The Optimized Brain: A Workshop on Flow States with Steven Kotler


Introduction to the Optimized Brain, with Steven Kotler

Flow is technically defined as an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and we perform our best. Steven Kotler runs through the neuroanatomic shifts that make it possible. If your guess is that the brain somehow works harder or faster during flow states, you may be surprised to learn that everything actually slows down thanks to what's called transient hypofrontality.


This is the first video in a five-part series with Steven Kotler on the "optimized brain" available in playlist form here.

The Neurochemistry of Flow States, with Steven Kotler

Steven Kotler explains the neurochemical changes during flow states that strengthen motivation, creativity and learning. "The brain produces a giant cascade of neurochemistry. You get norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin and endorphins. All five of these are performance enhancing neurochemicals." Kotler discusses how each amplifies intellectual and cognitive performance.


This is the second video in a five-part series with Steven Kotler on the "optimized brain" available in playlist form here.

What’s Actually Happening When Your Brain Goes “Wow”

Beyond neuroanatomy and neurochemistry, flow states rely on shifts in the brain's neuroelectricity. The brain's default state is one of waking consciouness. Flow alters your brain waves to sit on the border of daydreaming and dreaming.

Understanding Flow Triggers, with Steven Kotler

There are seventeen triggers for flow that can each draw your attention to the now. Mastering flow means building these triggers into your life. Two of these triggers are high consequences and deep embodiment. Kotler explains how these triggers enact flow for people ranging from snowboarders to surfers to Montessori students.

Hack Your Flow: Understanding Flow Cycles, with Steven Kotler

We now know that flow works not like an on-off switch but in a four-part cycle. Understanding these cycles can help you to more often access flow. The parts of the cycle are as follows: struggle, release, flow, and recovery. To hack flow, explains Kotler, you have to learn to struggle better and recover better.

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A major new international study highlights the mismatch between young people's career aspirations and jobs, and the impact this will have on the world economy.


The OECD study Dream Jobs? Teenagers' Career Aspirations and the Future of Work is based on the latest PISA survey of 500,000 15-year-olds from 41 countries.

• Young people's career aspirations have remained largely frozen since 2000.

• Gender and social class play a big role in framing their expectations.

• Davos school visits show how these limited preconceptions can be broken.

While the world of work has undergone huge changes since the first PISA survey was carried out in 2000, the results show that the career expectations of young people have shifted little over this period. Surprisingly, they have actually narrowed. Now, more young people than before appear to be picking their dream job from among the most popular, traditional occupations, like teachers, lawyers or doctors. And their choices are heavily influenced by gender and social background.

"Too many teenagers are ignoring or are unaware of new types of jobs that are emerging. The analysis suggests that, in many countries, young people's career aspirations increasingly bear little relation to actual labour market demand," says Andreas Schleicher, OECD's Director of Education and Skills.

There has been a change in career choices since 2000, but not that much. While there was an increase in girls citing "doctor" (15.6%), up from 11% in 2000, they still rated "teacher" with a high 9.4% (11.1% in 2000). "Business manager" moved up in girls' answers from 3% to 5%. For boys, "engineers" increased from 4.9% to 7.7% and "business manager" stayed fairly similar with just a 0.1% decrease; "doctor" is still a favourite across the board and now also in the top three answers with 6%.

There are noticeable differences by gender and background. Among high performers in mathematics or science, boys in the study were much more likely to express an interest in becoming science or engineering professionals than girls. The reverse was true for health-related careers. The most advantaged high performers are more than twice as likely to anticipate having a job at a professional or managerial level as equally able but disadvantaged students. Among high performers, more males than females expect not to complete higher education and do not expect to have a professional or managerial job.

Further, many young people, particularly boys and teenagers from the most disadvantaged social backgrounds, anticipate undertaking jobs that are at a high risk of automation. The degree to which this is true varies by country. In English-speaking and Nordic countries, the risk of automation tends to be lower. Elsewhere, notably in Japan and the Slovak Republic, around half of the jobs that young people anticipate doing are at risk of automation.

