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Get Into Your Creative Flow

Lesson 24 of 32

Build a Trigger List

Steven Kotler

Get Into Your Creative Flow

Steven Kotler

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Lesson Info

24. Build a Trigger List

Lesson Info

Build a Trigger List

So one of the things that we're gonna do is we're gonna build a quick trigger list for ourselves and the reason you wanna do this is, as I said earlier, like the reason on my Shit to Do When Shit Goes Wrong List, one of the things is, remember to throw yourself down mountains. When we are gripped, when we are struggling, one of the last things we think of doing is backing off. We often don't do that; we drive in the other direction. Especially if you're a Type A type, if you're a peak performer or a hard charger, release is counterintuitive; it goes against what we think. So, as I said, if you're in this class, you're taking it, chances are, you've done this stuff before. Chances are there are things that have worked for you before as release triggers, even though you didn't know they were release triggers, so make a quick list of three things that have worked for you in the past. So do you remember when we started we said there is a primary flow category, and most people have a second...

ary category. Something that, maybe it's not exactly where you live, but it feels really good. What I've found works really, really well is find release activities in your secondary flow category. So for example, for me, I'm primarily a hard charger, but I'm also a deep thinker, and contemplative, and I have found, like, drawing; I tend to do a lot of, I'll buy comic books and I'll just copy the art out of comic books, just because it gets my hand engaged. I have no pride in it; I'm never going to show my art, I'm never going to try to sell my art. I probably will not even show it to my friends; I don't even think my wife has seen most of it. It's just for me; it's a release trigger. So list three activities that are interesting to you that fall under your secondary flow profile category. Are these like activities that we find relaxing, or ... Relaxing; engaging is more important. Engagement, you want a little bit of engagement, right? So, just things you're curious about that might work. Have you ever done needlepoint; needlepoint is a really good ... Things like that, low grade physical activity. The only reason I'm having you build this list is this, when you are gripped, when you are in struggle, it is really hard to remember to do this shit. And it's even harder to think up something new. So I have a list of, these are my release triggers; this has worked in the past; these are things that I'm curious enough about that I feel a little engaged. It's posted near my door so when I'm struggling and I see it, I'm like, oh yeah, I've always wanted to learn watercolor, so okay, let me just do that for two hours, or an hour, just to take my mind off what I'm doing. It's just interesting enough. The only reason to post the list, the only reason to make this list, is it's hard to think about it when you're actually in struggle, right? You have to kind of guard against your own neurobiology. I have a follow-up question. No! Sorry (laughing)! And these have to be mildly, like, physical, so it's not like reading a book, it can be like more, like going for ... Oh okay, thank you, thank you for the things that I forgot to tell you. Alright, so what doesn't work for release? The only thing that will not work for release is television. TV puts your brainwaves, locks them into like a medium alpha brainwave state. You cannot get low enough on the alpha scale down that theta border line, it will keep ... It will feel like release; it will feel like you're taking your mind off the problem. It will not do it. The other thing is, now movies are interesting. TV is really bad; movies, big Hollywood blockbuster, lots of explosions, terrible; if the movie wants to claim all the real estate in your head, not going to work. And one of the main reasons is like, who's seen a James Bond movie where you find yourself, it's really engaging for the first half an hour and by half an hour in you're exhausted? You're really tired sitting in the theater? You know why, you've burned through all your norepinephrine and dopamine, right? All those explosions, it grabbed ahold of your attention; you no longer have any focusing chemicals left; you are now bored, right? So if you are watching movies that claim a tremendous amount of real estate in your brain, with lots of explosions, lots of things going on, lots of massive emotional involvement from you, not going to work. I find for me, personally, there were a bunch of thrillers made back in the '70s: All the President's Men, Three Days of the Condor, these kinds of things; they were very quiet; they were made much quieter movies, the conversation. There's space to think on the edge of the movie sort of; those can work. Same thing happens with books; if you ... Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, those kinds of mass market paperback thrillers, that sort of stuff ... No; it's the same problem you're having with a big Hollywood blockbuster film. Something that's a little slower, you want to reread Ethan Frome, for anybody ... Okay not funny to anybody but me, but that's okay (audience laughs). Anything that's a little slower. Nonfiction tends to work a little bit better than fiction, but it can't be nonfiction ... It's got to be like a Malcolm Gladwell, kind of like a pop nonfiction book; it's got you thinking a little bit but it's not really requiring massive amounts of brain power. Again, physical acts, low grade physical activity will work better, but sometimes a book is, I mean that's maybe where your energy level is, and it's perfect. And I'm never going to not tell people to read. Or at least, my stuff; you don't have to read anything else. Alright, is everybody done with that? We can move on, great. Alright, here's the other thing: you can use the release phase to work for you. You can program your brain to solve problems for you while you are in the release phase. So, a lot of this is about giving yourself permission for release; here's another reason why you can