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A talented college runner asked contacted me wondering if they have a safe mindset. They know that they are physically capable of doing things, but they are wondering if their mindset is holding them back – perhaps a fear of failure.

In response, I’d like to discuss the sweet spot of mindset, goal setting and optimal performance. Flow state, being in the zone, and because this athlete is a runner, runner’s high. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say that ten times fast) coined the term flow state. He found that, in order to perform your best, you have three choices. One choice is to challenge yourself just below your current level of ability. This is where you are challenged and yet still feel a sense of control. The experience is a good one where you’re having fun while exerting high levels of effort. The second choice is to challenge yourself at your current level ability, creating the greatest opportunity for finding flow. The third choice is to create a challenge that is just above your current level of ability. Here you feel some arousal, nervousness, butterflies in your stomach, etc, and still maintain confidence in your ability to achieve your goals. The goal is challenging and you’ll have to exert max effort, but you know you can do it!

To overcome a fear of failure, challenging yourself just above your current level of ability will help. If you go too high, anxiety kicks in and perhaps a greater fear of failure. Just above your current level of ability requires you to push your limits and realize new ones. You’ll be confident, motivated and focused – that’s the sweet spot of peak performance.

Depending on where you are on a typical day, I want you to challenge ourself just below so you have that perceived sense of control, at your current level of ability to find flow, or just above to grow and progress. Remember, just above your current level of ability is where’re you’re going to be able to test your boundaries and find that sweet sport of high performance and peak experience.

If you have any comments or questions, let me know in the space provided. If you have a video you want me to create, include that topic in the space provided as well.

Until next time, have a wonderful rest of your day!


Dr. Haley Perlus, PhD

Dr. Haley Perlus works with some of the world’s top athletes, brands, and fitness experts to move past mental blocks and achieve results uniquely tailored to the individual or corporation’s goals and expectations. Follow her or subscribe to receive videos featuring Mental Toughness Moments.

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