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Get Into Your Creative Flow

Lesson 17 of 32

The Struggle Phase

Steven Kotler

Get Into Your Creative Flow

Steven Kotler

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Lesson Info

17. The Struggle Phase

Lesson Info

The Struggle Phase

So we're gonna start the first stage of the flow cycle which is the struggle stage. We talked earlier about how when we move into flow the prefrontal cortex deactivates, right? It turns down, shuts down. It becomes hypo frontal. In struggle, the exact opposite happens. Here, your massively using your prefrontal cortex. It is all fired up. It is extremely, extremely, extremely active. Oh. When we're in struggle, brainwaves, beta right where we are today, cortisol, norepinephrine, alright? This struggle is actually signature of 21st century normal. Most people in this century are locked in to struggle all the time. That's where we spend most of our time as human beings. Struggle has frustration built in. Remember, I said earlier that to be really good at high performance flow hacking, you're gonna have to shift what you think your emotions mean. They're gonna start to mean different things. So when we are in struggle, it is a loading phase. You are loading the brain with information. Alr...

ight? So if this, if you're an athlete, this is basic skill acquisition. This is learning to keep your eye on the ball, learning to close your hand or on the ball when it lands in your mitt. As a writer, I am in struggle with the front end of a chapter, or I'm interviewing hundreds of people, I'm taking notes, I got vector diagrams all over my office that map out which direction I'm going next and whatever it is that I'm writing. It is unflowing. It is not a fun thing. When I say frustration is built in, what I mean is, we have what's called a working memory. Your working memory is basically the storage place of consciousness. It is all the things we can think about at once. And we've known since the 50s that most people's working memory can hold seven, plus or minus two items. So nine is the absolute maximum that we can hold. Why are phone number seven digits long? Because most of us are pre-hardwired to remember seven digits. When you are trying to think about things that are more complicated than a simple number, most of us can tap out, we can hold on to three or four, but once you get above four items you go into frustration. You've overloaded the carrying capacity of your working memory. In struggle, flow is what happens, and we'll get more into this in a second, but you are trading conscious processing for subconscious processing. Flow is what happens when things get automatized. It's what happens when you learn to do something so well that you can actually do it unconsciously. Alright? Learning to do it consciously is difficult. Once you are learning past, once you've gone past learning four things, stacking them into your brain, you are going to start getting frustrated. It's biology. There's nothing you can do about it. It's not a personality trait. There's, you're not doing anything wrong, it is built in. We get frustrated when we can't learn when we wanna learn. And we can't learn what we wanna learn because your working memory is limited. There is no way really to extend it. Memory tricks, all that, no. Working memory is sort of, you're sort of stuck with what it is. Frustration is normally a sign that we interpret as, hey, I'm doing something wrong, I'm screwing up. Turns out frustration, when you're getting frustrated and you're in the struggle phase, that's actually a sign that you're doing exactly what you need to be doing. So when you get frustrated, yeah it's still going to feel like frustration. Does not change. This knowledge will not change how you feel, at all. It'll still suck. It'll tell you, (chuckling) to emphasize this. So at least once or twice a book I find myself facedown on my office floor punching the ground. This happened for years. And for years I never talked about it. I thought, oh my God, if anybody would see me now I'm nuts! Right? Then I was listening to an interview with David Foster Wallace before he killed himself, which should tell you something (chuckling). And he said, "Yeah, it's funny. "At least once or twice a book I find myself "in my office, face down, "punching the floor." (all laughing) And I was like, See! Thank God it's not just me! Alright. It is built in. You are going to get frustrated. There's no way around it, especially with flow hacking. If you can feel it that and not really get attached to the emotion too much, you are going to have a much easier time in struggle. To get through struggle, alright? There's no, there's no real fundamental hack here. You're still going to feel uncomfortable. It is unpleasant. But there are ways to struggle more gracefully. So we're gonna talk about how to become a little grittier than we are now. And there are three categories of grit. Three ways to hack into grit, that I wanna talk about. We'll go into a little bit of detail in these. The grind, the mind and the most.

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!