The Rise of Superman – Book Review

The Rise of Superman – Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Steven Kotler was a pretty great book and a must read for individuals looking to increase performance and productivity in their lives. I first heard about this book a few months ago while listing to The School of Greatness podcast by Lewis Howes. I originally stumbled onto The School of Greatness podcast from another postcast that I was listening to, and have been pretty hooked on the podcast concept for a while. During the episode with Steven Kotler, my interest was peaked with the topic of “flow states” and extreme athletic performance.

The Rise of Superman - Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance - Steven Kotler

The Rise of Superman – Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance – Steven Kotler

Most of you know that I grew up with a fairly athletic background. In addition to the traditional sports, I was also an avid skateboarder rock climber, and surfer. In fact, the original reason for opening The Hayden Institute in the northwest Houston area (even though I am from Pasadena) was because it was half way between Galveston (surfing) and Austin (rock climbing). Needless to say, after hearing Steven Kotler describe the neurology, physiological states, and biochemistry behind the “flow states” of these extreme athletes on the podcast, I was able to purchase the book, and check it out. It finally made it to the top of my “books to read” list, and I was not disappointed.

To begin with, flow is described as “extreme focus to the exclusion of anything else, effortless transcendence of already well-learned skills, time distortion, vanishing of “self” into seamless action, high-speed problem-solving, and often a sense of merging with a transpersonal, universal force.” according to from the 1990 book of that title by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is also known as “being in the zone,” if that makes more sense than the official definition. From a neurological standpoint, researchers associate flow states that are accompanied by “transient hypofrontality” (lessening of inputs from the frontal lobes) – the disappearance of cognitive “second-guessing” into boundary melting fluidity of creative, automatic, altered-state awareness of exceptional performances beyond previous limits.

It sounds complicated, but throughout the book, some great stories are shared from various surfers, snowboarders, rock climbers, sky divers, and other extreme athletes about how they are able to push the limits of human performance by entering into flow states. Along side these anecdotal stories, comes the user friendly, scientific explanation from neurologists, researchers, and professors as to what is actually happening in the body when someone enters flow, as well as how non-extreme athletes can tap into flow states in order to increase performance at work, school, and play.

There are many times that I recall being in a flow state. Three different times come quickly to mind.

The Rise of Superman – Missionary

The first was when I was a missionary for my church, living in Talca, Chile. I was asked to give a talk in front of the whole congregation, in Spanish. This request came after living in Chile for two weeks, and at the time I knew enough Spanish to order off of the Taco Bell menu, and say random words with a terrible gringo drawl. To this day I do not remember what I said, but one way or another, as I began speaking, the choppy, poorly formed sentences and lacking vocabulary turned into coherent thought, and by the time I sat down from the podium, the American missionary next to me asked me in English how come I never spoke Spanish if I was that good at it. Unfortunately, I was not able to tap into my new found Spanish mastery at will. In the first few months of living in Chile, I only became conversational and intelligible in Spanish during flow states. Eventually flow states were not required anymore to teach, and within a year to eighteen months of living in Chile, I was fluent in the Spanish language. I believe that it took a lot of study, practice, prayer, and divine intervention, but the flow states made the progression faster.

The Rise of Superman – Doctor

Following my experience as a missionary, and after completing my undergraduate studies, I started attending Life University in pursuit of a doctorate in chiropractic medicine. Near the beginning of my chiropractic studies, I began attending courses generally reserved as post-graduate studies in Quantum Neurology rehabilitation. Those courses were eye opening as to the potential of the human body’s ability to heal. Being in the presence of some amazing doctors, and witnessing the before and after affects of Quantum Neurology treatments changed my view of what was possible in the realm of manual medicine. The format of the classes, the hands on demonstrations, and then the ability to reproduce similar results with patients, students, and family members early in the doctoral program allowed me to tap into flow states while working with patients. The ability to enter into flow states while working with patients accelerated my ability to identify and rehabilitate the problem, and helped the patients to improve in their level of health at a faster rate. Those experiences then, and the ones I continue to have now, help me to tap into flow states while working with patients, and are a big motivator for me to constantly venture into the world of continuing education.

The Rise of Superman – Father

In August 2013, a few days before my 5 year old daughter started kindergarten, she was run over by a car in front of our house. The neighborhood kids were all outside playing on our street. A person came out of the house, looked got in her compact pickup truck, looked around for kids behind the car, and then drove forward. She did not see my daughter in front of the passenger side tire, and subsequently, the front tire went over my 5 year old, and then her arm was pinned under the rear tire before we were able to have the lady reverse off of her in order to pull her out from under the car. Luckily I was home, and happened to be  mowing the grass in the front yard. Hearing the screams of my daughter, and the yells from the other children caused every parental, doctoral, and Eagle Scout reflex I had to kick into gear all at once. The neighbor and I pulled my daughter from under the car, and I carried her into our home, laid her on the kitchen table, and somehow performed a neurological exam, screened for fractures, called my wife in order for her to rush home, convinced my daughter to stop crying and control herself, calmed down my 3 and 7 year olds, and started cleaning her wounds within minutes of the accident. By the time the neighbor had retrieved his phone, called 911, and made it into our home,  you would have never known there was a problem, outside of the cuts, gashes, bruising, and bandages all over the table. During this experience, I can remember thoughts coming with clarity, yet I felt like I was in a dream as the situation became under control, the EMS team and police officers entered the home to check on her, and yet a calm, peaceful, easiness permeated the whole experience, yet I have no idea about how it all actually happened. That particular flow state, was like entering into the zone, while already being in the zone. (Details are on my personal Facebook page here, here, and here. if you want to check it out.)

Back to the Book Review

It is possible probable that I am biased, and liked the book a lot because of extreme sports background, and the coupled association with the neurological meaning behind human growth, potential, and performance, but I still recommend it. While reading the book, I was reminded of ways that I can improve other areas of my life by promoting flow state triggers. I was also reminded of the benefit of being prepared so that flow states have an opportunity of presenting themselves.  I recognize that few of us want to scale the side of a mountain without the safety of a rope in a single afternoon or surf ginormous waves on the North Shore of Hawaii, but the perceived craziness of these athletes become Steven’s argument for the satisfaction, reward, growth, and development that we can achieve in our own lives if we put aside the multitasking in favor of profound concentration, in turn giving ourselves permission to focus on a single task, entering a flow state, and achieving greatness. The bottom line is that we do not need to risk our lives to achieve flow, but when we achieve it, we become better at what we do, we achieve more, and we have the potential to become superman in that area of our life.

You can purchase the book from Amazon by clicking here. How are you promoting flow states in your life, and in what way will you become a superman in your life?

The author put together a SlideShare presentation for The Rise of Superman, highlighting 17 triggers that can help someone enter into a flow state without competing as a top tier athlete in an extreme sport. Feel free to check it out below:

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