It is not the critic who counts … the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood … who at worst fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
The emotional reaction in the peak experience has a special flavor of wonder, of awe, of reverence, of humility and surrender.
Actualized Leaders engage in three “sequences” of productive endeavor: Confidence, Performance, and Renewal. Each of the three sequences contains a unique cognitive, emotional, and behavioral element that drives optimal performance. When these unique elements are developed and enhanced, the individual is more effective in activating the specific sequence. The purpose of this blog is to explore the Performance Sequence and to examine ways to improve the likelihood of experiencing what Maslow referred to as the “dividend” for being more self-actualized and living at our highest potential.
The Performance Sequence refers to an optimal state of performance, which today is also known as “Flow.” Flow was the term coined by the University of Chicago psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to describe the state of being fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, Flow is characterized by complete absorption in the moment where one often loses track of time, or forgets to eat, because of the profound sense of engagement in the activity. In more popular vernacular it is often referred to as being “in the zone.” In order to achieve Flow, the task or activity must be challenging, but not so challenging as to create anxiety, and also must match your current skill set, but not be so easy that it creates boredom. When you find this zone or “Flow Channel” between challenge and skill, you are more likely to experience Flow or Peak Performance as illustrated below.
The Performance Sequence
In order to better understand the Performance Sequence, it is important to understand the three elements that drive this sequence, and they follow: Cognitive: Hyperfocus; Emotional: Trust; and Behavioral: Flow.
The Performance Sequence starts with having Hyperfocus. Having an intense focus is critical not only for concentrating on the task-at-hand, but also for triggering the emotional (Trust) and behavioral (Flow) manifestations of Peak Performance. Hyperfocus allows us manage the normal day-to-day distractions of social media or pop culture so that we can intensely concentrate for sustained periods of time on the task at hand.
Following Hyperfocus is the Emotional Attribute of Trust. Trust refers to the emotional state of having a confident expectation in the character and performance of others. Trusting others allows us to delegate more effectively, often freeing up the time and space (or “runway” as I call it) to experience Flow. Moreover, Trust in one’s own ability is critical for managing the personal risk that is often required for performing at an optimal level.
Finally, from thinking and feeling with Hyperfocus and Trust comes the behavioral manifestation of Flow. Flow is that state of performing “in the zone” where one is totally immersed in an activity and able to perform at very high levels with seemingly little effort. We often think of Michael Jordan on the court as a quintessential example of this state. Music fans (albeit nerdy ones like me) often refer to Rush’s drummer Neil Peart playing “Tom Sawyer” as an example, and movie buffs may cite one of Meryl Streep’s 19 Academy Award-nominated roles as exemplifying this state of total immersion and transcendent performance. When these three Attributes are in place, you are more likely to experience this transcendent state of total immersion and satisfaction, which Maslow famously said gives a profound new sense of meaning to life itself.
Developing Peak Performance
If experiencing Peak Performance is indeed the “dividend” for being more self-actualized, then it behooves all of us to spend some time and energy reflecting on how to develop and increase this capacity within ourselves. And just like with the Confidence Sequence, there are specific steps you can take to develop and enhance your Performance Sequence.
- Review the earlier BLOG on Hyperfocus. Do you create the “space” or runway to experience the transcendence of Peak Performance or are you too busy updating social media, texting, or keeping up with the Kardashians?
- Review the earlier BLOG on Trust. Are you willing to extend trust to others to free up your space, and do you Trust your own ability to “swing for the fence” with your very best effort?
- Review the earlier blogs (2) BLOG 1 BLOG 2 on Flow. What would it take for you to lose track of time, or forget to eat lunch? When was the last time you felt totally immersed? Chances are that’s also the last time you truly felt alive.
While Confidence is absolutely necessary to achieve your highest potential, the Performance Sequence is the realization or actualization of your highest potential and purpose. It requires discipline, risk, and vulnerability to live in what Theodore Roosevelt referred to as the “arena” of life, as opposed to watching it pass you by on the sidelines. Life is more difficult in the arena, but also more fun and exciting. Roosevelt also reminds us that there are no guarantees in the arena and that you might go down swinging. But even if you fail, you will have failed while “daring greatly” so that your place will never reside with the cold, timid souls, and “Monday morning quarterbacks,” who were too afraid to risk defeat in their own pursuit of excellence and happiness.