Peak performance happens as a result of trying really hard, and then not trying at all. It’s a paradox. I’ve never met someone who has described a breakthrough performance as effortful or straining or tight. It’s the opposite: when people are at their best—whether it’s on the playing field, in the workplace, or in the artist’s studio—they report feeling loose, relaxed, and at ease. They aren’t thinking and they certainly aren’t trying. They are effortlessly flowing, one action leading to the next, completely immersed in what they are doing, in the zone.
In the 1970s, a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined this state of optimal performance as flow. Flow is most likely to occur when as little as possible gets between an actor and his or her act. That’s why a hallmark of flow is feeling as if you’re at one with what you’re doing. The less that gets in the way—doubt, worry, planning, wearable devices—the better.
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