• Steven Kotler

Why I Quit Being A Journalist And Started The Flow Research Collective


The end arrived in the early 2000s.


Call it: Twilight for Publishing; A Requiem for Reading, or the Slow Gutting of My Journalistic Soul—whatever the case, the web replaced the magazine and I was out of the game.


Somehow, I had spent fifteen years trying to become the very best long-form journalist possible, and then long-form journalism, as a viable way to make a living, as an art, as a craft, as an anything, vanished from the earth.


Gone. Like the dodo.

Mastery is the term for my desire to be the best journalist possible. It’s one of our favorite drugs, technically an extremely powerful psychological motivator, known on the street as that burning desire to learn and grow

But when the very thing I spent decades trying to master disappeared in an eyeblink—it raised some questions.


What-the-Firetruck—for one.


Two: Why was I actually a journalist?


Three: Could I slake that thirst some other way?


My journalism career had been primarily devoted to answering a single question: What does it take to do the impossible? I wrote about people who achieved paradigm-shifting breakthroughs and pulled off nothing-is-ever the same again feats, trying to use the tools of neuroscience, psychology, and technology to decode how such heights were reached

When Elon Musk revolutionizes the car, solar and space industry in less time than it takes to drink a cup of coffee—what, exactly, is going on in his brain? Or when Maya Gabeira shatters her own world record for the largest wave ever surfed by a woman (73.5 feet)—what about her brain

If that was my goal then the next step was obvious: found the Flow Research Collective and keep trying to answer those same questions. But first, I spent years attempting to convince every neuroscientist I knew to do what I eventually did with the Flow Research Collective.


Why?


Well, I wasn’t a neuroscientist. I wasn’t even a psychologist. Hell, I was an English major, with a master's in creative writing.


Access to scientists—that was the real draw of journalism. When writing for major publications, I could get any scientist I wanted on the phone. It was insane. I was being paid to learn from the best in the world. I could call up Nobel laureates and check this out: They’d answer my questions.


Seriously, what other job comes with perks like that?


But access to scientists was conditional. I had to get it right. If I got it wrong—access denied. Thus, nothing I wrote about the science of peak performance saw print until a half-dozen or more real scientists had signed off on my ideas. In short, I was using the scientists for peer-review.


I also had to get it right if I wanted to get paid. Back then, magazines had budgets for fact-checking. These fact-checkers were ruthless. I was paid by the word. They were paid to assault every word.


First, they would call the researchers I had called to double-check my facts. Then they would call the sworn enemies of these same researchers to see if they could disprove those same facts. It was a brutal gauntlet, but if my ideas survived, it meant they were worth a damn.


It also meant that I ended up with close friendships with a lot of these scientists—but not one of them wanted to start a flow research organization.


Geneticist and microbiologist Andrew Hessel set me straight. Today, Andrew heads up the Human Genome Write Project, back then he ran the world’s first non-profit cancer research cooperative. The cooperative was attempting to use synthetic biology to create individually customized cancer drugs, which was then (and still remains) cutting-edge science.


Andrew told me that when he founded his cancer cooperative, he had to leave a job as lead scientist at a major pharmaceutical company. He didn’t want to leave that job to found a research company. He just wanted a tiny division within his bigger company with the budget to do the research.


But, back then, his idea was just too radical for big business. He said the same thing was true for my idea.


In academia, circa 2011, the idea of using flow, which is technically an altered state of consciousness, to boost performance, was still too edgy. The idea of using neuroscience to decode flow was still too far ahead of its time. In other words, if someone was going to start the Flow Research Collective, maybe it wasn’t such a terrible idea if that someone was a flow-obsessed ex-journalist with a fact-checkered past. He even bet me that many of those same neuroscientists who turned me down the first time around might want to help me out the second.


I should also mention that one of the major components of the skill of mastery is a sub-skill of resilience. This is the ability to bounce back after failure, turning roadblocks into milestones and dead-ends into detours or, as the playwright, Edward Albee once explained:

“Sometimes you have to go a long distance out of your way to return a short distance correctly.

Today, the Flow Research Collective works with scientists at institutions such as USC, Stanford, and Imperial College, London, conducting research into the neurobiology of flow. We then use what we learn with these scientists to train up anyone who is interested in pushing beyond their limitations, exceeding their expectations, and turning their biggest dreams into their most recent achievements.


Seriously, what other job comes with perks like that?

My new book The Art of Impossible is a practical playbook for peak performance. It will help you stop dreaming big and living small.


Also, did I mention, there’s major awesome free stuff that comes with every copy when you pre-order right now.

1,334 views0 comments