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  • Writer's pictureSTEVEN KOTLER

Feel More Fulfilled This Year: The Passion Recipe

In peak performance, sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. Cultivating passion is one of those times.

Living a life of passion is worth the effort. It’s not easy to do without being intentional. In all these years putting words together in a straight line, I've studied how passion and peak performance collide.

I’ve learned that the flame of passion always kicks off from a flicker of curiosity.

Curiosity is nothing more than basic interest in something. Neurochemically, it’s underpinned by a twitch of norepinephrine and dopamine. But curiosity is a key ingredient in passion.

The surefire way to turn curiosity into passion is to stack intrinsic drivers. If you haven’t read The Art of Impossible or some of my other work, this is probably a new concept for you.

Here's a crash course:

Elite performers have been stacking performance drivers for centuries. They prioritize sleep, exercise, and maintain proper hydration and nutrition. These are foundational requirements for creating physical energy.

Likewise, elite performers stack psychological fuel sources. Intrinsic drivers are psychological and emotional forces like curiosity, passion, meaning, and purpose. A potent example would be the pleasure of mastery – a job well done. The desire for autonomy, to be in charge of one's own life, is another intrinsic driver.

By stacking these sources of mental energy, all of life's most potent emotional fuels are tapped into.

Stacking intrinsic drivers and cultivating curiosity can amplify into a passion. But let me be frank – you can’t achieve this overnight.

Some steps may take weeks, some could last for months. You need to take the time to get it right. You don't want to passionately pursue something for years and then find out it was a phase. But you need to start somewhere. So.


Write this list in a notebook instead of on a computer.

There's a powerful relationship between hand motion and memory. When you are learning something new, pen and paper triumph over laptop and keyboard every time.

Start by writing a list of twenty-five things you're curious about. Topics that, if you had the spare time, you’d read a couple of books about. Maybe you’d attend a few lectures or have a chat with an expert about it.

And be specific. ‘Football’ or ‘punk rock’ or ‘food’ is too vague to be useful. Shoot for topics like:

1. The pass-blocking mechanics required to play left tackle.

2. The evolution of political punk from Crass to Rise Against.

3. The grasshoppers' potential to become a primary human food source in the next ten years.

4. And so on…

Specificity gives your brain's pattern recognition system the raw data needed to make connections between ideas—the more detailed, the better.


Now you have twenty-five very specific items on your list. Ask yourself how they intersect.

Take the examples of grasshoppers as a food source and the mechanics of playing left tackle. If you're into pass-blocking mechanics, maybe you're also interested in the nutritional requirements necessary to play left tackle. Insects are exceptionally high in protein—would they make good football food?

This is an awful intersection of items.

Instead, look for crossover from three or four items on the list. Once you spot the overlap between multiple items, you’re getting somewhere. That’s where the energy is.

By layering curiosity atop curiosity atop curiosity, your essentially stacking motivations. You'll work harder, but you won't notice the work. This is our internal biology doing the heavy lifting.


When you've found the spots where curiosities overlap, play in those intersections for a bit. Devote twenty minutes a day to diving into those intersections. Listen to podcasts, watch videos, read articles and books – whatever. Just get in there and feed you curiosity for a bit

Here’s what you’re looking for in the action.

Someone interested in supply chain management, the future of health care, and the significance of widespread rollout of artificial intelligence could develop an intersection where they want to explore the advantages and disadvantages that A.I. brings to supply-chain management in the health care industry. Bingo!

Feed those curiosities little by little every day. This slow-growth strategy takes advantage of the brain's inherent learning software.

When you advance your knowledge a little at a time, you're giving your adaptive unconscious a chance to process that information. This process is known as "incubation.” Automatically, the brain begins looking for connections. How bits of info you've learned before and bits you're learning now overlap. Over time, you’ll see more patterns. This increases dopamine. And motivation skyrockets. Eventually, it leads to some expertise.

Expertise leads to less effort in the future.

When we play with information that we're curious about, the brain makes natural connections. There's no pressure. Less stress equals more learning. Let your pattern recognition system find connections between curiosities that make you more curious—this cultivates passion.


Real passion isn't an overnight process. It's not enough to just play around in the spots where multiple items on the list intersect. To really light that fire, you're going to need a series of public successes.

Public success is nothing more than positive feedback from others. Any social reinforcement increases feel-good neurochemistry, which increases motivation. Getting positive attention makes the brain release more dopamine than we get from just passion alone. Oxytocin is also added to the equation. The combination of dopamine and oxytocin rewards "social interaction." That creates feelings of trust and love which are necessary for survival. The feel-good nature of this reward comes around full circle. Our curiosity increases, which is the neurobiological feedback loop that forms the foundation of true passion.

Now, it's time to make friends…walk before you run.

By taking things public, I don’t mean give a TED Talk. Basic chats with strangers will do. Walk into your neighborhood pub and chat up the stranger sitting next to you. Tell them about the stuff you've been teaching yourself.

Then do it again.

Talk to a different stranger. Tell some friends about your ideas. Join a meetup devoted to the subject. An online community. A book club.

It’s critical you do these steps in order. Skipping steps won’t work. You’re going to get excited when you start to investigate these intersections but keep it to yourself for a while. Don’t start conversations about the topic as a beginner. There's nothing fulfilling or passion-cultivating about that. Knowing little often feels crappy. But having something valuable to say— having ideas of your own and a couple public successes built off those ideas—now you're approaching escape velocity.

Now you have the Passion Recipe. Put it into action right away.

To get the deeper dive on the Passion Recipe you need the peak performance playbook. click here and buy a copy of The Art of Impossible for yourself… 2020 was a tough year for being passionate. 2021 is the year to really go big. More importantly, buy a copy for anyone in your life who needs to take their passion to purpose…

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