Rise of Superman – Book Review

Rise of Superman, a compelling introduction to “flow.”



Here are my thoughts… and reactions.

Thanks to Lewis Howes, for the recommendation on his great podcast, School of Greatness.

Going into the book I was rather skeptical about the hype of “flow states” and flow.

I like ideas backed by measurable science, when possible, and this idea seemed more anecdotal to be labelled as such a specific and science based state of mind.

However, my mind was changed about mid way through the book… however Flow is nothing “new” in that babies, children, athletes, entrepreneurs, mommys, creatives and more have been accessing this state of mind to produce their best forever.


So what is ‘Flow?’

In a nutshell flow is when you shut down your deliberative cognitive brain processes which mostly take place in the Pre frontal cortex (PFC).

Shutting down the PFC allows more brain functions to drive through your perceptions and actions.

This happens in extreme sports (as the book points out) because high paced, and high risk actives require us to stop thinking in order to focus on an imminent and perhaps deadly task at hand.

Moreover, our PFC, and deliberate processes can get in the way of simply doing our best.

Flow may also be called “the zone” for athletes, when they are no longer thinking but plugged in to a situation with a heightened sense of awareness and focus, and performing to the best of their ability.

Other things happen during flow, to increase awareness, and even make it feel good.

Notably, pleasure centers are activated; the parts of the brain identifying us as separate from the universe deactivate, giving us the feeling of being ONE.

This is the rough idea :) But there is a lot of science behind it.


Is flow measurable?

Flow is more of a label, than a discovery, and it can be measured using an EEG machine (which I happen to own one :))

By viewing the brains different alpha, beta etc.. wave patterns and activation levels science can measure what is labeled as a state of ‘flow’ when maximum focus is dialed in.


Is flow always good?

The PFC is actually a very handy and important part of our existence as it allows us to reason and problem solve.

PFC activation is great for solving complex, deliberate problems.

Flow is a state of mind more given to being extremely focused and able to use our abilities at a maximum level.

Ideally, an individual or athlete can slip in and out of different states of mind depending on the task at hand.

Think of states of mind like different weapons.


Rise of Superman’s approach to “Flow”

Steven Kotler uses extreme sports to study Flow because they are more or less required to enter into the state… or DIE.

This makes the book interesting to read, as it goes through the history of some very interesting extreme sports events and personalities.

Kotler then swings back to the general population and our need to use flow to be our best in order to produce an abundant world.

Kotler is also the author of the wonderful “Abundance” which is about the real idea of creating a world of physical and emotional abundance (loved this book as well).


Take home messages

ROSuperman really made me understand that proper states of mind are important for optimum performance and even happiness.

Understanding that our brain changes mind states and this can be “hacked” or willfully used to our advantage is important for developing a strategy at work, on the court, or wherever you might need to be your best self.

The book does a great job of getting you excited about ‘flow’ and giving a flyover of the science involved in changes of the brain during optimal states.

The book does NOT do a great job of giving practical ways in which we can begin putting ourselves in a flow state, which I would have appreciated.


What about this?

Flow sounds a lot like ‘play’ although ‘playing’ is probably more of an activity that seems to get us into flow.

Children and young people’s brains are closer to a state of flow more often then adults.  ‘Flow’ is pleasurable and thus it seems that it might be part of our evolutionary biology to enjoy learning, and being in states of high performance.  Why else would baby’s and children be so compelled to learn and play so often?  We are built to play and learn because we enjoy it, and as a byproduct it helps us to survive and be more successful.

Tim Galwey presented the idea of self 1 and self 2 which is very similar to the idea of getting into a flow state by inhibiting the cognitive deliberate part of our brain.  Is this really such a new idea or just building upon the great ideas about getting and staying in the zone?



Loved the book, and recommend it for sure.

I’m excited to have furthered understanding of how my own mind works, and how I can tap my own potential by ‘hacking flow’ for my own purposes.

I might end up using my EEG machine for more than just measure athletic performance (although that’s using the EMG portion of the machine).


What are your thoughts?   How can we get in flow at work, at home etc?


Other flow resources:




Jacob Hiller

Article by Jacob Hiller

Jacob has written 4 awesome articles for us.

  • alejandro

    hello jacob, in eed your help with pattellar tendinitis
    i dont have the manual, but some guy gave me the links and i’ve read the exercises and program which is almost exactly what i did to increase my vert
    right now my knees are busted though, especially the left one due to pattellar tendinitis
    and im playing competitively on a team, hoping to make it pro rather sooner than later…
    any tips?

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