about how you can get more flow into your lives.

  • As a way to kind of begin, I want

  • to tell you kind of where I began with this, which

  • was when I was 30 years old, I got Lyme disease.

  • And I spent the better portion of three years in bed.

  • If you don't know what Lyme disease is like,

  • imagine the worst flea you've ever had,

  • crossed with paranoid schizophrenia.

  • So by the end of it, the doctors had pulled me off medicines.

  • My stomach lining was bleeding out.

  • There was nothing else anybody else anybody could do for me.

  • And I was functional, 5% to 10% of the time.

  • My mind was totally shut down.

  • My body was in so much pain, I could barely walk.

  • I was hallucinating.

  • My short-term memory was gone.

  • My long-term memory was gone.

  • It was all gone.

  • And at this point, I was going to kill myself out

  • of practicality.

  • The only thing I was going to be from here on forward

  • was a burden to my friends and my family.

  • And it was really a question of when and not if at that point.

  • And in the middle of all this kind of negative thinking,

  • a friend of mine showed up at my house

  • and demanded we go surfing.

  • And it was a ridiculous request.

  • First of all, it had been about five years

  • since I had surfed at that point.

  • And the last time I had surfed, I

  • had nearly drowned in a big way of accident in Indonesia

  • and wanted nothing to do with surfing.

  • And as I said, I could barely walk across the room.

  • And she was a pain in my ass.

  • She wouldn't leave and wouldn't leave.

  • And kept badgering me and kept badgering me.

  • And after finally about three hours of this,

  • I was like, what the hell, let's go surfing.

  • What is the worst that can happen?

  • And they she kind of walked me to their car.

  • And they put me in their car and they drove me to Sunset Beach

  • in Los Angeles.

  • And if you know anything about surfing in Los Angeles,

  • you know that Sunset Beach is just

  • about the wimpiest beginner wave in the entire world.

  • And it was summer.

  • And the water was warm and the tide was low.

  • And the waves were crap, like maybe two feet high.

  • And no one was out.

  • And they walked me out to the break, literally by my elbows

  • and kind of helped me out there.

  • They gave me a board the size of Cadillac.

  • And the bigger the board, the easier it is to surf.

  • This was enormous.

  • And I was out there about 30 seconds when a wave came.

  • And I'm not quite sure what happened,

  • muscle memory took over, whatever.

  • The wave came.

  • I spun the board around.

  • I paddled a couple times and I popped up.

  • And I popped up into a completely different dimension.

  • My senses were incredibly incredibly, incredibly acute,

  • I was clear headed for the first time in years.

  • I felt like I had panoramic vision.

  • And time had dilated.

  • It had slowed down.

  • So that freeze-frame effect, if you've ever

  • been in a car crash, that was my experience.

  • And the most incredible thing was I felt great.

  • I mean I felt alive, that thrum of possibility.

  • And it was the first time in about three years

  • that I had felt it.

  • And that wave felt so good, I caught four more in a row.

  • And after that fifth wave, I was disassembled.

  • I was gone.

  • They had to carry me to the car.

  • They put me in the car.

  • They drove me home.

  • They had to put me into bed.

  • And people actually had to come and bring me food

  • because for 14 days, I couldn't walk again.

  • So I couldn't make it 50 feet away to my kitchen

  • to make a meal.

  • And on the 15th day, which was the day

  • that I could walk again, I got back in my car

  • and I went back to the ocean and I did it again.

  • And again, I had this kind of crazy, quasi-mystical

  • experience.

  • And again, it felt great.

  • And the cycle kept repeating itself.

  • And over about six months' time, when

  • the only thing I was doing different was surfing,

  • I went from about 10% functionality to about 80%

  • functionality.

  • So my first question was what the hell is going on?

  • Because surfing is not a cure for chronic

  • autoimmune conditions, first of all.

  • Second of all, I'm a science writer by training.

  • I'm a rational materialist.

  • And I don't have mystical experiences.

  • And I certainly don't have them in the waves while surfing.

  • The whole thing seemed ludicrous.

  • Lyme is only fatal if it enters your brain.

  • And I was pretty certain that the reason

  • I was having these quasi-mystical experiences out

  • in the waves was because I was dying.