do it, you can actually put your subconscious to work for you. You will have a built in giant pattern recognition system, the most powerful computer in the world is sitting between your ears, and most of it, we have no idea that we can program it to do our work for us. But it is actually fairly easy to do. For this to make sense, so this should look very familiar; it's kind of similar to what we were looking at earlier in the map of the creative process. Data acquisition, salience, pattern recognition, future prediction, creative solutions, alright. So, to talk about what happens, first of all let me give you an idea of the numbers we're talking about so you have some ideas here. No, we'll do that later. Information comes into the brain, huge amounts of information, so you will take in your senses, there are different estimates to how much information you gather per second. Marvin Zimmerman was the first guy who actually calculated this stuff. He came up with 11 million bits of information a second. A guy named Tor Nirretranders wrote a book called The User Illusion, my favorite book on consciousness by the way, maybe the best book on consciousness ever written; it's called The User Illusion. If you read one book on consciousness, read The User Illusion. He has estimated that the brain takes in 400 billion inputs a second. Consciousness, what you are actually paying attention to, the information you're actually getting, is 2,000 outputs. So literally, 99.99999999% of everything that's coming into your brain is getting thrown out; it's getting filtered out. Most of those filters, there's two levels of filters. The information comes in, the first thing that gets thrown out is any repeat information. So when I walk across the stage, when I do this, you guys saw fluid motion, right? You saw me walking; that's not actually what you saw. Your brain actually only gave you four images; you got where I started, where I ended, and maybe two spots along the way. Everything else got thrown out, because your brain knows what walking is. It knows that I am suddenly not going to get to here and fly off that way; it's not going to happen, right? So your brain doesn't bother repeating every image, because it's go too much depth, so it throws out what it doesn't need. That's the first thing that happens, repetition goes out the window. The second thing that happens is, where does this information go first? What's the first filter it would encounter? What's the first order of business for any living creature? (audience murmurs) Survival. So it goes to the amygdala, the danger detector. Amygdala, everything pours in. The amygdala is privileged towards negative information. You will notice nine negative bits of data for every one positive bit of data that comes into your brain. This is problematic, because negative data is not usually what's making you creative. You're not using that information to find new connections, you're using that information to be afraid. So you're literally, just by normal neurological processes, getting very limited amounts of data, right? A bunch of filters. Then, you have all of your cognitive biases. These are information processing shortcuts, so we have a confirmation bias; you've probably heard of this. We tend to believe what we already believe. This is the problem with Fox News being for conservatives and MSNBC being for liberals; we're already built to have confirmation bias, to only take in the information that supports what we already believe. There are hundreds of cognitive biases. Those are basically information processing filters, the negativity bias, the tendency to privilege negative information over positive information, is all hitting that first. So, the other filter that gets applied, the other thing that gets applied here, is goal direction. We are giant goal-directed systems. The classic example of how I like to talk about this, is, anybody here surf? Ever surfed? Alright, when you pull into a tube, the way to surf a tube is to look your way through the tube; you have to see the other side of the tube, and you will go there; the brain is wired to go where you look. When you learn to mountain bike, when you learn to ski, they say look 30 feet down the trail, you will go there. Do we have a goal-directed system? We go where we look. And it works at any level; I'll give you a really funny example of this. So, when I finished Stealing Fire, one of the things, and this is another creative hack, kind of out of context here but, as I said, creatives are always about the next project, it's really important. So I always, when I'm finishing a big creative project, I always start my next project before I finish. And the reason is, my book's coming out into the public; if my attention isn't on the next thing, I'm going to waste all my time checking my Amazon ranking. Is it selling, how much are people buying it? What are the reviews? I'm going to care about all of the wrong stuff. So I always like to start my next project before I've finished my last project. So I started writing a novel after Stealing Fire, and it's the first novel I've written in 20 years. I haven't written a novel in a really long time. And I always like to up the challenge level, so I decided I was going to see if I could write a novel in under six months. The first one took 11 years, so let's see if we can do it in under six months this time. To do that, I had to write about 20,000 words a month. Now, normally I can write about 8,000 words a month, so 20,000 words a month is a big goal. And I remember, it was April 27 or something and I thought to myself, okay, I've got to produce, to get to 50,000 words, I have to hit 50,000 words before I leave for San Francisco to teach the CreativeLive class. And then I forgot about it. Didn't even think about it. Set the goal, and we'll let it aside; if it was for my big goal, whatever. I looked up the day before I came to CreativeLive, I looked at my word count and I was at 50,000 words almost exactly. You go where you look; you set goals for yourself, your brain will drive you there automatically. We, in learning to hack the release phase, in learning to use our built-in pattern recognition system, you are using the goal direction system to your advantage.

