The Rise of Superman

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

It’s normal for traditional Olympic sports athletes such as runners and swimmers to break world records that were held for years and decades.  But world class action and adventure sports athletes such as rock climbers and kayakers would regularly break world records in just a few weeks or months. And added to that is the risk.  So risky that often times adventure sport is a matter of life and death in every attempt.  Adventure athletes would brush those risks off, do their craft and accomplish what was thought to be impossible.

Going down a water fall while kayaking for example was thought to be a suicide, but in the late 1990’s a kayaker went down an 80 feet water fall and survived.  Since then, kayakers would regularly plunge themselves in water falls that are 198 feet long.  Rock climber Alex Honnold was able to climb the 2,000-foot rock wall of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park in California in a matter of hours when previously it took a team of people days to accomplish it.  And Alex did it with no ropes.

How were these people able to do it?  Steven Kotler made a study of these extraordinary athletes and explained it in his book, “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance”.  Mr. Kotler’s used the findings of his study to apply it to corporate job performance.  The secret to extraordinary performance of adventure athletes is the so-called “flow” that makes them accomplish daring feats.  The author says, flow is the feeling of being totally immersed in what you are doing. “In flow, every action, each decision, leads effortlessly, fluidly, seamlessly to the next. It’s high-speed problem solving; it’s being swept away by the river of ultimate performance.”  Office workers for example when experiencing optimal flow can be 500% more productive than usual.  This is great news.  You and I don’t have to climb mountains and jump over water falls to accomplish great feats, we just have to tap into that flow, and be super productive with our jobs.

Here’s the author’s four tips to experience flow at work:

Clear Goal with High Consequences

First, you need to know exactly what you are trying to do (know the pass-fail requirements) and why you are doing it (clear goal). Your goals should always be just beyond your current skill level, forcing you to operate in the space between boredom and anxiety.  If your task is below your skill, you would be bored for lack of challenge.  But if it’s way above your skills, you can get anxious and frustrated.  The job that you should choose should be optimal which is not too easy and not too hard so that when done it gives you a sense of accomplishment.  If you are a student, don’t be afraid to tackle tough subjects.  And if you’re an office worker, volunteer to take on demanding projects.

Rich Sensory Experience

Adventure athletes would use their surroundings to trigger their flow.  They would use their senses to feel the atmosphere (the sight and sounds that surround the waterfall) that triggers their mind for the daring act they are about to attempt.  It gives them focus, loss of self-consciousness (loss of fear) and makes them feel as if time has stopped.  In applying this to our jobs, we can prepare a coffee and use the smell of it to trigger our flow before making a report for example.  Or listen to our favorite music while working as flow trigger and enhancer.

Immediate Feedback

Adventure athletes are able to accomplish their bold feats because they correct in real time what they think would be a mistake.  World class rock climbers know ahead what it takes to leap over a particular portion of the mountain wall.  In applying this to our corporate tasks, we have to make our work as visible as possible so that mistakes are easily exposed and can be corrected right away.  If you have a good idea, write it down on paper or draw it so that it becomes more visible and perceptible.


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