Running workshops that facilitate the Zone of Optimal Performance
A recent article I read by Steven Kotler, the author of The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance triggered me to share with you some of the insights I have discovered.
How do we stay “in the zone” or “with the flow”? This is an optimal state of consciousness where we both feel our best and do our best.
“It is a transformation available to anyone, anywhere, provided that certain initial conditions are met.” Steven Kotler
In his book he researches action and adventure sport athletes and shares the flow triggers that helps them to reach this state.
During my dance classes I’ve often seen dancers surprising themselves by their performance. Achieving their potential, increasing technical ability and creativity are some of the outcomes I’m looking for.
For the purposes of this post I have adapted some of Steven’s flow triggers to explain how you can create a setting that evokes transformational qualities in students. There are four varieties of the triggers: Psychological, Environmental, Social and Creative.
1. Psychological Triggers
Intensely Focused Attention
“Producing flow requires long periods of uninterrupted concentration. Deep focus.” Steven Kotler
That is why I believe the workshop group should be determined from the beginning. No late comers should be tolerated or people who can’t commit themselves to the whole period. What might help in this respect is to place a note on the door and ask the receptionist not to let anyone in after the beginning of the class.
It helps the group to feel comfortable with each other, to build trust, to set goals and to concentrate.
It is important to have clear goals so that dancers can stay focused on the present moment and the current task. A clear structure and intention helps the mind to settle and not to wander.
I highly recommend this flow trigger for improving one’s performance. It is an extension of clear goals. I always tend to give group feedback but also what I believe is most important – individual feedback. It gives an instant suggestion of what you need to improve in order to get better. I also encourage each participant to give themselves constant feedback too.
If we receive and give feedback in real time, the mind doesn’t wander in “search of clues for betterment” and we can stay fully present and committed to the given task. Thus, it keeps us in the flow.
The Challenge/skills Ratio
Scientists refer to that as the “flow channel” which exists between boredom and anxiety. The task should be challenging enough to make us go beyond familiar limits. But not too great, as fear can often block us.
2. Environmental Trigger
This trigger helps dancers to improve their performance immensely. It means total physical awareness.
“Fifty percent of our nerve endings reside in our hands, feet, and face. We have five major senses. We also have proprioception to detect our body’s position in space, and vestibular awareness to help us maintain our balance.”
My classes are devised in such a way so as to pay attention to all these input streams. I work specifically to activate body parts with reduced sensitivity as well as to develop spacial awareness and stimulate the senses. Dance in general enhances vestibular awareness.
3. Social Triggers
I always start my classes with the phrase “You’re responsible for yourselves and for everyone around you.” I do that to emphasize the impact each individual has on the group.
Being in the flow together has an undeniable promise of success. Dancers should always be open and alert to possibilities so that they can prevent injuries, accidents and encourage each other to be better.
In order to stay in the flow the group needs clear, shared goals, good communication and concentration. The whole group should be on the same page, so when questions arise, the momentum will not be lost. At the beginning of the workshop certain rules should be established.
I like adding some explanation in my classes regarding the most important rule of improvisation “Yes, and…” which means to listen closely to what has been said and done, accept it and build upon it.
Equality is a trigger I always use in my classes. I do not allow visitors during the workshop. This not only disrupts the concentration of the group but can makes you feel judged and triggers the ego.
To help the group be in the flow the teacher should enroll participants with a similar skill level.
Another trigger is to give participants a sense of control. Each one can choose their level of intensity during the class within the frame of the given task and guidance.
4. Creative Triggers
Steven Kotler writes that creativity consists of “pattern recognition (the brain’s ability to link new ideas together) and risk-taking (the courage to bring those new ideas into the world). Both of these experiences produce powerful neurochemical reactions and the brain rides these reactions deeper into flow.”
We’ve heard many times that you can grow when you get out of your comfort zone. When we want more flow in our lives we need to expand our imagination, to look at problems from different angles. An important part of my workshop is giving compositional tasks to stimulate creative thinking in the minds of students and to generate movement material. I ask them to propose solutions to problems and recognize patterns in their own motion.
At the moment I’m also devising an exciting workshop for non-dancers. In the next couple of months I’ll share more about the new ventures that I’ve been working on.