What is a Peak Exit?
A peak exit is when you intentionally leave a flow state on a high note. This makes you associate a positive feeling with the flow experience.
As you’ll learn below, the technique is used to avoid burnout and increase overall flow in your life.
It’s a simple and effective technique that anyone can easily learn. It’s also something we teach in our flow training.
The Dangers of Too Much Flow
The release of powerful neurochemicals during flow state, make it the most addicting feeling on the planet.
However, because flow makes you lose judgement of time, you can stay in it too long.
The risks associated with too much flow include:
- Poor self-discipline.
- Sleep deprivation.
- Becoming risk-averse to the point of endangerment.
- Anti-social behavior, including detachment and isolation.
Self-regulation is crucial to getting the benefits of flow without crossing over to the dark side.
Flow feels effortless, but it takes effort. Being in flow uses a tremendous amount of cognitive load.
Using the peak exit technique is necessary to enjoying a long-term, high-flow lifestyle.
Why Peak Exits are Necessary
If you read our coach Brent Hogarth’s post about “The Dark Side of Flow” you’re aware of the fact that flow can be a blessing or a curse.
Flow addiction throws your life off balance. Becoming a “bliss junkie” who constantly chases flow leads to burnout and bad comedowns.
Fortunately, there is a self-management strategy that works as a long-term flow hack.
Employing “peak exits” help to preserve healthy flow in your life and work.
Who Came Up With Peak Exits?
Peak exits come from having an abundance mindset. It’s a technique that’s been used and shared by many famous writers.
Gael Garcia Marquez, writer of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” picked up the peak exit technique from Hemingway.
When Earnest Hemingway gave advice on writing, he would suggest, “never write too much at a time… Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work.” (With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba.)
Peak exits are not just for writers.
Steven Kotler says, “If you’ve got a big task that you’re doing, end it when you’re really fired up because when you come back the next day to work on it again you’re going to carry that energy back in.”
If you have a scarcity mindset, you’re scared to get out of flow because you don’t know if you’ll be able to get back into it. You’ll try and ride the flow wave past when you should.
Staying in flow too long uses up all the neurochemistry available to you. Eventually, your brain will need a reboot.
An abundance mindset says, I have the ability to get into flow when I need to, so I can get out of it without anxiety.
If you leave your work when you’re excited, it will be easier to get back into flow when doing that work the next time.
How to Use a Peak Exit
Flow follows focus. Motivation works like fuel to make focusing easier.
The best time to perform a peak exit is when you notice that you’re excited.
When flow is peaking, you lose self awareness. If you start to become aware that you’re in flow, that’s a great time to get out.
Hemingway would even exit from flow in the middle of sentence. That’s how much he trusted this technique!
If you don’t want to rely on self awareness, try setting a timer before flow begins.
The timer will go off at your pre-set time, kicking you out of flow. This will help you to schedule an effective recovery period as well.
It’s important to think of flow training as a marathon, not a sprint. Steven calls this “hacking the grind.”
Peak exits are a great flow hack. They keep you from going to the dark side of flow.
It will build intrinsic motivation into your flow experience—making getting into flow easier the next time.
Disciplining yourself to perform peak exits will enable you to enjoy long-term peak performance.
Peak Exits Help to Leverage Flow
In our podcast episode, “Mastering Optimal Performance in High-Pressure Environments” with Dr. Andrew Huberman and Rich Diviney, Steven Kotler shares with the guests that his favorite days are when he learns to do something out of flow that he originally did in flow.
You can train up in flow and then use what you learned in flow to do things when flow isn’t possible.
That’s really what leveraging flow is all about.
Tips for Improving Your Flow Experience
If you’re going to be intentional about the amount of time you spend in flow, you want to make that time as rich as possible.
Here’s a few tips for optimizing your flow environment.
- In team environments, optimize them for flow by setting clear goals and having a process for immediate feedback.
- Make sure tasks have a healthy challenge/skill balance.
- Try to focus on how to make the environment more structured.
- Focus on flow triggers when you go into a situation.
- Stay curious. Think of risk as novelty. Be as present as possible.
- Don’t become obsessed with always being in flow because it will isolate you from others. You will be tempting the dark side of flow if this becomes a habit.
- If you have anxiety about getting into flow, reframe that emotion as excitement for the moment/task.
- Share your flow journey with others and learn from them. That’s why there’s a social component of our courses.
Flow won’t add richness to your life if you don’t learn how to manage stress and become burnout proof.
It requires a commitment to the whole flow cycle: struggle, release, flow, and recovery.
One of our coaches, Brent Hogarth, says, “a peak exit works as positive reinforcement and increases our likelihood that a certain behavior will be repeated moving forward. By applying the principle of a peak exit we may condition an increased likelihood of prioritizing our high-flow activities, as opposed to leaving them when we are not in flow. Through continued application of peak exits we are shaping our behavior consistent with living a high-flow lifestyle.”