And teenagers' career aspirations are similar to those of primary-aged children. The Drawing the Future study asked children aged 7-11 in 20 countries to draw a picture of the job they wanted to do when they grew up. The findings published during the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting 2018 showed that gender stereotyping is visible from a young age and is a global issue.

Tackling ingrained stereotypes

It is vital that young people don't rule out options because they believe, implicitly or explicitly, that their future career choices are limited by their gender, ethnicity or socio-economic background. Children often base their aspirations on the jobs their parents, friends and neighbours do, and on TV and social media. Young people need to be given the opportunity to meet a wide range of people from the world of work who can help bring learning to life and show them how the subjects they are studying are relevant to their futures. If they don't know what opportunities are out there – if they have never seen a scientist or an engineer, a male nurse or a female firefighter – how can they aspire to such jobs?

For this reason, and to mark the 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum, the UK-based charity Education and Employers, in partnership with the Swiss NGO MOD-ELLE and with support from Deloitte, organised for 50 participants to visit the Davos primary and secondary schools and meet the students.

In the primary school, the children, aged 9-12, had drawn pictures of the job they wanted to do when they grew up. Delegates went into different classrooms and answered questions from the children about their job and career route. Questions such as "What was your favourite subject at school? What was your first job? What's the most difficult thing about your job? Does your job make a difference to people?" The question and answer sessions all took place in German and for the guests who didn't speak the language, parents, and in some cases, some of the older children acted as translators.

The secondary school event began with the launch of the OECD's Dream Jobs report by Andreas Schleicher. As well as the PISA data, the report, written in collaboration with Education and Employers, featured quotes from young people. For the launch, the Davos students aged 13-15 were asked to write a letter about their views on the future of the world, the issues that matter to them and their own career aspirations. The need to tackle climate change, international conflict and poverty emerged as consistent concerns. Some of their letters can be seen here.

The Forum participants visited classrooms and discussed the letters with students, shared their insights and experience in areas including science, environment, technology and equality, and answered questions about their job and career route.

Research has shown such a simple action of going to visit a school and chat to young people can have a significant impact on their lives. Martin Flütsch, Principal of the Davos schools, said after the visits: "There is no doubt that it will change the future direction of some of our students' lives. It is true that 'You can't be what you can't see' and the visitors helped broaden their horizons, raise their aspirations and challenged ingrained gender stereotypes. They helped get them excited about the subjects they are studying and motivated them to study harder and try their best to achieve their potential."

Every young person, wherever they live, and whatever their ethnic and socio-economic background should have the right to hear first-hand about jobs and the world of work. Who is so busy that they can't spare an hour a year to visit a school and chat with students about their job and career route?

It is the one relatively easy thing we can do to improve the future for our children and create equal opportunities for everybody.

Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

  • Philosopher Peter Singer cites his top three ethical issues in the world today as: extreme poverty; climate change, which is related to poverty; and the way humans treat animals.
  • Any rational being should be interested in trying to understand how they ought to live, and whether they are doing things that are right or wrong. Singer suggests asking yourself important questions. When it comes to extreme poverty, ask: "Is it okay for me just to be living my life in my society and not doing anything for people who, through no fault of their own, are living in extreme poverty?"
  • For climate change, ask how you can put pressure on political leaders to take serious steps to prevent a climate change catastrophe that will disproportionately affect the poor. When it comes to animal cruelty, ask: "Am I complicit in the suffering that's being inflicted on animals, especially in factory farms but in other forms of farming as well? Am I complicit in that when I buy those products? And, if so, does that mean that I need to stop buying them?"



Content Warning:
The content in this article may be triggering to some readers. This article contains discussion around the topics of sexual assault, rape, sexual violence, trauma and PTSD. Please read at your own discretion.


