STEVEN KOTLER: Why does the impossible become possible? One of the truly amazing things about being human is that we’re all built for peak performance. It is a fundamental element of being human. And what I mean by that is that our biology works for us rather than against us. It’s not a new idea. William James said that the great thing in any education is to make our nervous system our ally and not our enemy. And by our nervous system, yes, he meant our brain and our biology. We are all capable of much more than we know. When we hear that something impossible has been done, we start to think about it. And then you start asking questions, “Well, what would it look like when I did it?” And then you start thinking, “How would you do it?” “How would you train him?” And you’re like, “Oh wow, away.” “I guess it’s possible.”
My name is Steven Kotler. I am a writer and researcher. And my latest book is “The Art of the Impossible”. There is something in psychology and neuroscience that we talk about as the banister effect. It’s the idea that you have to believe something is possible before it becomes possible. He is named after Roger Bannister. Roger Bannister was the first person to run less than four miles. And before he did, it was a big, crazy impossible. TV ANNOUNCER: On May 6, British medical student Roger Bannister gains athletic immortality, the first man to break the legendary four-minute barrier by running a mile in three minutes, 59 and four tenths of a second.
They really thought the first person to do it would die. It was totally impossible. Bannister runs the first under four mile. And then a month later, someone breaks his record. And then a few months later, someone smashes that new record. And in five years, teenagers have done it. So you have to ask yourself, “What happened?” Right? The same physical demands for running less than four miles haven’t changed. All that’s changed is the mental framework we’ve built around the exploit. What was once impossible is now seen as possible. And we start thinking about it and the brain thinks in pictures, and it starts thinking, “Well, what would that look like?” And then you start asking questions. “Well, how would you do it?” “How would you train him?” And that becomes a little more likely.
What he’s basically saying is look, there’s a very, very, very close coupling between our psychology and our physiology. What if we can pre-wire our brain with the patterns that we are going to execute in advance. When we start running these patterns, you will get dopamine from pattern matching. It can help us get into the flow. And flow is an optimized state of consciousness where we feel better and we do our best. This idea goes back to Goethe who uses the German word “rausch”, which means overflowing with joy. Neitzche actually wrote on the stream. William James worked on the subject, but Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is often referred to as the godfather of flow psychology. And he went around the world talking to people about the times in their lives when they felt their best and when they did their best.
Everywhere he went, people said the same thing. They said, “You know, when I’m at my best”, “when I’m feeling my best”, “when I’m doing my best”, “I’m in this altered consciousness ‘where every action,’ every decision I make seems to flow “effortlessly, perfectly, seamlessly from the last.” This is where the term flow comes from. It’s actually another phenomenological description of the state. The flow actually seems to flow. When psychologists want to know if you were in flux, they say, well, “Was there complete focus on the task at hand?” “Was there a fusion of doing and taking consciousness? “Has the self faded? “Has time expanded? And that’s an experience we all have, right? and five hours pass in five minutes.Because we don’t register peak performance as a sensation, what we feel inside is a sense of control. quoted to control things that we normally cannot control.
It’s a basketball player in the zone talking about seeing the hoop and suddenly it’s as big as a hoop. And in all aspects of performance, both mental and physical, they explode. At all levels, flow tends to appear, whenever we see the impossible becoming possible. Productivity, motivation, throughput skyrocketing and sometimes 500% above baseline. And that seems like a massive stratospheric number. And it would be very, very suspicious if it wasn’t consistent with all the other research. For example, the Department of Defense looked at soldier flows and they looked at learning. It turns out we’ll learn 240-500% faster than normal when we’re in stream. We see creativity jump 400-700% in the stream. On a physical level, the flow will amplify strength, stamina, endurance.
It might sound like “What is this?” “Why would a state of consciousness amplify all these different things? ” What’s going on ? It makes almost no sense until you remember that it was evolution that shaped the flow. Evolution itself is mostly a reaction to scarcity, isn’t it? Resources are becoming scarce. This is the main driver of evolution, and we have two options. We can fight for dwindling resources, or we can run away or avoid becoming someone else’s resources, or we can become cooperative, be creative, innovate, and create new resources.
That’s all the flow amplifies. Flow is universal in humans. In fact universal in most mammals and certainly all social mammals. So all the systems that produce the flow are within each of us. What we get is everything we need to fight or flight, or get creative, get cooperative, and create new resources. This is the biggest lesson 30 years of studying peak performance has taught me is that we are all wired for flow, and flow is a massive amplification of what is possible for ourselves. .