I want to tell you a story about the Flow Research Collective. It’s a story about broken bones and impossible dreams and all the weird ways that little things add up into big things. But it starts with death, or almost death—which was exactly the problem.
A long time ago, in a faraway land known as San Francisco, I was at a dinner party. It was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I was atoning in my girlfriend Allison’s living room, listening to one of her friends tell a story about how she nearly died in a car crash.
The story had been going on for a while. There was pathos, pregnant pauses, other things that began with the letter “P.” But here’s the thing—there wasn’t a car crash. It had been a complete miss, a potentially fatal T-boning by truck that never took place. She was unscathed. I was baffled.
She’d been talking for forty five minutes, and counting. Did I mention the pathos? Every other guest—26 souls—were paying rapt attention. I went face to face, slowly. Were they faking?
My confusion grew. I broke into her monologue. I had, I was sure, a legitimate question: “What’s the point? I mean, who here hasn’t nearly died once every six months since they were in high school?”
I raised my hand. I was absolutely serious. No other hands joined mine. They all just looked at me with a look that seemed to speak volumes about Allison’s choice in men.
"It’s not a trick question,” I repeated.
“Who here hasn’t nearly died once every six months or so?”
No hands went up. I felt sheepish, and even more confused.
In my world, at least back then, if you didn’t nearly die once every few months, you probably weren’t doing your job. I was a journalist. When most people are running away, we’re running towards. Usually the only other people running towards are armed with guns. We were armed with pens. This tells you something, I guess, about journalists, about Allison’s choice in men, about how small things add up into big things and how normal can come to mean different things to different people.
I was also an action sport athlete or, to be specific, a journalist dumb enough to cover action sport athletes. This was the 1990s. Back then, action sports were a home for wayward youth, and the journalists wayward enough to cover them. Catastrophic injury was another day at the office. The people I knew broke bones. Hell, just trying to keep up with the people I knew, I broke 82. Like I say: Most people call it trauma, I call it Monday.
And this became a problem when I learned a thing or two about high performance. That was a few years later, after I’d begun researching flow in earnest. I made the same mistake that everyone who learns a thing or two about high performance makes—I gave advice.
It was a disaster. I screwed up lives. I nearly caused a divorce. I definitely caused, well, two words: Hospital bills.
So what went wrong? Personality. I told people what works for me. But what works for me is almost guaranteed not to work for you.
Nature, nurture, genetics, epigenetics, environment, etc.. In my case, if you don’t have my crazy risk tolerances, my ridiculous perseverance, and the kind of chronic anxiety required to create this crazy ridiculousness—whatever, you get the picture. Personality doesn’t scale.
Biology scales. That’s the point. And that’s the core of the Flow Research Collective.
It’s what we mean by “Decode Flow, Recode Humans.” If we get below psychology, when we decode neurobiology, we get mechanism. Basic biological mechanism. Shaped by evolution, present in most mammals, and all humans.
What’s wrong with the field of high performance today? It’s a bit of a cult of personality. And personality doesn’t scale—it puts people in the hospital.
Biology scales. This idea drives our research, trainings and this organization. That’s also why we’re the Flow Research Collective. A collective is a group of people who have come together around a single goal. In this case: Decode the neurobiology of flow.