  • Between 17-25% of women and 1-3% of men will report an instance of sexual abuse within their lifetime - however, research suggests up to 80% of sexual violence goes unreported, so the number of people who have experienced sexual abuse is much higher than you think.
  • A 2004 study takes a look at the psychological healing process sexual abuse survivors experience within the first 21 months after their assault.
  • Results of this study prove the decrease in behavioral self-blame that survivors reported feeling within the first 21 months after their attack greatly aided in their recovery.


How common is sexual assault and abuse?

woman sitting alone on couch sad concept female sexual assault survivor

17-25% of American women have reported a sexual assault sometime in their life.

Photo by fizkes on Shutterstock

Sexual assault can take many different forms but generally refers to sexual contact that occurs without the explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include attempted rape, fondling or unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts and penetration of the victim's body (also known as rape).

According to the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the rate of reported sexual assault and rape has decreased by 63% from 1993 (when there were 4.3 sexual assault reports per 1,000 people) to 2016 (when there were 1.2 sexual assault reports per 1,000 people.)

While some may look at these statistics and think the risk of sexual assault and rape are diminishing, something of note when dealing with sexual assault statistics is that these statistics are only ever representative of reported cases of sexual trauma.

In reality, these kinds of results only account for sexual assaults that have been reported - and according to the U.S Department of Justice (2018), an estimated 80% of sexual assaults go unreported.

RAINN statistics (2016) on sexual violence:

  • Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.
  • One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
  • About 3% of American men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

Other statistics fall closely in line with these numbers, as you can see in this 2017 study, where it was reported that around 17-25% of women and around 1-3% of men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Surviving sexual abuse: A look at the psychopathology of sexual abuse survivors 21 months after their trauma

sad man sitting on couch concept male sexual assault survivor

3% of American men have reported sexual assault sometime in their life.

Photo by Sam Wordley on Shutterstock

A 2004 study (Mary P. Koss and Aurelio Jose Figueredo) of the healing process of sexual trauma over the first 21 months proves significant improvements in the psychopathology of sexual abuse survivors.

During this study, reported rape survivors (59 participants) were assessed four times over the course of 21 months after their sexual trauma.

Researchers used the "Rape Attribution Questionnaire", which consists of three 7-item subscales that assess the survivor on the following criteria: Behavioral Self-Blame, Characterological Self-Blame, and External Blame.

This questionnaire consists of sentences such as "how often have you thought: I was assaulted because…" with the participants choosing answers that range from 1 (never) to 5 (very often). This questionnaire is used to gauge the psychopathology of the assault survivor based on how they view their traumatic experience.

The results of the Koss and Figueredo study suggest that many things happen within the first 2 years of a person experiencing sexual trauma…

Causal attributions: trying to find the "why"...
First, uncontrollable and traumatic acts (such as rape) stimulate what is known as "causal attributions", which are defined as our attempts at explaining the situation "rationally".

This leads survivors of sexual trauma to ask themselves questions such as "why did this happen to me?" and "what could I have done differently?"

Behavioral Self-Blame increases in the first few months after sexual trauma
In the months after the initial trauma, Behavioral Self-Blame increases. Survivors begin to question if there was anything they could have done to prevent the attack and can even begin to place blame on themselves (a common example for women is thinking about what they were wearing, if it was too provocative, if they encouraged the attacker in any way, etc).

Initially, after an assault, it's common for our body and mind to go into "protective mode", which is often the "numb" feeling many people experience after sexual abuse. The increase in behavioral self-blame increases the level of global distress in the survivor, bringing them out of the "numb" mode and oftentimes making their assault feel "real".

This often causes symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) such as flashbacks and anxiety.

Characterological Self-Blame increases, which leads to severe spikes in PTSD symptoms
Characterological Self-Blame also increases in the initial stages after the sexual trauma, once we have been brought out of the numb mode by the increase of our global distress levels. Survivors begin to wonder if what happened to them was a result of who they are as a person (example, thinking that "bad things happen to bad people".) They start to question who they are as a person and if they deserve what happened to them.