  • So where all this started for me was a giant quest

  • to figure out what the hell was going on with me.

  • What I discovered was this altered state of consciousness

  • I was experiencing had a name, flow states.

  • Now, you may know this by other names, being in the zone,

  • runner's high.

  • If you happen to be a beatnik jazz musician,

  • then you're in the pocket.

  • If you're a stand-up comic, it's called the forever box.

  • The lingo goes on, and on, and on.

  • The term researchers prefer is flow.

  • And they prefer this term for a reason.

  • It's actually a technical term.

  • And we'll come back to why in a second.

  • But in flow, what happens is attention

  • becomes so focused on the task at hand

  • that everything else disappears.

  • Your sense of action or awareness merge together.

  • So the doer and the beer become one.

  • A sense of self, our sense of self-consciousness

  • disappear completely.

  • Time dilates.

  • So that means it slows down like I mentioned.

  • You can that freeze-frame effect, like in a car crash.

  • Sometimes it speeds up.

  • And five hours will go by in like five minutes.

  • And throughout all aspects of performance,

  • mental and physical go through the roof.

  • I'm not going to dwell too much on it.

  • I'm just going to kind of explain it.

  • And we're going to go on to a lot of things.

  • But I want to talk about why flow actually healed me

  • from Lyme disease, just so you guys understand

  • what was going on.

  • We're going to talk later about the neurochemicals involved

  • in flow.

  • All of them significantly jack up the immune system.

  • More importantly, they reset the nervous system back

  • towards zero.

  • So they calm you down.

  • An autoimmune condition is essentially

  • a haywire nervous system.

  • So the fact that periodic flow states were calming my system

  • back down is allowing me to form new neural nets.

  • Neural nets that didn't lead immediately back to illness.

  • And this is what kind of gave me a toehold and possibility

  • to get better.

  • What I also discovered when I was

  • researching flow and learning all this stuff

  • is that the exact same state that

  • helped me get from seriously subpar back to normal

  • was helping a lot of other people

  • go from normal up to superman.

  • Another thing that I learned very quickly on

  • is that I really was not the first person

  • to come to this conclusion.

  • Flow science dates back about 150 years, to the early 1870s.

  • By the turn of the century, Harvard psychologist

  • and philosopher William James was looking at the state.

  • And he was the first person to figure out

  • that the brain can radically alter consciousness

  • to improve performance.

  • More importantly was the work of one of James' students,

  • Walter Bradford for Cannon, who was a great physiologist.

  • Bradford Cannon discovered the fight or flight response.

  • And in doing so, he kind of give us our first window

  • into where this accelerated performance

  • might be coming from.

  • This was a very, very big deal.

  • Before that moment in time, performance enhancement

  • was essentially a gift from the gods.

  • You want a better time in 100-yard dash, Hermes can help.

  • You want to write a better poem, talk to the muses.

  • But Walter Bradford Cannon turned a gift from the gods

  • into standard biology.

  • He give us our very first toehold into the mystery.

  • In 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow

  • picked up on this thread.

  • He discovered that flow was a commonality

  • among all successful people.

  • And then in the 1960s and '70s, the real revolution began,

  • a guy named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,

  • who is then the chairman of the University of Chicago

  • psychology department.

  • Csikszentmihalyi sort of-- well, Maslow discovered the state

  • in successful people.

  • Csikszentmihalyi got curious about kind of everybody else

  • in the world.

  • So he made what is now considered

  • one of the largest global psychological studies ever.

  • He went around the world, asking people

  • about the times in their life when I felt their best

  • and they performed their best.

  • And it was a huge group.

  • He started out talking to experts.

  • He talked to expert rock climbers,

  • ballet dancers, artists, surgeons.

  • It didn't matter.

  • They all said same thing.

  • They felt their best.

  • And they performed their best in the state he termed flow.

  • Then he blew it out to everybody else.

  • And by everybody else, I really mean everybody else.

  • He talked to Navajo sheepherders.

  • He talked to Italian grape farmers.

  • He talked to elderly Korean women.

  • He talked to Japanese teenage motorcycle gang members.