Steven Kotler: Why Navy SEALs, Silicon Valley & Extreme Athletes Chase Altered States

Steven Kotler, is the Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective, and one of the world’s leading experts on human performance. He is a New York Times bestselling author who has been nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes, his books include The Future is Faster Than You Think, The Rise of Superman and Stealing Fire, and he’s also an award-winning journalist who has been featured in Time, Wired, and Forbes. Kotler is also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the science of “flow,” a state where we become so deeply immersed in an activity that the conscious mind dissolves and we access a higher intelligence, entering a zone where awareness and action become synchronous, and our performance superlative.

Man has been attempting to induce the type of euphoric altered states that allow us to tap into a greater power by freeing us from the confines of our conscious mind for thousands of years, mostly through rituals, fasting, and mind-altering plants, an experience the ancient Greeks referred to as “ecstasis.” Today, the tech giants of Silicon Valley seek to boost creativity and tap into a greater, more connected intelligence using everything from wireheading to smart drugs and experiences like “Burning Man.”  Google has gone one step further by institutionalizing the practice of achieving flow by building a multi-million-dollar mindfulness center, where they attempt to harness the “communal vocational ecstasy” of Burning Man’s rituals in the desert.

However, of all the organizations looking to better understand the phenomena and train for flow, it is the US Military that is investing most in pushing the boundaries of what is possible. In its pursuit of creating a super-soldier, the U.S. Military, JSOC, and DARPA have all sought to capitalize on what special operations forces, and the Navy SEALs, in particular, have come to understand – that when a team of operators are deployed on a mission, their consciousness merges, with each member of the team executing their actions in synchronicity, without the burden of having to communicate.

In addition to their work with Advanced Brain Monitoring, a Neuro-diagnostics device company,  the SEALs train for flow at a facility known as “The Mind Gym,” where they are tested to better learn how to regulate brain waves, cardiac rhythm, even their core body temperature using advanced biometrics, as well as John Lilly’s sensory deprivation tanks. The effects on learning when in a flow state are nothing short of astounding, as the Navy found that by training SEALs to induce “physiological and neurological relaxation and then introducing new content.” they were able to reduce the time for learning a new language from six months to six weeks!

Beyond the push to create super-soldiers or Silicon Valley-like masters of the corporate universe, Kotler and his Flow Research Collective want to make the knowledge and insight acquired on flow-states and how to induce them available for anyone keen to increase their performance. As such, they have identified 17 triggers to entering “the zone” and have made a tremendous amount of content and studies available for free. And, their flow training program is producing results that are off the charts including 490% faster skill acquisition and a 430% increase in creative problem-solving.

For those that want to understand just what they are truly capable of achieving, and experience what warriors, artists, and shaman have chased for thousands of years, ecstasis is no longer shrouded in the realm of ritual and mystery, thanks to Kotler and exponentially accelerating technologies, “flow” is fast becoming a replicable skill-set … and perhaps the most highly prized ability of all.


Steven Kotler:
Flow Research Collective:
Stealing Fire:
The God Gene: Combat Flow:


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