This increase in characterological self-blame also spikes the global distress of the survivor, leading to more severe PTSD symptoms and can often lead to self-destructive behavior.

Looking outside ourselves for answers often gives a reason to isolate and "shut down"
External blame and maladaptive beliefs form - which can mean the survivor begins to look for blame outside of themselves, often isolating themselves from the society that harmed them. The survivor begins to adapt their beliefs to attempt to understand what happened to them and why.

In this initial aftermath of sexual trauma, sexual assault survivors may seek to understand the reasons for what happened by blaming external forces (such as their attacker or society as a whole), or they can try to seek answers by turning to internal explanations (often taking their own behaviors and actions into judgment).

21 months after sexual trauma: behavioral and characterological self-blame decrease, driving recovery
A 2001 study (Frazier, Berman & Steward) concluded that Behavioral Self-Blame (example: blaming what we did that night to "provoke" the assault) was consistently associated with more distress among victims of rape or sexual assault.

However, Characterological Self-Blame (example: blaming who we are for what happened) leads to an ever higher distressing and harmful effect on the survivor's overall health. These causal attributions and the self-blame that many survivors put onto themselves directly influence the severity of their global distress.

The results of the Koss and Figueredo study prove that while behavioral/characterological self-blame, isolation, and PTSD increase within the initial months after the attack, the decrease in behavioral self-blame that survivors reported feeling within the first 21 months after their attack greatly aided in their recovery.

You are not alone.

Psychiatrist Judith Herman explains why individual and/or group therapy is so helpful to survivors of sexual abuse:

"Trauma isolates: The group re-creates a sense of belonging. Trauma shames and stigmatizes: The group bears witness and affirms. Trauma degrades: The group restores your sense of humanity."

Need help? Call 800-656-4673 (HOPE).

The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 100% safe and confidential - when you place your call, only the first 6 numbers of your phone number are used to route the call to a hotline center in your area.

Dissatisfaction with democracy in developed nations is at a record high.


Since 1995, the University of Cambridge's Centre for the Future of Democracy has gauged people's views on democracy. Their most recent report, spanning 154 nations, reveals some of the highest levels of discontent since records began.

  • Dissatisfaction with democracy is at its highest since records began.
  • United States and Brazil show the highest levels of dissatisfaction.
  • Small, high-income nations eg. Luxembourg, Denmark have lowest levels.
  • Dissatisfaction often linked to economic shocks and scandals.

"We find that dissatisfaction with democracy has risen over time and is reaching an all-time global high, in particular in developed countries," said the report's author, Dr Roberto Foa.


Global democratic malaise

In the mid-nineties, countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia seemed to be relatively satisfied with their democracies. Since then, the proportion of people expressing dissatisfaction has risen from 47.9% to 57.5%.

Some of the world's largest democratic countries, such as the United States and Brazil, are experiencing the highest levels of dissatisfaction, with Mexico, Australia and the United Kingdom seeing their highest level of dissatisfaction on record. Japan, Greece and Spain are also inching closer to all-time highs.

'Islands of contentment'

However, not all hope is lost. People in some countries – primarily small, high-income democracies like Denmark, Switzerland and Norway – are showing great confidence in their democratic institutions. These countries form part of the so-called "Island of Contentment" – a small subset of nations, accounting for just 2% of the world's population, where less than a quarter of the citizenry express dissatisfaction with democracy.

Shock and awe

While the report demonstrates a marked increase in dissatisfaction, it doesn't conclude why. However, 25 years of data does point to a correlation between levels of dissatisfaction and large-scale events such as economic shocks and political scandals.

Global Satisfaction With Democracy 2020\u200b

Rising dissatisfaction in democracies representing 2.43 billion individuals.

Image: Global Satisfaction With Democracy 2020

Events leading up to the current all-time high include the start of the refugee crisis in Europe, Brexit, and the elections of Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

The future of democracy?

