We’ve been exploring the challenge/skill balance aspect of Flow. My premise has been that the challenge/skills balance is not only one of the most important fundamental ingredients for Flow, but it is also relatively simple to manipulate to our favor. Most of the academic and popular psychology research and articles I’ve read have presented this balance as a fixed ratio for a given performer, task, and point in time.*
For any given performance activity there are almost always different technical and tactical approaches to take. Performers already use their awareness of their own abilities and knowledge of the activity to choose different techniques and tactics to ensure a quality performance. This nothing more than manipulating the challenge/skills balance, the same approach we can take to increase the likelihood of achieving a flow state during performance.
How do you train for it?
Back to toddlers and the learning process. Children spend a great deal of their time manipulating the challenge/skill balance. This is how they learn. From what I can tell from watching my son, the objective is to find a level of challenge that either creates frequent failure (when learning a new skill) or narrowly avoids it (when practicing a skill). This means doing things faster, slower, without looking, backwards, in different rooms on different surfaces, and so on.
When was the last time you drastically manipulated the tempo and intensity of your performance during training? Tried to perform a task with only a few of the usual tools you’d normally use? Tried to perform a task in reverse? We all do this a little; however my suspicion is that relatively few performers really take the time to explore the wider range of challenges. Exploring this wider range of challenges is the best way to continue learning and it is the only way to gain a meaningful awareness of the limits of our skills and training.
When we know our limits and how they apply to a wider variety of predictable and unpredictable performance scenarios, we can be tactical masters. We can maximize the benefit of manipulating the challenge/skills balance to our favor. This sets us up to succeed and sets us up to achieve flow more consistently.
Have fun out there.
*There is literature in developmental and educational psychology that connects flow and the process of manipulating the challenge/skill balance for learning and practice (but not performing).
Even Pearl Jam likes flow! I had long hair and was told I looked a lot like Eddie Vedder in 1992, 93, and 94. You can still see it when I get that really intense look on my face in class…