Class Description

Do you want to learn more about flow? Take the Free Flow Profile to find out if you are a Deep Thinker, Crowd Pleaser, Hard Charger, or Flow Goer.

If creativity is already core to your life, then this program is perfect for you. This could mean you’re a copywriter at an ad agency, a scientist hunting a breakthrough, a coder designing software, an entrepreneur dreaming up your next start-up, a writer aching to finish that novel or a landscape painter trapped in the life of an accountant — all that matters is that generating novel ideas (and putting those ideas out in the world in some form or another) is core to your life and purpose.

Why Does “Flow for Creatives” even matter?

  • You keep losing the battle to be innovative in the rush to be productive.

  • You have writer’s block or coder’s block or painter’s block and the thing you used to love most in your life has become a source of pain and frustration.

  • You have trouble managing your emotions and fear keeps getting in the way of your good ideas.

  • You have trouble sustaining momentum on projects and tend to quit early rather than to finish what you started.

  • You have no idea how to gain access to groundbreaking insights and ideas when you need them most.

  • You don’t actually believe creativity is trainable.

  • You’re numbing yourself with substances and placating yourself with distractions as a way to ignore the fact that you’re not living up to your creative potential.

  • You get lost in the fixing to get ready phase, and never get down to business.

  • You keep bashing into creative walls but never breaking thru.

  • Your emotions keeping getting in the way of your desired outcomes. Fear of failure keeps you from committing to projects; perfectionism keeps you from making your work public.

Flow For Creatives can help.

It’s like an inspiration turbo-boost training program. It’s practical, experiential and experimental. You learn a new idea about Flow and Creativity, apply it to whatever problem you’re trying to solve, see what happens, then make it your own.

And, did you know…

  • When in Flow, your creative problem-solving abilities can spike by over 400 percent.

  • Research done at Harvard shows that the heightened creativity produced by Flow can outlast the state by a day, sometimes two—suggesting that Flow actually trains the brain to think more creatively over the long haul.

  • Creatives are more prone to depression than most people, but an understanding of the process can protect against this liability.

  • Creativity tops the list of 21st-century skills—meaning those skills that are essential for thriving in the modern world—yet 75 percent of people think they’re not living up to their creative potential.

  • The baseline brainwave state produced by Flow is also the ready condition for “Ah-ha” insight, meaning being in the zone makes you primed for breakthrough insight.

  • Fear blocks creativity, while Flow resets the nervous system, calming us down so we can avoid burnout and gain access to much-needed insight.

  • Unless you know how to train the brain properly, most people tap into their deepest creative potential at age 5.

  • Frustration is actually a built-in component of the creative process—it’s a sign that you’re moving in the right direction not a sign that you’re going about it all wrong.

Life is better than ever and we are feeling worse than evener. We are neurotic, stressed, unmotivated and it’s literally killing us. This class is for anyone that is serious about staying in their highest performing state.

*Warning: this instructor occasionally uses strong language. Viewer discretion advised*

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Jeremy Richardson

I've watched and participated in many webinars and online classes, and this was by far one of the best. The depth and breadth of information that Steven covers in this class is not only really important, but he structures it in a way that is engaging and most importantly: PRACTICAL. I'm coming out of this with a clear list of ways to improve my ability to get into Flow while accomplishing all of my creative endeavors. I highly recommend this to anyone who would like to do the same!


This is amazing. Steven is hitting so many pain point for me about reframing my fear. He is also an amazing presenter. Thank you, Steven! I am excited, I am excited, I am excited!

Isaac Freed

Utterly mind blowing. Wow. A few hours listening to Steven Kotler felt more like a few days. He has done his research, and offers so much practical application advice that I will review this material several times. Well worth it, and highly recommended. Thank you, Creative Live!