Voters falling out of love with democracy was one of the talking points at this year's World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.

In the Davos session Democratic Capitalism: Dead End or Shared Destiny? participants discussed the way forward for capitalist democracies.

Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

  • Approximately $68 trillion will pass from boomers to millennials over the next few decades in what's known as the Great Wealth Transfer.
  • 90% of family wealth is gone by the time the third generation comes around, primarily due to familial conflict.
  • Social capital advisor Richard Tafel suggests 4 steps families should follow so they transfer wealth in a way that does the most amount of social good.


The U.S. is going through the largest transfer of wealth in history. The question for many ultra-high net worth individuals (HNI) is how to make the passing on of wealth purposeful and impactful.

Many of us who weren't raised in wealth believe that if we just had "more," all would be well. But having worked with many wealthy families and foundations in my career, I've discovered that wealth brings its own set of challenges. Knowing how to pass wealth down properly is one of them.

The time to do this right has never been better. America's high net worth individuals are experiencing two dramatic trends. First, they are part of what is often referred to as the "Great Wealth Transfer," with approximately $68 trillion estimated to pass from boomers to millennials over the next few decades.

Second, the generational transfer of wealth often doesn't go well. In fact, one recent U.S. Trust survey showed that 90% of family wealth is gone by the time the third generation comes around. The primary reason is familial conflict.

Added to the stress of getting this right, as most wealthy parents are well aware, is the damage large sums of money can have on their children's ability to craft their own lives and break out of their parents' shadow. U.S. Trust Company, Insights on Wealth and Worth, reported that more than 50% of all wealthy parents are not confident their children will be prepared to handle a financial inheritance.

To further complicate this transfer moment, the generations have differing views on "doing good." Many in the older generation feel a responsibility to give back to society through philanthropy, often a family foundation, while most young inheritors I've worked with are much more interested in for-profit social ventures or a hybrid for-profit/non-profit model.

Passing on wealth appears simple, but doing it correctly requires quite a bit of work.

Common questions raised by HNIs about passing on their inheritance include:

  • How do I preserve the family legacy for multiple generations?
  • How do I accomplish this without damaging the next generation?
  • How do I accomplish while providing the greatest social impact for good?

Based on my experience as an advisor to high net worth families, I suggest four steps toward accomplishing these goals.

1. Remove the secrecy, establish transparency

A golden key in a door. Key with money symbol.

Photo: Shutterstock

Addressing the secrecy around money in families is an important first step.

In my first job after graduating from divinity school, I served on the staff of Memorial Church at Harvard. Part of my job required me to meet some of the best-known wealthy families in America and ask their support for our annual appeal. What struck me the most at these meetings was the families' trepidation about giving money away because they were not sure how long their funds would last. They explained that there was secrecy within the family around their inherited money, which left them with a lack of clarity about their own philanthropy.

Secrecy breeds fear in these situations. HNIs often underestimate the effects of secrecy and the ability of their inheritors to see the big picture. One solution is to begin an open dialog facilitated by a dispassionate professional coach. As an outsider, a coach is in an ideal position to interview all of the stakeholders about their values, hopes, and fears, and to bring everyone together, in person, if possible.

The meeting should include a candid conversation about the extent and current status of the family's assets, as well as an honest discussion around the family's values. A trusted advisor such as a CPA, attorney or wealth manager can be helpful in providing factual information and historical background, if appropriate.

Having worked with hundreds of clients in these situations, I've discovered a pattern; we all share some pretty common values, including variations on family, love, creativity, honesty, faith, health, truth, knowledge, and economic security. Finding out individual values ahead of the family meeting can help move everyone toward an articulation of the family's values together. A question can set the stage for a productive outcome: What legacy do we as a family want to pass on? What are our family values that will guide those decisions? What tangible steps can we take to make sure our decisions reflect our values?

