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5 key insights on how to achieve the impossible from NYT bestselling author Steven Kotler’s new book

Posted by Tasnim Ahmed

May 25, 2021    |     5-minute read (823 words)

Bestselling author, journalist and peak performance expert Steven Kotler deciphers the secrets behind elite performers who have managed to redefine our ideas of what is conceivable in his new book,” The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer.” 

As the executive director of the Flow Research Collective, an organization that studies human performance science and trains military personnel, scientists, Fortune 100 executives and other luminaries, Kotler teaches individuals how to push beyond their limitations to attain their goals. He uses a research-based formula for extreme performance improvement culled from the latest neuroscience studies and two decades of study.

The book’s central message is that you are capable of far more than you realize. But what does it take to achieve the impossible? Breaking through your own barriers, outperforming your expectations and transforming your biggest dreams into reality first requires first getting out of your own way, he writes. 

A look at accounts of feats once considered beyond the realm of human achievement -- such as running the four-minute mile, Einstein's theory of relativity, the Wright brothers’ first aircraft flight and Rosa Parks’ sitting at the front of the bus – reveals some underlying commonalities, Kotler adds.

The book distills what Kotler describes as a research-based formula for extreme performance improvement, based on cutting-edge neuroscience and over two decades of study.

Listed below are five central lessons from “The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer.”

  • “Impossible” is a deeply ingrained word

Kotler refers to "impossible" as a type of extreme innovation, both in terms of thought and matter. Impossible achievements are those that have never been achieved and that most people believe never will be.  

A slew of seemingly impossible athletic feats became reality in the 1990s in sports including rock climbing, surfing, snowboarding and skiing. Many of these athletes struggled in childhood with shattered families and experienced drug and alcohol abuse. None was groomed for success or expected to break records.

Lesson one: Peak performance is about getting your biology to work for you rather than against you, and everybody possesses this ability.

  • Master a series of impossibles to achieve the impossible

Laird Hamilton is acclaimed as one of the world’s first big-wave surfers. When bystanders expressed astonishment after seeing him surf a 50-foot wave, Hamilton often responded that they hadn't seen him ride a 3-foot wave at age five or a 49.5-foot wave just last week. In Hamilton’s view, he was only pushing himself a step further each time. But to the rest of the world, he was seemingly achieving the impossible. 

Lesson two: The impossible can be achieved only after completing a series of minor impossibles.

  • Get in the “flow” state

Flow is a state of ideal consciousness that is also referred to as being in the zone. Periods of flow occur when you become so engrossed in the subject at hand that everything else fades away. Flow is a natural part of the human experience that boosts creativity, grit and productivity, and it allows seemingly impossible feats to become possible. Besides, achieving “flow state” is a talent that can be learned. And with practice, you can develop a "high-flow lifestyle."

Lesson three: We perform our best when we are in state of flow, which anyone can achieve.

  • Master the four steps to peak performance

Achieving the impossible requires understanding the four-stage process that precipitates peak human performance. The four steps:

Motivation: Your natural interest and passion are ignited, and you sharpen the skills needed to maintain this motivation over time. Motivation comprises perseverance, resilience and the ability to delay gratification.

Learning: Learning is a process that encompasses not just the ability to gain new skills and knowledge, but also the ability to comprehend the learning process itself with techniques such as the scientific method and first-principle reasoning. It also involves understanding where you need to focus more.

Creativity: The ability to generate new and useful concepts. It also entails recognizing patterns and a willingness to take risks.

Flow: Flow is the key. Mastering the art to enter focused and absorbed flow states is the master skill that will supercharge all of the previous levels and propel you to peak performance.

Lesson four: Peak performance is underpinned by motivation, learning, creativity and flow.

  • Aim big

The same traits needed to achieve peak performance are also essential for your happiness and health. In other words, not having a go-getter attitude toward your goals is bad for you. Disconnection from meaningful work, for example, appears to be one of the fundamental causes of depression. Working on something for which you have no interest or passion or that doesn’t fulfill your purpose can cause both physical and mental damage. 

Lesson five: If you choose to adopt the skills of peak performers — motivation, learning, creativity and flow — you are stretching yourself to perform and achieve while simultaneously caring for your physical and mental health.

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