Flow-states for peak performance, Zuckerberg does MMA, 11 startup deals worth >$275M.
Gm startup riders! This week’s good stuff for your startup brain includes:
🌊 Flow: peak performance, how it works + toolkit.
🍬 Candy: Zuckjitsu, bias to action and the oldest man alive.
💵 Deals: 11 Spanish startup deals (>€275M).
Welcome back! In this post-summer edition, my friend Dimitris takes us down the flow state / peak performance rabbit hole.
Dimitris and I met at university (he’s the smart one), and I’ve always been impressed by his very intentional work to understand the mind. Today he’s a journalist and a great copywriter with a bunch of experience in tech PR (get in touch here).
This topic is particularly relevant for founders, who I’m willing to bet would benefit greatly from developing the skill of getting in and out of flow + learning how to cultivate active recovery. Lets get into it:
We have become disconnected from an important form of human intelligence:
Imagine what is happening to the intelligence of a child as it’s made to sit in a chair at a desk seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months of the year for twelve years. That suppression of the body’s energy is a suppression of its intelligence.
The child is explicitly instructed: “fill your head with these ideas and pay attention to the head of the class and you will get ahead.” We learn, not exclusively from the education system—it’s modeled all around us by the adults we grow up with—to dissociate from the intelligence of the body. We learn that lesson before we are old enough to question it. We come to believe that we can think more clearly using the segregated portion of our intelligence in the head than we can with the whole of our being.
Yet, we used to be much more reliant on “body intelligence”:
Hunter-gatherer cultures don’t live in their heads—they rely on an attunement to the world that involves the unsegregated intelligence of their entire being. They feel animals moving through the jungle. They feel the gifts of healing offered by plants. They rely on such knowing.
Humans have lost their way: it’s the old cynic’s credo, and it therefore gets a bad rep. And let’s be honest, it leaves a slight taste of cliche in our mouths, doesn’t it? - that is, if we dare say it out loud.
Which we would if we’re anything like my grandfather. Though, in his case, he immediately follows it with a near comprehensive critique of anything that came after the 50s. That’s not our point, exactly, and yes, grandpa’s jolly good dinner company in case you were wondering.
But one thing that has arguably gotten worse since the 50s (apart from music, poetry, literature, the theatre, hairstyles…what did I miss, gramps) is our absolute fixation with thought. That is, our choice (read: compulsion) to dwell and exist exclusively in the Left Hemisphere of our brain - alongside our precious thoughts and “rational thinking” - save for the occasional, fleeting moment when we seem to remember we have bodies. The realisation centres us, grounds us, revitalises us but often it doesn’t last long enough to even register.
The truth is this, cynical or not: we spend way too much time using the LH, consumed in thought and disconnected from our core, our Being, our center of gravity.
Don’t misread us. We’re not suggesting there’s anything wrong with thought per se. Far from it. Thought is great for a whole range of things. Rather, it’s our inability to be aware of our thoughts - and to switch to more productive and creative modes of Being - that drains us.
In other words, we think too much and we don’t intuit or feel enough using the full force and wisdom of our bodies even or especially when the project at hand requires it. We are convinced that whatever challenge we come up against we can think our way through it. But we are sorely mistaken.
Philip Shepherd said it better than most: “The segregation of our thinking from our being is the primary wound of our culture.”
Not least, because (this is us, not Philip), it is in this realm of Being, not thought, that most of the magic happens.
Get your biology to work for you, not against you - leverage flow states.
“Being completely involved in an activity for its own stake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1870s)
The much-talked-about but ever elusive feeling of being completely at ease with a task, “in the zone”, weightless, and unburdened from thought. It might conjure up the notion of enlightenment - when thoughts and the ego cease - but it need not be (purely) a meditative state. And it can be harnessed.
The physical and cognitive impacts of flow, have been reported to improve:
Physical — strength, endurance, muscle reaction times all significantly increase whereas pain, exertion, and exhaustion decrease during flow.
Cognitive — motivation and productivity, creativity and innovation, learning and memory, empathy and environment awareness, and cooperation and collaboration all skyrocket — as high as 500% above the baseline.
But it’s important to understand that people don’t just “fall into” a state of flow. Or rather if and when they do, it means they have put in the requisite effort and built the requisite muscle to make that state possible in the first place.
The more a habit is repeated, the more it becomes second nature, the easier it is for us to lose ourselves in the act of performing it.
And while the performance itself might seem effortless to spectators (see, Stevie Ray Vaughan during pretty much any solo of his career), it is often the result of hard, deliberate and smart work. So, after you choose the skill you want to excel at, practise it repeatedly and deliberately - meaning you are reflecting on your progress, iterating and adjusting along the way, not just showing up to put in your 10,000 hours.
The rationale applies to any skill from playing the trumpet to valuing companies as long as the process is repeatable and progress is broadly measurable. But you won’t get there instantly.
🔫 Flow triggers
“Flow follows focus. It only shows up when we’re in the right here and the right now. That’s what these triggers do: they drive our attention to the present moment.”
