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Get Into Your Creative Flow

Lesson 21 of 32

Sh*t to do When Sh*t Goes Wrong

Steven Kotler

Get Into Your Creative Flow

Steven Kotler

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Lesson Info

21. Sh*t to do When Sh*t Goes Wrong

Lesson Info

Sh*t to do When Sh*t Goes Wrong

We're going to get to I think my favorite of the mind hacks we're going to do today. And this is another secret to grit. It's another secret to hacking the struggle phase. It's the shit to do when shit goes wrong list. So what is a shit to do when shit goes wrong list? Well, what have we learned earlier? We learned that the more fear and the more anxiety we feel, the less creative we get to be. When you are gripped. When you are really anxious, you will not remember the things you need to do to get yourself out of that situation. For example, this is a look at my shit list. So there are a couple of components. So when I am writing, right? Is my writing boring? Is my writing confusing? Is my writing arrogant? These are very important things to me. I often believe for me, everybody's got their own list. To me it's great writing. It's not boring, it's not confusing and it's not arrogant. Now it turns out, when my writing is boring. My writing is boring. I've learned this over time because...

I don't know what style I want to write in. I haven't found the right style, tone for it. So if I'm boring people, it's because I don't know how I want it to sound. And I've learned this over time. So on my shit to do when shit goes wrong list, I have is it boring? You haven't found the right style. Why, because when I'm gripped, when my writing is boring and I'm not getting it and I'm pissed off, my brain power is not enough to know that I haven't found the right style. I will forget it because I will not be able to get to that data point because it shrinks down. When my writing is confusing, I don't know where I'm starting and where I'm ending. And I learned this over time. So if my writing is confusing, my problem is I don't know where to start and I don't know where I'm going, right? If my writing is arrogant, meaning there's lots of fancy language in there, I haven't done enough research and I'm trying to cover the fact that I don't know enough with fancy language. So this is some of what shows up on my shit list. Now these are three other things on my shit list. You're gonna have to figure this stuff out for yourself but I wanted to talk about these three things because I think they're kinda important. The first thing is, if I cannot solve a problem, the first thing I wanna know is am I hurling myself down mountains on a regular basis? High speeds is what throws me in the flow the best. I'm an action sport athlete. I like to go fast. But when I'm gripped, when I'm anxious, when I'm really struggling to finish a book or solve a problem or whatever, it is counterintuitive to me to say, okay man what you really need to do is stop and go surfing for five hours. That's not what my brain does. It does not think that's going to solve it. It thinks I need to persist and persist and persist. I have this on my shit list which I look at whenever I get gripped because I know okay when I can't solve this, maybe the way to solve it is to throw myself down a mountain at a high speeds for a couple of hours. Kick myself in the flow and let it take care of itself. If that does not work, I have found that I need to get small. What I mean by that is, I need to minimize the distractions. So when my writing is really not going well, I will pack up and I will go to a ski resort and I will just check into a motel and all I will do is write in the morning and ski in the afternoon and nothing else. I won't talk to my family. I won't think about anything else. I will minimize stuff. That's just me. Finally, and this is also I think a key hack. Is if solutions are really interactable and hurling myself down mountains and getting small hasn't worked, possibly what I need to do is level up. So if you are spending all your time trying to solve one problem and you really can't solve it, find a much harder problem to solve. When I wanted to build my career as a book writer, when I wanted to move from magazine writing into book writing and solely work on book writing, I started an animal sanctuary with my wife. Sounds totally crazy, but if I was fixated all the time on, help my career, my career, my book writing career, I'm too gripped. It's too much anxious. Dealing with living creatures who work doing hospice care and special needs care for living creatures, that took precedent, right? These are the life and death matters with beings, it took precedent over whatever shit I was going through. Peter Diamandis talks about this. When he was having a hard time getting the X Prize off the ground, he launched two different other companies along the way because it took his mind off the problem and put it on something bigger. I'm not suggesting this all the time, but as a matter of last resort. If you are really stuck, you may want to level up. Or you may want to lateralize sideways. You gotta know. So we're gonna kind of walk through an exercise now. So we're going to try a retro-casting your shit list. Retro-casting for those of you who don't know, I don't know where it came out of. Maybe IDO, but it was a way of kind of innovating and solving creative problems. What it means basically is, we're gonna work backwards to your shit list. So let's start out, make a list and do this along. If you're watching at home, please do this along with us. List your last three creative projects. Big enough that you can remember. You want to go back if you can. It's useful to think about stuff. Maybe you didn't just finish but it was completed a couple months ago at least. So you have a little bit of time and space and distance from it. Just list those projects for yourself now. So after you've got your three big creative projects, in each of them, what three things do you now know that you didn't know when you finished your project? Alright, what three things have you learned since about that project? It could be anything, right? It doesn't really matter. Okay if you've finished that or even if you haven't, I'll just tell you what the next step is. Why did you make those errors? What did you miss along the way, right? You now know something that you didn't know about your creative product when you finished. Ask yourself why did you make those errors. What was your initial mistake? Misjudgment, what led you to those conclusions? And for anybody who's finished that, there's a concluding step. What's my pithy reminder of the right decision? So take those errors and just put it into a short sentence. In my case it was, is my writing boring? It means blah, blah, blah. Is my writing confusing? It means, right? Whatever it is, just make it short and pithy. So you can look at it on your shit that goes wrong list, you know exactly what you're talking about. Makes sense? Alright so who learned something about themselves that they didn't know just now? Through this exercise. Just out of curiosity. Anybody? No? You, you? There are some people. You guys are just shy. Alright. I'd like to hear from you guys. So just a couple of examples. Just want to hear what you've discovered along the way. So just a couple people if you can stand up and just read your answers for us. So my last big creative project, or one of them, was making like a coloring book. Like an adult coloring book of mermaids and the one thing that I learned from it was that I wish I'd put more time into finessing some of the details. Like looking back on it, the details were a little shotty. At least to my standards. I'm sure most people don't see them. I made those errors because I time management comes up over and over again with my things that I need to address. And then my pithy reminder is, do I have enough time? And my answer is, do I adjust the scope of the project if I have a certain amount of time to do it in. So adjusting the expectations. Awesome. Yeah fantastic. That's great. And so the last project I can think of was doing a pretty long 5,000 word philosophy paper for college and my error mistake was just pulling away from it and whenever I would reach the struggle phase, that's the thing I didn't know or wasn't fully acknowledging was that it was just holding with that kind of overloading phase and breakthrough and flow afterwards. So my reminder for the future is to, when I'm in that phase, is just to stick at it and keep kind of plowing through to break past the struggle phase and flow. Awesome. Let me hear from one other person. The last creative project I did was to write a book and there were a lot of mistakes. And at the end, you asked what was the pithy reminder. It was that I can figure it out. And there were a ton of mistakes, a ton of errors. A lot of real big challenges. But at the end I figured out everything I needed to. So just to keep going. Good to have the reminder, yeah. Rinse and repeat. So the thing about this shit list that I have found is, this exercise is worth doing at the end of any big creative project. You will find over time, your errors repeat themselves. I make mistakes as an entrepreneur that I make as a writer, right? They tend to cross or our blindspots tend to be where our blindspots are. The other thing to know about this is, when you are in a deep flow state. And we'll talk about why this happens in a little bit. But when you are in a flow state, this is a great time to pull out this list and add things to it. When we are flow, we tend to see what we can do right. And we tend to see why we make errors we typically make. We tend to have a little more vision, more information. It's worth taking 10 minutes to tune up this list. Because the next time you're in struggle, you will really thank yourself for it.

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!