Sometimes, it feels like our lives have a built-in timer. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
It’s like we’re expected to slow down as we age, to become less active and less strong. And—so help us—to also lower our ambitions.
But what if that’s not the only way to age? Can we change the way we think about growing older?
After all, there are plenty of people who seem to defy aging: J. Lo, Pharrell Williams, Gabrielle Union… Even non-celebs, like Steven Kotler, the author of Gnar Country: Growing Old, Staying Rad (and who happens to be the trainer of Mindvalley’s The Habit of Ferocity Quest), seem to have found the fountain of youth.
Apparently, many of us aren’t giving our brains the stimulation they need—that’s when aging occurs. But it doesn’t need to be so.
Rather, there are ways to get in the flow. There are ways to unlock your inner J. Lo (or Pharrell, or Steven). And there are ways to grow old yet “stay rad.”
And that’s exactly what he and Vishen, the founder of Mindvalley, get into on The Mindvalley Show.
What Is Flow State?
Being “in the flow” is often described as being “in the zone.” It’s that state of mind when you’re performing an activity and are totally immersed in the experience. It’s when we’re “aligned with our core passion and—because of flow’s incredible impact on performance—expressing that passion to our utmost,” as Steven puts it.
The flow state, coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and later popularized by Steven, is where challenge meets skill. There’s energized focus, complete involvement, and enjoyment in the process.
Take Disney’s Soul, for instance. The scene where Joe plays the piano—that’s an example of the flow state.
And it can happen at any time, regardless of what you’re doing. Coding complex software, painting a masterpiece, or simply cooking a meal—flow is the sweet spot where challenge meets skill.
Flow isn’t just what makes life worth living. It makes a whole lot more life worth living.— Steven Kotler, trainer of Mindvalley’s The Habit of Ferocity Quest
But why should you care about achieving this state? How does it affect your daily life or your process of aging?
Steven’s extensive research with the Flow Research Collective reveals that the flow state has profound implications for our well-being and, crucially, our longevity. And what makes it particularly relevant in the context of aging is the compelling evidence linking it with improved mental and emotional health, resilience, and even cognitive function.
As we age, these aspects of our health often bear the brunt of time. This makes the flow state a potential game-changer for healthier, happier, and more vibrant aging.
The Connection Between Flow State and Longevity
What comes to mind when you think about aging? Physical decline, cognitive slowdown, and a shrinking of the population are the more common ones.
“These skills do decline; every single one of them, we now know, is a use it-lose it skill,” says Steven.
But what if we’ve got it all wrong? What if the key to longevity—to a life well-lived—is not in our physical years but in our mental and emotional states?
“So if you keep training these skills, you get to hang on to them,” he goes on to explain, “even advance them far later in life than anybody thought.”
In order to do that, it’s important to learn how to get into flow—frequently take part in challenging, creative, and social activities. And these activities should involve active, intentional play and occur in new, outdoor settings.
Why new and outdoors? It causes flow triggers.
Flow and healthy aging
Now, the link between this state and longevity might not seem apparent at first. After all, flow is about peak human performance, something that’s often juxtaposed with the decline of the aging process.
But, according to Steven, there’s “a really powerful link between the mind and the body.” And with research to back that up, there’s no denying that flow can absolutely have a positive effect on your mental agility, emotional health, and physical resilience.
But as Steven points out, the flow state’s positive effects on mental agility, emotional health, and physical resilience directly contribute to healthier aging.
Aging, according to Steven, should not be viewed as a period of steady decline but as an extended opportunity for growth and exploration. It’s about pushing boundaries, embracing challenges, and continually striving for personal growth.
With this mindset and the right strategies, we can not only defy aging but also significantly improve our quality of life.
How to Use Flow to Age Gracefully, According to Steven Kotler
Aging like J. Lo, Pharrell, and Steven doesn’t just happen. It requires intent, commitment, and a set of powerful strategies.
Based on what Steven shared with Vishen, here are a few ways you can use flow to defy the common notions of aging:
1. Do what you love
There’s a lot of talk about passion. It is, after all, one of the great habits of successful people. But what’s it mean, and how can you find it?
Passion’s a deep-seated driving force that can ignite your inner fire, energize us, and act as a potent flow trigger. It’s finding what you love to do—something that lights you up, what makes you lose track of time, and feel alive.
For example, for Steven, it’s surfing. For you, it might be cooking, reading, volunteering… the possibilities are endless.
And as you get older, your passion can evolve. But regardless of what it is, it’ll help you naturally lean towards the flow state and enhance your sense of well-being and satisfaction.
Insight from Steven Kotler: “Flow carries within it delicious possibility. In the state, we are aligned with our core passion and, because of flow’s incredible impact on performance, expressing that passion to our utmost.”
2. Challenge yourself
If you think reaching a certain age means you no longer need to challenge yourself, think again. Steven argues that consistently pushing your limits is vital to achieving flow and living a fulfilling life, regardless of your age.
However, challenging yourself doesn’t necessarily mean climbing Everest or singing at the Super Bowl like J. Lo. Rather, it’s about setting meaningful, slightly out-of-reach goals in various aspects of your life: physical, intellectual, creative, social, and so on.
And more than just warding off an existential crisis, there are several benefits to it:
- Stimulates your mind and body,
- Fosters a sense of achievement,
- Boosts your self-esteem, and
- Strengthens your resilience.
All of these contribute to healthier aging. And what’s more, they create the perfect conditions for flow.
Insight from Steven Kotler: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs most is more people who have come alive.”
3. Foster a “grit” mindset
Chances are, you’ve heard of the term “grit.” But what is it, and how can it help you achieve flow and age like a pro?
Simply put, grit is a blend of passion and perseverance. With this mindset, it’s all about:
- Staying committed to your long-term goals,
- Persevering through challenges, and
- Bouncing back from failures.
In fact, science says that if you really want to achieve something, you need to have grit. This could be for starting a new habit, ending a bad feeling pattern, or testing how far your body can go.
And fostering a grit mindset, according to Steven, is essential for you to tap into flow so that you can keep going, no matter what.
Insight from Steven Kotler: “If we are hunting the highest version of ourselves, then we need to turn work into play and not the other way ‘round. Unless we invert this equation, much of our capacity for intrinsic motivation starts to shut down.”
Grow With the Flow
It’s about time we all rethink aging.
Steven’s sit-down with Vishen on The Mindvalley Show only scratches the surface of preconceptions about getting older. And no matter how many candles you blow out on your next birthday, the thing is, aging isn’t a descent into decline but an ascent towards growth, exploration, and vibrant living.
Steven’s The Habit of Ferocity Quest on Mindvalley is a fascinating deep-dive into these principles. It draws upon the latest findings in neuroscience, physiology, and psychology to rewire you with a unique behavioral pattern that Steven calls “ferocity.”
But it’s not just about being fierce. It’s about…
- Pushing your boundaries,
- Being perpetually motivated to grow, and
- Harnessing your peak focus, productivity, creativity, and intuition.
The Habit of Ferocity is a 35-day online journey designed to rapidly and permanently adopt this high-performance mindset. And for just 15-20 minutes a day, you may just find that your focus, performance, creativity, and tenacity amplify as grit, flow, and motivation start becoming your default states.
And the best part? Signing up for a free account can give you access to the first few lessons, so you can get a head start on peak performance and longevity.
As Steven says, “It’s not how good you are; it’s how good you want to be.” And he’ll get you where you want to be.