The 4 Stages of FLOW

In a recent talk given by Steven Kotler about FLOW he states that there are 4 stages to FLOW – not 1, but 4. In this blog we will explore the 4 stages of flow and using surfing as an example to outline them.

These 4 stage are:

  • Struggle
  • Release
  • FLOW
  • Comedown


This diagram shows FLOW as a cycle. They revolve and fuel the each other. We want to maximise time in FLOW, by allowing release and not getting ATTACHED to the pains caused by FRUSTRATION and COMEDOWN phases.

Let using surfing lets break these down:


The struggle is all about the build up. The mental an physical preparation that we need to go through to access FLOW while surfing. This can take a lot of energy and motivation. This use of energy and motivation can cause feelings of frustration and stress and produce chemicals in the brain that fuel this.

For example surfing in winter, I have to get up in the cold, suit up, face icy cold conditions, run across burning sand and jump into cold water. Then comes the biggest frustration: paddling out! If you are not equipped with enough predisposed data to believe that it will be all worth it, it is easy to see why people get ATTACHED to the pain sensations caused by the struggle during the FRUSTRATION phase of FLOW. We will discuss how to avoid these attachment traps in another article. What comes next is…


Release is a sense of relaxation, like you are floating.  In surfing when I have made it out the back, a sense of clam comes over me. It’s an accomplishment as I’ve made it past the breakers and I am immediately filled with confidence as I know the hardest part is over. Kotller explains what is actually happening to your body right now is it is preparing itself to allow the nero chemicals to accept the FLOW state. Now when a wave comes, I am calm and I can tap into…


When a wave comes towards me and I paddle instinctively, reading it, knowing where the peak and shoulder are, where I will get the most power from, dopamine kicks in as does adrenaline, and I laser focus. Everything else disappears and when I stand up after feeling it is the right time. The wave and you are one and you are able to ride it without thinking, just doing. That feeling is incredible.

This lasts for as long as it has to. What’s important and what most people do not get is during this state you need to utilise and maximise when in this state and recognise when you are in it. It’s easy when you are surfing – lets just catch more waves, bigger waves etc… it’s a bit different when you are working.


This happens after flow, (it doesn’t happen straight away, depending on the high you experience which will last during the event and afterwards for about 2 hours normally or even days) – will determine the intensity of the come down. Your body is depleted of energy, chemicals and you need to replenish. You need to rest. If you got straight back into trying to get to flow you will find the struggle more difficult and might to get into FLOW again. Kotler explains that it is important to go through and not get attached to the feelings  ant and desire to be back in flow.

How do athletes who have mastered FLOW get through this? They do other things that give them FLOW, like playing video games, playing music etc. I personally cook – cooking allows me to focus on a specific task that is rewarding and gives me an altruistic high when I cook for my wife.

As FLOW is an intense drug like stage that the body produces naturally, it’s important to realise you need to replenish and repair your brain that produces this state.

Kotler also states that it is important not to get ATTACHED to anyone stage as it will impact your ability to hack FLOW optimally.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you would like to know more about FLOW feel free to contact me here or on twitter.


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