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Get Into Your Creative Flow

Lesson 19 of 32

Hacking the Mind

Steven Kotler

Get Into Your Creative Flow

Steven Kotler

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Lesson Info

19. Hacking the Mind

Lesson Info

Hacking the Mind

Alright, hacking the mind. If you wanna talk about grit, it's not just about perseverance. You also have to control your thoughts. The only real way to control your thoughts, in an easy way, is to learn a little bit about mindfulness and respiration. So we're gonna spend the next little bit talking about different respiration practices. So the first thing I need to tell you is, there is a gap between thought and emotion. Thoughts come up first, and they get tagged with emotions. Emotions are nothing more than behavioral signals. They are the brain taking in a whole shit ton of information, synthesizing it down into a very clear signal that you can easily act on, right? The brain takes in massive amounts of information, it's always looking for ways to simplify, to filter it down. There is a gap that exists between thought and emotion. Information will come in, this happens a lot in flow. When the inner critic gets turned down, ideas will come up, and you'll get to choose. You'll say, oh...

, here's that idea, do I want to be excited, or do I want to be anxious? You actually have options. Every time you feel an emotion, you have an option to feel a different emotion before that actually arises in yourself. So if you want to learn to control your thoughts, you have to learn to get into that gap to kind of manage your own emotions. I have no idea, by the way, what 20x14 is. None whatsoever, totally baffled by my own, by my own writing. Okay, so, respiration 101. Very, very quick information about respiration. If you want to control anxiety, control your thoughts, the simplest thing to know is when your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, and your inhale is a minimum of three and a half seconds, your exhale is seven seconds long or greater, your brain goes, wow, look, that's a really long exhale. They must be calm. Everything must be fine. You must be totally normal. So we'll calm you the fuck down. Because norepinephrine and cortisol are expensive to produce. So the brain is trying to conserve energy, and if you have long exhales, your brain thinks, oh, there must be no danger here, he's calm, she's calm, I don't have to produce these chemicals anymore. So if our exhales are twice as long as our inhales, as long as those exhales are seven, eight seconds long, we're controlling our thoughts a little bit, we're calming ourselves down. Now, when we talk about exhales and inhales, yogic breathing mean anything to people? Alright, in through the nose, deep all the way down to the diaphragm, you're breathing from down here, you're not breathing from up here. When you're breathing from up here, your brain thinks you're panicking, because your breath is really shallow and fast and rapid. When you're breathing from down here, it calms you down. So the simplest thing you can learn to start doing to control your thoughts is to lengthen your breath. The next thing I'm gonna teach you is box breathing. So who here has a meditation practice of any kind? Cool, lot of people. For those who don't, box breathing is what we teach at the Flow Genome Project, and it's what the Navy SEALS use. And there's a reason for it and we'll talk about why. But box breathing is called box breathing 'cause there are four sides to it. So you will, and we're gonna do this all together, a couple of rounds, just so you can see what it's like, but let me explain it first. Let's say we're working with five second breaths. You will inhale for five seconds. You will then hold your breath for five seconds. You will then exhale for five seconds. You will hold your breath, with all the air out of your lungs, for five seconds. Six seconds. Seven seconds. We'll walk through it in a second. What I want to tell you is this. Once your exhale, or breathing cycle, gets over seven seconds, interesting thing happens. When you exhale all the air out of your lungs, and you try to hold your breath for over seven seconds, you will automatically panic. It will kick your brain into fight of flight unless you've got lots of practice with this exercise, and then it'll be some later number. It will automatically kick you into fight or flight. Your body goes, holy crap, there's no air in our lungs, panic, panic, panic! What's key about box breathing, why it's cool, one of the reasons it's cool, is you have to focus through that panic to get to the other side. You learn to down regulate your nervous system at a really significant level. So not only do you get all the benefits from mindfulness, massive improvement in cognitive performance. And by the way, the cognitive and creative benefits you get from meditation, we now know they show up after as little as four days of meditation training. Twenty minutes a day, after four days, you start seeing cognitive improvements and creative improvements. In terms of getting into the gap and really down regulating, that will start to show up after about two weeks, 10 days to two weeks of daily meditation training. The reason I like box breathing is if you hate to meditate, (coughs) it's not your thing, there's so much going on in box breathing, as you'll see in a second when we