• Steven Kotler

The Quiet Math (or Why I Always Ski ‘Til I Drop)


There’s quiet mathematics to this life. There’s a set of numbers that few of us want to discuss and even fewer of us bother to calculate.


This isn’t surprising—the math is ruthless. The numbers aren’t the problem. It’s the truth on the other side of those numbers.


For me, that math starts with skiing. In simple terms, skiing is my ultimate bio-hack. Why? Because skiing is the best I get to feel on this planet. In psychological terms, skiing represents my ultimate intrinsic motivator, the “upper limit of my emotional possibility space.”


Sure, I tested other options. In fact, I tested—and this is a technical term—the ever-living- bejesus out of these other options. I ran all the requisite sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll experiments. I’ve also weighed skiing against success, against love, against all the other things that I have been told should weigh more….


The raw truth? No matter what I’m measuring against, skiing consistently emerges as the very best I get to feel on this planet.


This isn’t about pleasure. If this was just about pleasure. No, this is about meaning. When I’m skiing, when I push myself to the blurry edge of my abilities, life means more.

It just does.


Because the math is very precise, to truly dial-up this meaning, I must ski under precise conditions: In deep powder, at high speeds, headphones blasting the Wu-Tang Clan. Typically, I’m skiing alone, usually in the trees, often in a place where they’ll never find my body if this shit goes wrong.


As I said, mathematics is precise.


Yet, from a performance perspective, there’s peculiar power in this math. If we can figure out the thing that makes us feel the very best on this planet, we can use this information to steer our lives. We can use it to help us solve that ultimate puzzle—the fact that life is short and, as Neruda says, forgetting so long.


And I don’t mean solve in a metaphorical sense. I mean solve in the only sense that matters: Our yeses and our nos. Those things to which we say yes; those things to which we say no; the very algorithm that determines the actual quality of our days.


In my case, I say yes to skiing and I say no to anything that stands between me and skiing—which, I know, makes me sound a little psychotic.


Let’s build on this foundation. Of course, I also do all the psychotic stuff required to maximize skiing. I train like mad in the off-season. I adhere to a serious recovery protocol—saunas, restorative yoga, Epsom salt baths—that allow me the madness. I have goal lists, gear lists, and meta-lists to help me organize these other lists. And while all of this may seem like a giant time suck, but knowing I feel this way about skiing allows me to never waste time on less meaningful activities.


Skiing is my first filter. If an opportunity presents itself, my first question is always: Will it help me ski more frequently—seriously, I really think this way.


Sure, I have a few other filters: Writing; flow research, my friends, my family, making the world a better place for animals—but that’s about where this story ends. These are five filters that determine all of my yeses and all of my nos.


From a peak performance standpoint, filters like this save us massive amounts of time, allow us to avoid a considerable amount of decision-fatigue, and truly align our lives with that uber-well-being trilogy: passion, purpose, and meaning.


But more than any of that—well, there’s the math.


Right now, I’m just north of 50 years old. If actuarial tables are to be trusted, I have about 35 years left on this planet. Those are the basic numbers.


Now, I come from a long-lived family, take reasonably good care of myself, and have a number of scientist friends working on seriously whiz-bang longevity technologies, so maybe I get lucky and add another 10 or 20 years to this particular ride.


So, let’s set the number at 45 more years on this planet, give or take. As it’s now 2021, this puts my end zone right around 2066.


Now let’s flesh out the numbers. If the best I get to feel on this planet is when I’m skiing through deep powder, well really deep powder days only show up about seven times a season. And 7 times 45—my years remaining— is 315.


That’s it. 315 more chances to feel the very best I get to feel on this planet. 315 times to do the thing that makes life worth living. My point—315 is not a particularly big number.

Whenever I ski, I try to leave everything on the hill. I want to ski ‘til I drop every time I get a chance to ski.


Why? Because life is short and I did the math.


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