The High Perch Experience
Flow also gives you what I like to call the High Perch Experience. Gary Snyder, who's a Pulitzer prize-winning poet, wrote a really interesting poem called Usages of Life, no, Usages of Light, which I always forget. But this is "a high tower on a wide plain. "If you climb up one floor, you'll see a thousand miles more." It's absolutely the case with flow. This High Perch Experience, you get up above your life. Once yourself drops away, you can see a lot farther into the distance. One of the things that's interesting, and it's easier to talk about this with sports, but it applies across the boards, often times, at the front of end of a ski season, for example, I will get into a flow state. I will do things that are absolutely incredible. I will then spend the next three months learning while not in flow how to do all those same things. One of the things, one of the ways I know I've been doing my work and I've been successful is if I have a day, either as a writer, if I have a day as an ...
athlete, it doesn't matter, when I'm capable of doing all the stuff that I had used to do in flow outside of flow. All right, I said earlier that pretty much every gold medal or world championship that's ever been won, flow state at the heart, not an ironclad rule. You can win a world championship. You can perform at that level not being in flow. It feels very bad. It feels crappy, really really really crappy, but it's actually an amazing thing. You're doing something that you've never been able to do before. It's a sign that you've actually managed to learn it, and you're about to head into probably another very deep flow state that will give you another end point, another goal point. So when you have this High Perch Experience, especially as creatives, this is when you will get, this is when you will see far off projects. This works when really big ideas to steer towards will show up. Little bit tricky, and we're gonna talk about why, but you really really really wanna utilize that kind of heightened vision. You've got a long view, especially in a really deep flow state, if there's a lot of selflessness, timelessness, effortless, richness, like if you really feel like you're in that state, you're gonna be able to see a lot farther than normal. So use it. Use it to steer your career. Use it to steer your life. The bad news about flow is each of those categories: selfless, timeless, effort, and richness, has a built-in problem. There are dark sides to flow. This is not simple, easy, high-performance. This isn't like positive psychology, where we're gonna make your life 500% better. In flow, creativity, experts have found, can spike 400 to 700%. It is a massive increase in creativity. It's not a 5% increase. It's a huge spike. Motivation goes up as much. Learning goes up as much. All these things are hugely increased. Nothing is for free. There are built-in dangers. These are very high energy states and bad things can happen. So let's talk about how to protect against those bad things. Selflessness, interestingly, it's almost as if the brain reacts against the fact that you're turning off your sense of self. We tend to ego inflate when we come out of flow states. A lot of dopamine, right? Anybody who's ever been around anybody who's on cocaine. They're really fucking boring but they can't stop talking. Their ego is hugely inflated. That's a problem in flow; it happens a lot. You'll see it a lot. People will go to Burning Man. They'll have deep flow experiences from Burning Man, and they will come back and tell you they're a shaman, and they've changed their name to blah blah blah. If they start changing the names, really good good good sign that you're suffering from ego inflation. So you really have to guard against it, and you wanna guard against for a lot of reasons. A lot of people, very common, get into a flow state. They're sort of coming down off of it, and they run to the closest person they can find to tell them about all the great things they're gonna do with their life and you just sound like an idiot who's on coke. It's the same thing; (crowd laughs) there's no difference. That's what you sound like. The reason you don't wanna do that, besides the fact that you will burn through your friends very very quickly, you can ask Michael by the way, in the back room, my best friend, until I learned this lesson, I was fairly intolerable, yes? (crowd laughs) Fair enough. Thank you. When you have that huge sense of ego inflation, and you're spilling it out from you, you're burning through more dopamine. You're not protecting your neural chemistry. When you're out there bragging, Oh my God, this is what happened, you're using dopamine. You're generating more excitement, and you're usually doing it cause you want this stuff that you just saw in flow to actually be real. You don't quite believe it's real, cause it felt really magical. So you think you can talk it into existence on the back end. You can't; you can only act it into existence. You can only do the hard work. There is no talking into existence. And you're costing yourself dopamine. So you're gonna block your reentry into flow along the way. Timelessness, this is the real danger, especially for creatives with the High Perch Experience. When you get up that high, when there's no time and you see farther into your life, things that are actually six months to a year out in terms of actual on the ground work will feel like you can accomplish them in a week. And what happens is, you come out of that timeless state. You set down to work what you thought you were gonna take care of in a week, and it takes a year, and you tend to burn out. You tend to get really really really depressed that it didn't happen right away. Another example of this, so we're not gonna talk about this now, but there's very little difference in the brain between a so-called mystical experience and a flow state. All this in trance states and meditative states, all the same neural chemicals. They're very very very similar. You see a lot of people having mystical experiences, and they come back with apocalyptic predictions about the end of the world and millennium cults, all those things are because timelessness makes things much more immediate. You feel like it's right here, right now. It's gonna happen today. No, it's not. It's gonna take a long time. I said that I got into a flow state, it takes me like three or four months to learn how to do all that stuff out of flow. That's the time frame, really long time frames, but they're very compressed in the flow state. We can get very impatient in our own life and with ourselves when we start having more of that experience and we think it's all gonna start happening very very quickly. It's not, and you have to be committed to the long haul. You have to know the stuff that you see in flow, even if it feels really immediate, it's gonna take a lot of work. Effortlessness, the problem here is the bliss junky stuff. When things are effortless, effortless effort, when everything feels flowy, you get very addictive, addicted to that feeling, and you don't want to do anything if it's not effortless, if it's not easy. It feels like oh my God, if I was doing all this stuff and it was so easy, it was so wonderful, that's how life should be, and if it's not that way, maybe I'm doing something wrong. No, you're not doing something wrong. That effortlessness is built into flow, and the rest of life doesn't feel like that, so you're not doing anything wrong. You're just back in the struggle phase. It's totally natural. It's where you are. You have to live with it. Richness, now this problem doesn't shows up less less with micro flow states. It's a little bit of a problem with macro flow states. Shows up very frequently with people who are experimenting with psychedelics and things like that. With the richness of the infinite experience becomes with the amount of information that comes in, becomes the draw, and you get addicted to the endless information, like you're going to get to the answer. There is no answer. The amount of information is infinite. It will keep going. Why this matters to us as flow hackers is when you're spiraling, when the ideas are leading to each other, and leading to each other, and leading to each other, you feel like you're getting closer and closer and closer. What you're really doing is just exhausting your dopamine supplies. So there is a point at which you just want to cut it off. You just want to stop. I tend to, you know, when I feel like I'm going a little bit too far, I just walk away, go take a hot bath or go sit in the sauna, or do something like that that just totally takes my mind off the problem. I put myself in a space where I cannot work, where I can't keep doing it. Or I'll go do something like watch tv. I will purposefully do something that doesn't allow me to be in flow to make sure I don't get too addicted to that information and keep following it out, because once again, you're just gonna burn through critical neural chemistry that you need. So if you keep these four things in mind, it's not about you, it's not about now, it's not all easy, and it's endless so proceed with care, you will be a lot safer playing with flow states.