walk through this, that it's easier. It's a very easy meditation technique. So when I do this, which I do kind of on a daily basis, I usually start with five second breaths, and I do three rounds of five, three rounds of six, three rounds of seven, and I go up to about 12 second breaths. That process will take about ten minutes and I won't even notice. So it's a ten minute meditation that just goes by like that 'cause there's so much going on and there's a lot of challenge, it just automatically makes you pay attention, so a lot less painful. And because of the fact that it reduces the panic response, because you have to focus through the panic response over time, you're getting double benefit, you're massively down regulating your nervous system. We're gonna start with five second sides, and we're just gonna do one round of five, one round of six, one round of seven, just so you guys get a flavor for what it feels like, and I'm just gonna count it down for everybody. If you guys are watching at home, do this along with us. Okay, and remember we're breathing in through the nose, you wanna hit it all the way down to the diaphragm, so you want your stomach to expand a little on the inhale and it's gonna suck in on the exhale. Close your eyes if you want. Alright, inhale. Five, one, two, three, four, five. Hold, two, three, four, five. Exhale, two, three, four, five. Hold, two, three, four, five. Inhale, two, three, four, five, six. Hold, two, three, four, five, six. Exhale, two, three, four, five, six. Hold, two, three, four, five, six. Inhale, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Hold, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Exhale, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Hold, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Cool. Now open your eyes when you're ready. So who felt a little bit of panic on that final exhale? Alright, and you had to focus through it, right? And did you find that, when you got to the inhale part afterwards, you were kind of chasing your breath a little bit? That doesn't seem to go away. At least, for me it hasn't. Maybe it does for some people, I've never managed to get it to go away and I've been playing with this for a couple decades at this point. So, just to let you know how I put this all together, I'll just let you know what my protocol is with this, what I tend to do when I start off my meditation protocol is I do five clearing breaths. So five seconds in, five seconds out, five seconds in, five seconds out, five seconds in, five seconds out, five of those, and then I start my box breathing protocol. And I will box breathe, I will start usually about five, and I will do three rounds per number. So three rounds of five, three rounds of six, all the way up to 12. As I said, that chunk is about 10 minutes. Now, I then do three minutes of breath of fire, which I'm not gonna teach you, but breath of fire is basically a hyperventilation exercise. If you're fans of Wim Hof, or if you've done pranayama yoga or any kind of yoga for long, it's a very fast in and out, it's an oxyenigation, oxyenate, I can't speak again, exercise, we're gonna just ignore that word, exercise. And so what I tend do is I do the five second setup breaths, I do 10 seconds of box breathing, I do three minutes of breath of fire, not gonna train you up in it, if you go home, check on the internet for breath of fire, study Wim Hof. Couple cool things about breath of fire. First of all, it'll actually improve cardiovascular fitness over time. So it is one of the only non-cardio ways to actually improve cardio performance over time. So doing breath of fire, if you are interested in cardiovascular health, you can actually shrink a little bit of your cardiovascular exercise time, if you want, by adding in breath of fire. Now, on the back end of that, vipassana meditation is an open senses meditation. Everything we've just been doing is a focus meditation, it drives things in. Interestingly, in studies of meditation and creativity and performance, what they find is that all kinds of focus meditations, phenomenal for emotional control, phenomenal for hacking the mind, all that stuff, actually doesn't improve creative performance, actually may hinder it over time. Vipassana meditation, by the way, which is an open senses meditation where you're just, you're not judging anything, you're letting anything come to you, you're just not focusing and attaching to it, actually improves creativity over time. So if you really want to maximize creativity, what I do is spent 10-12 minutes on this focus protocol, I do my breath of fire, and you have, by the time you're through breath of fire, you have massively shifted your state. You've calmed yourself down on the inside, which, if you normally try to do vipassana meditation, for me, personally at least, when you just sit down and try not to judge and let anything come to you, it just doesn't work, I have to shift my state pretty much before I do it, otherwise it's no good, it's not working at all. And I usually do that at about a kind of a five minute period at the end. Now I do all this stuff during the recovery phase, which we're gonna talk about later, so I'll talk about when to put this into your day later, but I just kind of wanted to walk you through this process. Okay.

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*


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!