— Steven Kotler
There are reportedly 22 types of flow triggers (probably many more). In his book “The Art of Impossible” Steven Kotler breaks these down into individual vs group flow triggers. For individuals these are:
Challenge / skills ratio
Autonomy/a sense of control
🧰 Flow Toolkit
“Flow is a very high-energy state, so you have to maintain energy.” — S. Kutler
In order to drive peak performance and reach flow, we need to get the basics right. That means attaining a baseline level of physical and mental well-being.
Here are some hacks to give yourself the best chances of accessing flow over time:
Morning walks and Optic Flow to achieve alert/calm state for flow state entry
Stop working while you are still excited - The next morning when you start, it’ll be easier. Our maximum focus chemicals work for 20 minutes - that’s why Ted Talks are 20 minutes. This way you can avoid burning all your norepinephrine and dopamine.
Immediate Feedback - is a huge flow trigger (that’s partly why BJJ is amazing). This can be leveraged in orangizations - think post-meeting, 1-on-1s, team culture and so on.
Creativity as a trigger - is one of the core, most powerful flow triggers. This is an important reason why the sports scene for skateboarding and surfing blew up in the 90s - the community started valuing creativity (I.e. think taking a creative line on a wave, or dealing with a set of stairs differently), which boosted these sports to a new level leveraging flow states. Once you start paying attention to this trigger you’ll see it everywhere.
Time in nature - high performers look for multi-tool solutions because they don’t have time. Spending time in nature is one of the simplest, most powerful ways to solve multiple problems. 1. Exercise benefits 2. Enhanced creativity 3. Enhanced mood 4. Increased flow etc
Mindset = brain mechanisms - don’t confuse what psychology refers to as mindset (essentially metaphors) with what neurobiology sees it as - mechanisms in the 🧠.
Practice Gratitude - the neuroscience behind it is very powerful. We’re hardwired for negativity. We take in 9 negative bits of information for every 1 positive one. We know we perform better when we are optimistic. When you do a daily Gratitude practice (list 3 things you feel grateful for) you tip the brain’s negativity bias, and it makes a massive difference.
Mindfulness - if you are just going for the cognitive benefits, with 11 minutes a day of breath work will do it.
Exercise - you get deactivation if the pre-frontal cortex (leads to flow).
Double down on your Primary Flow Activity (PFA) - it has spillover effects that linger for long after flow state ends (I.e creativity). For me, it’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & Surfing. Secondary’s are Surfskating, Freediving, and Football. But you can do anything that does it for you: get a massage, gardening etc.
Active Recovery - Doubling down on your PFA + active recovery (stuff that lowers cortisol), which by the way is also a powerful burnout prevention system:
Walks in nature
Heat exposure (sauna) sauna, cold therapy,
Triggering mammalian diving reflex in the water (by freediving)
Heart-rate variability training
Real fooding & Nutrient-dense food
Carve out the time. It can take time to enter a state of flow which means you have to factor that into your planning and workday.
Prime your environment. Research suggests that the more stake we feel we have in our work environment, the more it aids productivity and creativity. So you should feel free to play around with your space, manipulate it, shuffle it around, make it more you.
Reward yourself. As mentioned, flow will not come immediately or early necessarily. To get you through the steep learning curve of any skill, you need patience and motivation. If you reward yourself at the end of a practice session, you are also reinforcing the habit loop. Your brain comes to crave what is at the end of the routine, and that helps you build the necessary muscle to ultimately get you to the “flow zone”.
Bonus: stack these habits, make them unavoidable and add a reward. Example: every morning when I wake up, I have already set myself up for success. I leave a coffee pot ready to go, a kettlebell on the ground, and an awesome armchair I love to hang in. This is my first 30´ of the day sequence:
Wake-up, turn on coffee
Exercise (10-15’): kettlebell routine
Mobility (5’): mobility routine
Gratitude/Meditate (10’): armchair
Reward = ☕️
🐇 Follow the White Rabbit 🕳️
🍬 Sartup Candy
Zuck discovered MMA / BJJ recently and says “Frankly, the very first session I did, like 5 minutes in, I was like Where has this been all my life”
2. Doing > Thinking
3. The oldest man alive - His secret? having no desires.
💵 Startup Deals & Jobs
You love startups and want to enjoy a Spanish lifestyle? Come join the Spanish startup ecosystem. Here’s a list of recently funded startups:
Seedtag (adtech) raised 250M
Embention (aeronautics, drones) raised 7M
Unlockd (NFT-backed loans) raised 4M
iPronics (programmable photonics) raised 3.7M
Recomotor (automotive) raised 2M
Deale (marketplace) raised 1.5M
Foodforjoe (ecommerce, pets) raised 1.5M
Inrobics (ehealth, robotics) raised 350K
Mogu (traveltech) raised 350K
Smart Lollipop (medtech) raised 300K
Capboard (legaltech) rasied 280K