The main reason why some athletes are light-years ahead of the competition and display otherworldly performances is their ability to get themselves into a state where optimal performance can happen. Prof. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned psychologist and expert in the field of optimal performance, was the one who gave this phenomenon the name “FLOW”.
Flow is a psychological state where optimal performance can happen; where an athlete with high skills faces high challenges and as a result performs beyond what they seemed capable of or what could have been expected of them; a state where, even though the opposite is true, they do not seem to be in control of what they are doing and what is happening.
There are many true masters of flow, one of the best was without a doubt an athlete known by the name of Michael Jordan. He was special because he understood what was necessary to achieve his best and to perform the way he did.
When Does Flow Happen?
The diagram above explains why Michael Jordan but also his teammates were performing at a level that enabled them to annihilate the competition in their six championship runs in the 1990s.
The reason why MJ was the most outstanding basketball player of all time can probably be found in this diagram. Whenever he was playing basketball, you would have found him in the upper right quadrant of the diagram, he was in flow. He possessed high skills but also enjoyed the toughest challenges on the court.
The most important factor to consider in achieving your optimal performance, however, and this is where you need to give MJ even more credit, is to understand that the level of skills and challenges which create the state of flow are down to your own perception and interpretation of the skills-challenge dynamic.
If you have high skills but do not believe in them, it will be impossible for you to get into the zone of optimal performance. Confidence in your skills plays the most vital part in why some of the greatest athletes perform at an optimal level and thrive in fierce competition while others buckle under pressure and cannot perform at the level they are capable of.
It might be comforting to know that anyone can reach the zone of optimal performance either by improving their skills or by adjusting the challenges they face, or should I better say their perception thereof.