You are setting goals and trying to achieve peak performance, great! While you are trying to stay in the zone, or achieving "flow", let's examine some important processes (i.e., essential factors) that impact achieving "flow". Flow activities, by their very nature, must be challenging. In order to exercise your skills, expand your capacities, and surpass your limits, you must face some degree of challenge. However, in order for flow to occur, the challenge barometer must be set just right. As as psychologist helping clients to set goals, or achieve peak performance, reality testing is essential. Goals should be based on your existing skills or capabilities...it's a delicate balance. Things that are too challenging will overwhelm you. Many of us set unobtainable goals, we adopt the motto "go big or go home!" On the other hand, when the challenge is too low, you will become bored. lose momentum and quit. Thus, the challenge must ever so slightly exceed your skills. It must call upon your highest skills, peak your interest, and spark your motivation, but it must also be within the realm of possibility.
Top level athletes, successful business people and achievers in all fields (i.e., project managers, accountants, Senior Executive Service, marathon runners, bakers, and IT technicians, etc...) all set goals. According to most high performance experts, the challenge should be about four percent greater than our skills (Kotler, 2014). Four percent is not a lot, and most people overshoot this number and set the challenge too high. Why does this occur? You often don't not spend much time assessing your skills. Getting the percentage right for you means first spending a significant amount of time in an activity and testing your capacities. For example, if you want to see if you can swim ten laps, you should first make sure you can swim at least eight laps. Similarly, you shouldn’t challenge yourself to write 5,000 words per day, if you have not already written several pages on a daily basis.
When you set the challenge right you should feel invigorated, excited, and eager to get started. The reason is that while you can be fairly sure you can achieve the challenge you have set for yourself, it is both novel and untested. Further, it represents an essential component of flow – that is to conquer the tasks, you must become the best version of yourself.