Flow and the art of performance

In 1997 Ellen Post Foster and Alan Schonberger's book 'Skiing and the art of carving' was published. I remember this book very well as the 'carving revolution' within Alpine skiing was well underway with ski design having changed massively allowing the wider public to experience the phenomenon of carving. Inspired by this title, and the ethos behind it, I decided to write this blog about 'flow state' and how one of the many benefits of experiencing flow is its positive impact not only on performance but the art, or creativity, of that performance.


Irish Interski Team Training - photo credit Derek Tate

With the celebration of the New Year, and bearing in mind the year we have all just endured, it is more important than ever that we should find creativity, artistry and enjoyment from the tasks that we perform. There could be no better New Year's resolution than understanding, experiencing and knowing how to find flow and this blog follows on nicely from my previous two; What are flow activities? and Flow can improve your mental health.


However, it is not enough to just know about and understand flow as achieving this state is deeply embedded in how you learn from the outset and will have a bearing on whether the performances that follow are 'allowed to be creative'. This brings to mind one of the quotes from my recently published book - Learn, Enjoy, Flow and Grow depicted in the picture below:



The importance of mindful learning

Mindful learning has been widely written about and studied by Ellen Langer. Among her most popular books are 'The Power of Mindful Learning' and 'Counterclockwise: Mindful health and the power of possibility'. Like mindfulness, mindful learning is about being in the present moment which it also has in common with the experience of flow. It involves developing a heightened sense of awareness that allows the learner to notice novelty and newness in the tasks they are performing which in turn allows for creativity to take place. To be successful at learning mindfully the participant needs to use all of their senses; visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (VAK). And this is something that the teacher can help with by using the right teaching styles/strategies.


Teaching styles

Muska Mosston's spectrum of teaching styles are as relevant today as they were back in 1966 when they were first introduced. The theory is based around a decision making framework whereby the teacher/learner relationship moves from a very teacher controlled environment to more and more decisions being taken by the learner. There are, of course, many reasons why the different styles are relevant to each specific situation but the ethos is that the more the learner can be helped to acquire the necessary skills and take responsibility for their own learning the richer and deeper that experience will be. Moreover, when the learner is allowed to discover rather than be told then there is much more opportunity for creativity. This teaching approach marries beautifully with the 'mindful learning' approach already discussed.


Skill acquisition revisited

There have been many models of skill acquisition over the years and in my role as a ski teacher, coach and educator/examiner of teachers I have become very familiar with these models. This prompted me to develop the Diamond Model of Skill Acquisition (DMSA) which I first introduced in 2018 with the model and theory being incorporated into the Irish Association of Snowsports Instructors teaching and learning materials. More recently the model has been integrated into my book Learn, Enjoy, Flow & Grow with further developments made and expanded upon in that text.


The reason that the DMSA is so relevant to this topic is because the model is a synthesis of seemingly loosely connected components that when combined create a learning pathway that has creativity, performance, personal growth and well-being at its core and that is what makes it unique. It is a combination of skill acquisition, mindful learning/discovery teaching and flow theory.


"The Diamond Model of Skill Acquisition is a synthesis of seemingly loosely connected components that when combined create a learning pathway that has creativity, performance, personal growth and well-being at its core."



Flow psychology - an updated model

The model below is an updated model of flow based on findings of my own Masters research (Tate, 2019). The crucial point here (in relation to this post) is that during the 'preparatory zone', (with its four foundations of clear goals, unambiguous feedback, challenge/skills balance and focused attention), mindful learning strategies and discovery teaching styles need to be employed if the learner is to be given the freedom to become creative with their performance and consequently move into the flow zone and experience some or all of the six characteristics. The benefits of such an approach are clearly laid out in the 'growth zone'.



So, flow and creativity are intertwined. Learning in a creative and mindful way can lead to experiencing flow, while being in flow allows the participant to be more creative. While there are many activities that one would naturally associate with creativity such as dance, art, music etc. the reality is that any activity has the potential for creative performance if the performer is allowed to learn in the right way.


"The reality is that any activity has the potential for creative performance if the performer is allowed to learn in the right way."



Make 2021 a great year

So, how are you going to make 2021 a great year? What are you going to learn? Will you challenge yourself and get outside of your comfort zone? Will you be creative? And, perhaps, more importantly will you allow yourself to engage with a more mindful approach, embracing trial and error, so that you can discover novel ways to perform? My recent book Learn, Enjoy, Flow & Grow can be your guide. Check out the short video below.



I wish you all a fantastic 2021 filled with mindful learning, creativity, flow and awesome performance. Happy New Year.


References

Tate, D. (2018, June). Developing your skill with mindfulness and flow: The new diamond model of skill acquisition. Flowing with Mindfulness, 1–5. Retrieved from https://www.flowingwithmindfulness.com/articles

Tate, D. (2019). Mindful ascending for flowing descending: Can teaching alpine ski instructors mindfulness strategies foster more flow experiences on the slopes? Buckingshire New University.

Tate, D. N. (2020). Learn, Enjoy, Flow and Grow: Using the principles of positive psychology to help find passion and meaning in life (First). Parallel Dreams Publishing.

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