You're getting ready to set a goal. Whether it is self improvement or learning a new skill set, there are a few things you should be aware of when goal setting for an optimal experience. It is important to take a brutally honest self assessment when goal setting. What are your current skills in relation to the new goal you are trying to achieve? Is this a personal challenge, a novel idea, and do you currently have the resources (i.e., information, physical capacity. and time availability) needed to reach the goal? Is the purpose of your goal based on self-motivation/improvement or are you feeling pressured with the demands of others, a spouse, or an employer?
Being in the zone and reaching optimal performance occurs when your personal goal or challenge is something you are capable of achieving. When your skills exceed the goal that you face, this often results in boredom, and alternately, when the goal is too challenging, you may notice that you become anxious and riddled with self doubt, being too self critical, procrastinating, simply giving up, or feeling like a failure. Like the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, in order to be in the zone, or achieving "the flow", the goal must fall into the right range - just enough to challenge you, but not so much to overwhelm you. When you are in the zone, you become so completely engrossed in the task that you may lose awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. You may not be aware of anything else at this time but, you are in the zone because you are "hyperfocused"... all of your attention is on the task at hand; no distractions. Being in the zone brings a high level of gratification, a sense of empowerment, and personal achievement.
According to Csikszentmihalyi (2005), three conditions must be met in order to get in the zone (commonly referred to as "the flow"):
1. You must be involved in an activity with a clear set of measurable goals and progress. Having clear measurable goals helps to set a positive direction and detailed "how to" structure to the task.
2. Your goal must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps you to assess and potentially negotiate any changing demands. This assessment allows you to make adjustments in order to remain on task in order to stay in the zone.
3. You must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task and you own skills. You must have confidence in your ability to complete the task in order to achieve your goal.
In goal setting, when all three conditions are met, you will achieve "the flow" or being in the zone: You will experience the following things:
1. You will be "hyperfocused", or intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
2. You will have a feeling of oneness, being in sync, or merging of action and awareness (Csikszentmihalyi, 2005).
3. You will have a "quite mind" --a loss of reflective self-consciousness, excessive worry, and racing/negative thoughts.
4. You will achieve a sense of personal control over the situation or activity. You will feel a sense of mastery – feeling as if your goal is challenging, but one in which you are capable. "I didn't know my own strength"
5. You will lose all sense of time. You will be completely immersed in the activity and no attention is paid to time.
6. Your achieving the goal is its own reward. Experience of the activity is it own natural reward.
As I write this blog of setting realistic goals and achieving peak performance, I think about a recent accomplishment of a competitive professional athlete who has the tenacity and discipline to "stay in the zone" while achieving remarkable goals. While we may not all be a Allyson Felix, the most decorated mother/female track and field athlete surpassing Usain Bolt's record of world 12 championship gold medals, we all have the ability to achieve your our goals. Stay the course!!!