Steven lays out very clearly of the stages you go through in becoming an expert. It's a great update to the book Deep Work on the topic of work performance. Just to get up to date knowledge of what flow is, the book is worth reading. It suppresses the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for logical decision making, future planning, and executive attention. In exchange, in a flow mode, we get hyper attention, creativity, and risk-taking behavior full of dopamine kick. Our work involves in a constant switch back and forth in those states.

The writing is very down to earth self-help, explaining what you need to do day to day. For example, you need to read 5 books just to start having the right framework to talk with experts with the right question and start building the gap in expert knowledge. He also tries to chime in any neurochemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and oxytocyn whenever applicable, which certainly helps us understand better.

The book overall is well organized. The conclusion sums up the 4 stages of flow cycle. I appreciate that he talks enough about struggles and frustration that is involved in the beginning of any learning, which can be only persisted by motivation and grit he says. And that's why he starts off the book talking precisely of the two. That's a perfect comeback. I personally think much is lacking today is that prefrontal cortex than the flow (ie: think of visionary. They are all learning quickly while thinking in a long term. That seems to me more about maximizing prefrontal cortex than the feel-good flow).

The 4 cycles are:

  1. Struggle
  2. Release
  3. Flow
  4. Recovery

1. Struggle

That's when you feel confrontation with the new idea and challenging tasks like learning statistics. You need to consciously pay attention with the new input. Your prefrontal cortex is fully active. You get stress. A good type of stress necessary to move to the next step.

Now thinking back on this topic, that's why kids with many extracurricular activities and learning can succeeed better. They are comfortable with going through this process.

At my age (30), people are very comfortable with their career and never progress. Learning to embrace struggle will be a key differentiator for your long term success.

2. Release

This is the time to settle the problem and let it sink into your unconsciousness. You should just wonder around walking, doing puzzle, maybe do mobile gaming, play guitars or draws. Preserve your energy in this process.

3. Flow

Keep up your energy. Remove destruction like phones. Stay off negative thinking.

This is one reason I don't read my customer messages until late in the evening. Sometimes they contain bug report. I appreciate that a lot. But that will destruct me from the flow and the main goal.

4. Recovery

The key is active. Do not watch TVs or go for beer. Go for massages, go meditation, take a bath.

This is where you criticize your idea because in flow every idea seems wonderful. In recovery, all the positive mood is shaken off, and negative self-critic hits in. Check your work in both stages and see the reality in both hands.

One comment on Steven's neurochemistry claim

Thought I liked the book overall, one part I have to question him is he seems sometimes overboard with his self-help claim. For example:

"It (Active listening) automatically activates curiosity, releasing a little dopamine and norepinephrine into our system. These chemicals heighten attention, prime learning, and give us the best chance of using what we’re hearing to find connections with older ideas - thus creating conditions for pattern recognition."

That statement sounds all so magically good right? I wanted to read the literature myself, but nothing came up on Google results in relation to active listening and norepinephrine. So I had to discount his credibility around neurochemistry stuff (which he uses a lot) a little bit.

Homework to Myself

After reading this, there are some tasks I want to lay myself. One is to active recovery. I walk often and take bath already. The bad part is I listen actively on educational content. That pushes me to the active effort (though I don't feel like I'm using up my brain). Instead, I should let my problem sink in and face it. And try to solve the situation with the negative self critic.

So walk without podcast. Take a bath with no YouTube.

Another is to block off 4 hours. That seems to be my flow time. It starts around 1-2 hours and last to 2-4 hours. So I need to block off 4 hours to do anything creative. That should happen in the morning from 10-2pm. If I'm lucky, I can slot in another at 8-11pm. But the other one depends on the brain state.

In addition to the above scheduling, I want to try working a little 30 minutes in the first thing in the morning before walking. I always go on a short walk in the morning right after breakfast, right before work. The thinking was to increase the blood flow in the very first thing in the morning must be good. However when treating waling as mind wonder release period, it's best to carry off problem at hand first. So in that 30 minute window, I can remind myself of task at hand engaging in problem solving unconscious mode.

Also this will be new but I want to try preparing the next day's todo in the previous instead of that same day. I've been doing it latter but if it's more motivational to have todo at the very first thing in the morning, I'd prefer that.

Steven also suggests us to get into the flow 1-2 times a week for about 2 to 6 hours. That flow translates to other activities that are not yet flowy he says. On top, he suggets 30-60 minutes a week, work on your weakness. That is actually hard discipline and take up a lot of will power to handle every week. For me, that may be engaging in community or sending out emails to my user base. Sharing social may be my weakness too.