Two Confidence-Boosting Tools for Music Entrepreneurs: Strengths and Flow

One of the goals of my entrepreneurship class at the Yale School of Music is to help my students develop a mindset of positivity and project confidence since this is at the heart of being a successful entrepreneur. My students have learned two great tools for boosting their confidence—strengths and Flow.  These are more than “feel-good props”.  Both originate from positive psychology, the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive and whose mission includes “find[ing]and nurture[ing] genius and talent”.

What’s not to like?

So here is how strengths and Flow can help you to become confident in your professional and your personal endeavors.


Strengths research from positive psychologists including Martin Seligman, Donald O. Clifton and Robert Biswas-Diener shows that identifying and using one’s strengths is associated with greater happiness and motivation, a better sense of direction and a higher probability of achieving goals, as well as increased self-confidence and productivity.

This means that focusing on strengths can help you:
•    feel happier, fulfilled and confident,
•    be motivated to reach your goals, and
•    achieve greater success.

The more you develop your natural talents, the stronger they become.  And, the more you use your strengths, the easier life feels.  That’s why I have my students discover their strengths through the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment, the result of research from the Gallup Organization.

This assessment generates your 5 top strengths themes out of a list of 34 themes that fall into four different areas of leadership:
(1)    Relationship-building
(2)    Strategic Thinking
(3)    Influencing and Leadership
(4)    Executing and Getting Things Done

As my students discovered, knowing your strengths is a critical step in motivating one’s personal success. We also created a chart of the entire class’s strengths (including my own!) in order to appreciate better the strengths of our colleagues and improve our ability to work together effectively.

With this awareness, my students incorporated their strengths into their career goal-setting plans. In addition, knowing and using their strengths was the first level in helping to discover how they are unique and stand out.  We then took that information to the next level by learning about Flow.


 “Flow”  (as in “going with the flow”) entered into our vocabulary thanks to the research of positive psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990). 

Flow is a mental state where one experiences optimal performance.  It involves:

doing something that you are great at, that fulfills you and that makes you feel true joy; plus
knowing what you want to achieve and getting the feedback that tells you how you are doing. 

You are thus inspired and challenged to increase your level of performance with a task that is sufficiently complex to motivate you and not so difficult as to provoke anxiety.  As such, Flow is a growth experience of finding the “sweet spot” where your skill level meets the challenge at hand.  Flow also presumes that you can control the experience and that you have the ability to cultivate and master the skill through training and discipline.

One of the joys of working with top-talented musicians is that they have all experienced Flow in their creative work.  As such, they know they are capable of being at Flow.  This makes it easy to tap into that actual experience of Flow.

How do you encapsulate your Flow experience in an easy to use tool?

You first articulate what you are like at flow and then create an affirmation of the words that describe you at Flow. I call this thebest self” exercise because it represents you when you are at Flow and at your best.

My students have all come up with their “Flow” words and they use that concept as a goal-setting device for presenting themselves in the best light. They have been successfully using their Flow words when they are not sure of themselves and feel fearful of new or challenging situations because these simple words are a reminder of what they are like at their best. And because the Flow affirmation comes from direct experience, it becomes a reference point for developing confidence.

So knowing and using your strengths plus tapping into Flow are powerful tools for creating success. Positivity and confidence are critical to overcoming fears around performing and excelling professionally and learning from challenges instead of caving into defeat when something does not go well.  This knowledge can also help with other entrepreneurial skills like branding, networking, marketing and public speaking–subjects that I will soon cover in future posts so stay tuned!