Find FLOW through Public Speaking. You heard it here first!

FLOW is a combined body-mind state in which we perform our best and feel our best. FLOW is the holy grail sought by elite athletes, musicians and other expert performers.

Public speaking, storytelling, and oratory are full of FLOW triggers. Public speaking can be a FLOW enabler.

Your public speaking, storytelling, and oratory will be at its very best when you are presenting / speaking in the FLOW state. You learned this here first!

FLOW is A New Frontier in public speaking. Public speaking can be a FLOW enabler.

The basics of FLOW (1- hour lecture)

Click here for a gift pdf version of Necessary Bridges RNK Chapter 16. Finding FLOW Through Public Speaking and Storytelling.

TED Talk: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness
Talks at Google: Steven Kotler: The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance
TEDDx Talk: Steven Kotler: How to open up the next level of human performance

FLOW naturally catapults you to a level you’re not naturally in. FLOW naturally transforms a weakling into a muscleman, a sketcher into an artist, a dancer into a ballerina, a plodder into a sprinter, an ordinary person into someone extraordinary.

Everything you do, you do better in FLOW, from baking a chocolate cake to planning a vacation to solving a differential equation, to writing a business plan to playing tennis. FLOW is the doorway into the ‘more’ that most of us seek.
Ned Hallowell: Harvard Medical School psychiatrist (1983 – 2004): authored 20 books on various psychological topics

Some of my NOTES on FLOW
(from the book The Rise of Superman—Steven Kotler)

Flow Follows Focus!

Key characteristic about FLOW

3 things to know about FLOW

  1. Flow creates powerful intrinsic motivation
  2. Flow cuts the path to mastery in half and accelerates performance
  3. People with the most flow are the happiest people

2 defining characteristics about FLOW

  1. It always feels good—it is always a positive experience
  2. It functions as a performance enhancer

Consistent features of FLOW (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

  1. Clear goals
  2. Concentration
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness
  4. Distorted sense of time
  5. Direct & immediate feedback
  6. Balance between ability and challenge
  7. Personal concentration (over situation)
  8. Intrinsically rewarding
  9. Lack of awareness (of bodily needs)
  10. Absorption & awareness of only the activity itself

Points 1, 5 & 6 are now considered more condition required for flow—rather than the actual flow experience.

Micro-flow = some but not all conditions for flow present
Macro-flow = all conditions present

5 major brain waves (Hz)

  1. Delta (1 – 3.9): deep and dreamless sleep
  2. Theta (4 – 7.9): REM sleep, meditation, insight, processing novel incoming stimuli
  3. Alpha (8 – 13.9): relaxed, calm, lucid, not really thinking
  4. Beta (14 – 30): lower range = concentration and learning, higher range = fear and stress
  5. Gamma (>30): binding – different parts of the brain combining disparate thoughts into one single idea

When we make decisions our brains go through a 6-stage cycle

  1. We are at baseline
    Novel stimuli appears.
  2. We move to analysis and problem solving
  3. Pre-action readiness
  4. Action
  5. Post-action evaluation
  6. Return to baseline

Each of these stages requires different parts of the brain and produces different brain waves

  1. Theta for processing novel stimuli
  2. Beta for analysis
  3. Alpha for action

Best performers and athletes move trough this cycle seamlessly and fluidly. This is their secret: fluid brain control. Most people cannot make it through the whole cycle. We get hung up at one or more parts.

In FLOW there is the same fluid seamless transitions, but more control. Instead of producing all other brain waves, great performers can transition smoothly into FLOW creating a low alpha/high theta wave, and hold themselves there. This shuts out the conscious (explicit) mind and lets the implicit mind do its work at its best.

Neuro-chemicals = information molecules
Information is one of two types: excitatory or inhibitory
excitatory = do more of what you are doing
inhibitory = do less of what you are doing


  • Engagement, excitement, creativity, urge to investigate
  • Released when we encounter something abnormal or seek-reward
  • Increases attention, pattern recognition, recognition, heart rate, blood pressure, muscle firing timing
  • Formidable skill booster, speeds up heart rate, respiration, muscle tension


  • Speeds up heart rate muscle tension and respiration.
  • Triggers glucose release so that we have more energy
  • Increases arousal, attention, neural efficiency, emotional control
  • When in flow—keeps us locked on target, keeps distractions at bay
  • Accompanied by a HIGH


  • Opiates, relieve pain
  • Created a HIGH
  • 100 time more powerful than common morphine