This is also a great time for a good facilitator to help uncover fears. Underlying wealth transfer are deep emotions. For example, the younger generation that inherits the wealth often experiences shame at not having created it. This can lead to impostor syndrome: Parents imposing their values on their children without necessarily listening to their children's thoughts and values. That, coupled with subtle threats of disinheritance, can lead to harmful results. Many inheritors fear that they'll be cut out of the family legacy if they don't go along. Inheritors sometimes share fears that they won't know how to manage the inheritance. Using an unbiased facilitator or coach can be helpful here.

2. Making the legacy real

Using the facilitated time to discuss the family's legacy goals can have a profound social impact. Considerations include understanding the difference between charitable giving and social-impact investing; tax consequences of giving; and the pluses and minuses of various charitable vehicles.

Discuss the structures you will put in place to achieve your goal. For example: How will you identify worthwhile social ventures to donate to or invest in? Do you want to be solicited directly by prospective non-profit beneficiaries? Do you have a family foundation, or will social-impact investing be accomplished in another way? In my experience, more inheritors want to roll up their sleeves and have more of a personal impact in ways their parents did not. Writing out a well-conceived plan helps bring clarity to the family's goals and objectives. That includes deciding how much of your investment will be used to build the infrastructure needed to help the organizations that you support succeed. What budget is necessary to make the legacy dream a reality?

Having an impact means more than giving away money. It means being very strategic about how, what, and where you give.

3. Selecting the Right Vehicle

A coin or money passing between two hands. Giving a coin. Taking a coin.

Photo: Shutterstock

With transparency achieved, values agreed upon, and strategy for the legacy impact determined, it is time to decide on the appropriate vehicle. It is important to consult with experienced advisors who are well-versed in philanthropy at this stage. Relying on poorly informed or strategically unprepared counsel can and most likely will cause more harm than good and can be very costly to the family legacy.

Your advisors should have deep expertise in the philanthropic arena, including social-impact investing, from both the wealth transfer and non-profit beneficiary perspectives. Far too often, well-intentioned plans are not properly executed. Errors can result in misdirected and/or depleted philanthropic resources, leaving the family legacy in disarray.

An experienced consultant should be able to quickly explain the difference between a private and a public foundation. They can help you develop and articulate your mission and align that mission with your strategy. They can assist with identifying organizations to get involved with and help determine the right ones where you should become part of the board and which ones you should volunteer at, as well as help you determine how much should be given to any one organization.

Hybrid organizations that combine charitable giving with social-impact investing often bridge the generational divide. This requires getting the proper structures built early. Families that seek to cut corners in the beginning stages are often frustrated by failed structures later. As someone who has done this work for many years, I'm often humbled working with accountants and lawyers in the field who continue to educate me on the possibilities and the power of getting it right in the beginning.

4. Join or create a network of peers

In addition to accountants, wealth advisors and attorneys, it is well worth the family's time and money to join networks of other high net worth individuals, where they can meet their peers and learn from them. Organizations such as Nexus (next-generation philanthropy) and the Family Office Association of America (which offers specific workshops in intergenerational wealth transfer) are two good examples, but there are many more, and some might be local to you.

I have found that dealing with families in helping shape their philanthropic and social-impact investing goals is greatly rewarding work. It allows me to get beyond the transactional relationships and build trust with my clients and their other advisors.

The most critical message for those passing down wealth is to remember that you are passing down more than just wealth. You are passing down your values.

The great wealth transfer taking place is a tremendous opportunity to make significant changes for good in our world. Following these guidelines can help move you and your family toward a true legacy with a real impact for good.

Richard Tafel is director of Marcum Social Capital Advisors, a division of Raffa-Marcum's Nonprofit & Social Impact Group. He can be reached at richard.tafel@marcumllp.com.

Marcum LLP is one of the largest independent accounting and advisory firms in the U.S., with offices in major business markets across the country and select international locations. For more information, visit marcumllp.com.