The Challenge-Skills Balance
In an earlier post I said that flow follows focus. Flow demands it. You have to be focused on the task at hand in order to have any hope to trigger flow.
However if the task seems just slightly more difficult than what you are accustomed to then you focus in and flow can be triggered.
Think of a group of jazz musicians in a jam session. The music is free flowing and the band seems as though they have been practicing for days to pleasurable music . In fact the players are likely in flow and are feeding off of each other.
The musicians are being challenged ever so slightly as to what is going to happen next. The research in this area has indicated that seven factors show up when flow is triggered and the challenge-skills balance is in play.
These factors include confidence, optimism, mindset, actual skills, tolerance for anxiety, ability to delay gratification and societal values. A jazz band with each player anticipating the other’s moves must have all of these elements.
As a musician is playing a stage it must come with a certain level of confidence. The musician couldn’t be up on stage if they lacked confidence. Optimism and mindset come with the goal to finish the set and finish strong. The goal is clear: complete the music and gain admiration by the audience.
The band would not be playing and the musicians would not be performing if they didn’t have actual skills. Tolerance for anxiety is primary as the set can’t be marred by worry and fear that all will go wrong.
Each player gets to perform and each player must wait their turn, which is the ability to delay gratification. And finally, the values coming into the set, into the organization of the band must be agreed upon.
The jam is complete. To us it sounded perfect, the musicians shrugged it off like it was nothing and because they were in flow it was nothing. It was as if they could do it in their sleep; another characteristic of flow.
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