Choose to Believe

Developing the skill of confidence sets the stage for the type of performance that successful performers refer to in terms such as “an unshatterable self-esteem”, or a knowing that you can do no wrong.

Having a sense of control over what you are doing is one of the key components of flow. We are not talking about an absolute control, but rather a perception of being in control; or, more accurately, a lack of worry about failure, that characterizes the performer in flow. Staying resolute, both in focus and in self-belief, is critical to success in the face of high challenge. It frees you from any sense of fear of failure, and creates a feeling of empowerment for tasks to be executed. This ‘unshatterable’ self-esteem emanates from a belief that you have what it takes for the tasks in front of you. This leads us to another defining feature of flow: challenge-skill balance.

A balance between challenges and skills defines the environmental context in which flow can occur. Challenge can be thought of more broadly as the demands in a situation, or the opportunities for action; skills as one’s capacity to act or deal with a situation. Challenges and skills need to be well-matched for success; when out of balance, negative emotional states occur. For example, if one is constantly placed in a situation where the challenge is seen to be greater than one’s current skills, anxiety will result. Conversely, if one’s skills outweigh the demands of a situation, boredom or apathy will result. It is a finely-balanced equation that allows a person to enter, or to remain, in flow. Not only do challenges and skills need to be in balance—they also need to be above a person’s usual level for the high energy state of flow to occur. When skills and challenges are balanced, but not extending the individual, a relaxed (or bored) mind state will be present. While being relaxed has positive outcomes, when optimal performance is important, having high energy and a progressive ‘raising of the bar’ as skills develop, will facilitate ongoing productivity and a flow mindset.

A key point to keep in mind in relation to challenges and skills is that it is not the objective, but rather the perceived level, of challenge and skill that defines quality of experience. So, it comes back to an individual’s self-perceptions: a confident performer carries with them a powerful weapon for success. The confident person believes they have what it takes to meet the challenge; they are more easily able to focus on the task; and are likely to experience a sense of control over what they are doing. This success-oriented approach to tasks will help to keep the performer free of the self-consciousness that plagues the self-doubting person. Experiencing freedom from worry about what others think of you, or your performance, describes another one of the key features of flow state: loss of self-consciousness. All too often, we are shackled by our perceptions of how others might evaluate our performance. One unfortunate result of this self-consciousness is an inability to fully focus on the task: our mind is divided between the task at hand, and self-questioning our ability, or with being concerned about what others are thinking of us. Loss of self-consciousness is one of the most liberating aspects of flow. Being free of the voice inside our head that constantly calls us to question what we are doing, and instead being able to direct all that energy toward the task, sets the stage for performing well, and for enjoying what we are doing.