  • Shows up in exercise induced flow states
  • Elevates mood (bliss),
  • Relieves pain
  • Dilates blood vessels
  • Aids respiration
  • Amplifies lateral thinking
  • Inhibits ability to feel pain—may even facilitate extinction of long term fear memories


  • Occurs at the tail end of flow
  • Helps to cope with adversity
  • Helps to “keep going”: helps to “not lose it” and try and sort things out
  • May be responsible for the afterglow after flow
  • It signals the end of the flow state

When these five chemical work together

  1. Norepinephrine tightens focus (data acquisition)
  2. Dopamine increases pattern recognition (data processing)
  3. Anandamide accelerates lateral thinking (widens database searched by pattern recognition system)

This is a chain of events that takes us from pattern recognition to future prediction in a way that the results makes us feel psychic. We feel we have ESP.

Misconceptions about FLOW

  1. It works like an ON or OFF switch. No it does not.
  2. It always feels flowy. No, not always.

FLOW triggers

4 categories

  1. External
  2. Internal
  3. Social
  4. Creative

What all these triggers do, what they have in common, is that they drive attention into the RIGHT HERE & RIGHT NOW. The right here and right now is the only place that flow can show up; here we are most capable of extraordinary.

A “distracted present” is self-handicapping. It is one of the worst places to be in. This is a very hard condition to change.

Using the mind to silence the mind is a long-term endeavor.

These are qualities in the environment that drive us deeper into the zone. With these three external flow triggers, it is not only the mind that is paying “full attention”. Suddenly it is also the body that is paying full attention

  1. Risk—ability to tolerate and enjoy risk. Risk is a flow hack because flow follows focus and consequences catch attention.
  2. Rich environment—combination platter of novelty, unpredictability and complexity. These three elements, like risk capture and hold our attention.
  3. Deep embodiment—full body awareness. Paying attention to lots of input stimulus—at once—simultaneously. Deep embodiment is the fast-track to hypofrontality.

These are psychological strategies that drive attention into the NOW. We can train ourselves to keep our attention RIGHT HERE & RIGHT NOW

  1. Clear goals—When the brain is charged with a CLEAR goal, FOCUS narrows. To create more flow, emphasis should be on clear and not on goal. To practically achieve this, break down goals into small chunks and create small series goals
  2. Immediate feedback—it get us back into the now. When feedback is immediate, information is close at hand and attention does not have to wander. The conscious mind does not have to get involved. To achieve this, tighten feedback loops and ask for more input
  3. Challenge to skills ratio—when the task is “hard enough”, it makes us stretch. This gets attention back into the now. Too much stretch will lead to snap. 4% harder challenge (than current normal) seems optimal At this level of challenge we are not certain of the outcome—so we have to focus and actively get and use feedback. The challenge must be difficult enough so that we are not certain of the outcome. When we are uncertain of the outcome we pay more attention to the now. Uncertainly is the rocket-ride into the NOW. Maybe is addictive like nothing else. Uncertainly causes the brain to release Dopamine, which heightens attention and pattern recognition—and it is pleasurable. The road to magic and extraordinary is 4% + 4% + 4%+ 4%+ 4%+ 4% … day after day, week after week, month after month, for years! Growth mindset (Carol Dweck, not fixed mindset) is one of the secrets to maximizing flow. Self knowledge is essential to know capabilities and adapt to changing skills and new limits.


  1. Serious concentration
  2. Shared and clear goals
  3. Good communication
  4. Equal participation
  5. Element of risk
  6. Familiarity—everyone knows everyone, everyone is on the same page, shared knowledge, common language, communication based on unspoken understandings.
  7. Blending egos—collective humility, no one hogs the spotlight, everyone is involved
  8. A sense of control—a combination of autonomy and competence
  9. Close listening—fully in the here and now, not competitive or derisive, flows naturally
  10. Always say YES—interactions should be additive, not argumentative. The goal is momentum, togetherness, and innovation from amplifying each other’s ideas. Goal is momentum, togetherness and innovation from amplifying each others ideas.


  1. Creativity is flow hack.

4 stages of FLOW

  1. Struggle (beta brain waves, cortisol and norepinephirine):
    overloading the brain with information; for example intense fact finding, deep analysis, intense physical preparation, concentrated study
  2. Release (alpha brain waves, nitric oxide):
    take my mind off the problem
    completely sever thought and emotional patterns
    go for a walk
    listen to music
  3. Flow (theta and gamma brain waves, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide)
  4. Recovery (delta brain waves, serotonin, oxytocin):
    memory consolidation, information moves from short term to long term
    returns us to a “new normal”