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"The Art of Impossible" Book Discussion Part I

Updated: Jun 21, 2022

Today we are going to start talk about a very new book called "The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer" by Steven Kotler. This book teaches us how to achieve challenging goals. If you finish reading this book, you will find that this book is even a psychological application of Nietzsche's philosophy.

Why Nietzsche's philosophy? It is Nietzsche who tells everyone to be superhuman, you can't be willing to be ordinary, you should maximize your energy. So how can you be completely different from others and become a superman? This book is the psychological application of Nietzsche's philosophy. From a psychological point of view, it tells us how to achieve step by step what others can't do, or we think we can't do.

The author divides “impossible” into two categories, the first of which is represented by an uppercase I, that is, Impossible. This capitalized I stands for something that almost no one has ever done. For example, becoming a world champion, becoming the richest man in the world, becoming a scientist and inventor, this is something that most people have not done, it is a capital I. It is very rare for a person to be able to do such a thing in this lifetime.

Another way that can't be expressed in lowercase i is something you think you can't do. For example, you think you should work for the rest of your life, and you think you will definitely not be able to start a business, but if you try it and find that it is successful, then you have achieved a lowercase i. For us, both categories of “impossible” are challenging goals. So how do you achieve them?

The author shares his experience. He is an extreme sports journalist and has been doing extreme sports interviews for a while. If you want to get access to these extreme athletes, you must first play with them. So, in order to complete his job, he does things that challenge his limits every day. He found that there

are a lot of neurobiological principles behind “flow” — he is a research-loving person who has written many books before, and there is a very famous book about entrepreneurship, "Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World” which he wrote with Peter H. Diamandis, part of the Exponential Technology Series.

After synthesizing his own research on these extreme athletes, his own personal experience, and interviews with many experts, he summed up four main points that challenge the impossible: first, motivation; second, learning; third, creativity; and fourth, flow. That is, when you can exert your creativity and learning ability in a state of flow and have a strong inner motivation to keep you persistent, you can achieve all kinds of impossible things. When you read this book, you will feel that there are many places that are familiar, because we have talked about "Getting Grit" and "Flow", so you can understand this book as a comprehensive application of a lot of knowledge that we have talked about before. Of course, the book also has its own innovations.

First, let's talk about motivation. There are three main points in this section: drive, perseverance, and goal setting. Since we are almost at the end of 2021, I will make sure at least get the goal setting out before the new year start. The driving force of human’s motivation is divided into intrinsic and extrinsic forces. Sometimes extrinsic drivers work, for example, we ask many managers, how do you manage your employees? They said that there are fines and bonuses. and when money is used to motivate employees, they move very quickly. This sounds reasonable, and we can often see such phenomena in our lives.

But psychologists believe that money as a drive is most effective until a person's life is secured. The driving force caused by external fear and greed is the external driving force. Nobel laureate in economics Daniel A Kahneman even came up with a numerical value: For Americans with an annual income of less than $75,000, using money to drive them to do things is a very effective incentive; but for middle- and higher-income people with an annual income of more than $75,000, it doesn’t move them as much. In this case, intrinsic motivation becomes even more important.

So where does one's intrinsic motivation come from? Curiosity, passion, purpose, autonomy and control. These five points are the source of our intrinsic drive.

Let's start with curiosity. It's like DaVinci in his entire life pursued a pure pleasure of knowing, which was curiosity. Curiosity can make our minds happier. When you can cultivate the joy of inquisitive mind and challenge, not for money, fame and status, but simply want to do the best at whatever you are doing, then your intrinsic motivation will be stimulated.

The second is passion. If you're looking to gain passion, there's a way in the book to make a list of 25 things. The good thing about this book is that the author gives a lot of practical methods that you can apply right away. What are these 25 things? Just 25 things that interest you. In this world, whatever interests you, you write it down. Even if there is no connection between these things, seemly irrelevant to each other at all, it doesn't matter, write them down. After making a list, look for the intersection among these things, and find out what is connecting them together.

For example, I like to lecture, I like to earn money and help people intelligently save and invest their money, I like to read (psychology and philosophy in particular), I like to travel around, I like to make friends, and I like to share my findings with others. I make a list of things I like, and when I look for intersections, the best thing for me is to write and talk about the books I read, in this process, I can bring people together, I can read books myself and share with others, we create friendship and trust, and with trust we can do many things together, start a business, invest together etc. This is the process of finding the intersection.

You can find 25 things that interest you, look for intersections, and then go the technicalities if your area of interest is psychology, then you need to study the terminology of psychology. After studying the technical terms, you can become an insider and constantly interact with the outside world. We'll be given detailed steps to teach you how to go from layman to insider. For now, this is the second part, Passion.

The third is Purpose. A sense of purpose is very important for a person. “As social creatures, humans have an innate desire for connection and caring. We want to be connected to other people and we want to care for other people. At a basic biological level, we need to relate to others to survive and thrive; and, as a result, are neurochemically motivated to fulfill this need.” That is to say, when you go to help others, or be helped by others, the warm feeling that emerges in your heart, the feeling of happiness, is not as simple as helping, it will have a lot of added value.

“from a performance standpoint, purpose boosts motivation, productivity, resilience, and focus. And it’s a specific type of focus. Purpose shifts our attention off ourselves (internal focus) and puts it onto other people and the task at hand (external focus). In doing this, purpose guards against obsessive self-rumination”. What is "obsessive self-rumination”? That is, when you lack a sense of purpose, when you hear others being sarcastic, you will feel "is this going to work? am I completely wrong?".

“(obsessive self-rumination) is one of the root causes of anxiety and depression. By forcing you to look outside yourself, purpose acts as a force field. It protects you from yourself and the very real possibility of being swallowed whole by your new passion. To put this more technically, purpose seems to decrease the activity of the default-mode network”. What is the "default-mode network"? It's a psychology term, a brain network in charge of rumination. If you don't do anything, don't read books, don't listen to songs, and don't watch movies, you often think about it, and all kinds of ideas come up, and this state is called the default-mode network.

“Purpose seems to decrease the activity of the default-mode network, and increase the activity of the executive attention network, which is the network that governs external focus.” That's when you're able to move forward effectively, that's to pay attention to the execution network that's active. “Finally, there’s an even greater benefit to purpose: outside assistance. Purpose acts as a rallying cry, inspiring others and attracting them to your cause.” Don't forget that this author wrote "Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, which has a companion book, that is, "Exponential Organizations" that we once talked about. The most important concept in that book is MTP (Massive Transformative Purpose), which is the goal of grand change, and it is the most important thing you need to be clear before starting a business. This is called a sense of purpose, and a sense of mission is very important.

The fourth is autonomy. It is whether a person is doing something autonomously or being controlled by others to do something. The efficiency of the output in these two cases is completely different. As we all know, Google has a "20% time" principle, that is, every employee has 20% of the time a week about a day do whatever you want. These employees don't have to do work-related things, or even have to do things that are not related to work, so that Google's employees can keep coming up with new ideas. 3M has the "15% Culture" which means that every employee has 15% of the time to do things that are not related to work. The 3M Sticky Notes we often use today are invented by employees in this 15% of their free time. Because of this "15% Culture", they have a lot of inventions in their hands. So you have to have autonomy.

The fifth is sense of control. It's about whether a person can balance the challenge with the skill. If one is completely defeated by an impossible task, overwhelmed by the task, and breathless, then there is a good chance that he will give up; if the thing is particularly boring, doing the same action on the production line every day, then there is no challenge and no fun. What's really fun is the balance of challenges and skills. In this case, a person can easily reach the state of flow. This is the first piece, which is the motivation.

Part II Coming Soon

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