In the zone is a term given by professionals and athletes for the “zone of optimal experience” that endows regular humans with increased mental and physical powers. This uncanny state of performance is initiated when mind and body are melded into the present and applied in a personally rewarding activity.
When the mind and body enter the zone, peripheral functions are discontinued to allow only thoughts and images that are directly related to the activity at hand. This means that fears, worries, doubts, self-judgment, exterior motivators, and all other mentally draining thoughts and ideas are temporarily sidelined. This allows for greatly improved performance.
Many people will speak of the zone as an unattainable condition of athletic ecstasy. And while the reports of those who enter this zone are surreal to a degree, they also show that anyone could achieve this state with some know-how and practice.
Further in the article, we will take a look at some practical advice on conjuring your own personal portal to the zone. First, we will examine what the experience of the zone feels like so that you can make the most of your time in this state of heightened awareness and increased performance.
What Does it Feel Like to Be In The Zone?
While in the zone the processes of the mind are fine-tuned to optimize performance in physical and mental effort. While the state is very subjective, there are some common effects including a diminished awareness of time and self.
Fatigue, hunger, and exhaustion vanish and get replaced with feelings of invincibility and limitless energy. This is only the beginning. According to Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, being in the zone was like watching time slow down while being granted the powers of clairvoyance. In his own words, “I could sense how the game would develop and where the next shot would be taken from…”1
Superfluidity is another aspect of the zone described by ultra-runner Christopher Berglund, who holds the Guinness World Record for Running 125 miles in 24 hrs, on a treadmill.
Bergland describes superfluidity as “a state of performing with zero friction, zero viscosity, and superconductivity — it is a state of absolute harmony and endless energy.” He goes on to explain that achieving superfluidity is a step beyond the state of flow as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
How to Reach the Zone
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the noted psychologist who elucidated the concept of flow, the only way to arrive in this state of effortless performance is by matching skills to challenges. While there are other points, this is the most important because it ensures that stress and boredom will not be interfering with your activity.
If the sport, exercise routine, or task at hand is beyond your capacity, or you are not sure what the process and final outcome are supposed to look like, the flow state will be impossible. Likewise, if the task is far too simple, you will lose interest too quickly. With this in mind, the first practical pointer for entering the zone is choosing an activity that is challenging but still matches your skillset.
1. Choose your Activity
Begin with an activity you really love. This could be an engaging team sport, an exercise program, or even painting a picture. Knowing exactly what you are trying to accomplish will allow you to build a feedback loop that keeps you on point with your direction.
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Motivators are a powerful force when building flow and entering the zone. Clearly outlined goals are great motivators.
2. Lay the Groundwork
Taking the time to facilitate your mental processes and build a plan for success will ensure a quality excursion to the zone. This includes making sure you have the tools or equipment you need to do operate effectively without disruption.
In the sports world, this means having proper shoes and clothing for your athletic activities. Professionals, artists, and designers need their pens, papers, electronic devices and a good cup of coffee right on hand. Additionally, this may include visualizing what the end product may look like.
3. Choose the Environment
Even more important than the equipment you use is the location you choose to summon the lightning. If working out on a treadmill is not working for you, maybe a run through the park is what you need.
Your environment is going to be affecting you on a subconscious level. So, make sure it is suitable for your activity with as few distractions as possible.
For those going about solitary tasks, music can sometimes allow the mind to better disconnect with the peripheral distractions and can even provide the emotional backdrop that empowers and inspires.
4. Work With Other Motivated People
There is something to be said for the army of fitness enthusiasts flocking to CrossFit centers all over the globe. This is a perfect example of like-minded individuals working together to magnify the effects of the zone in their physical performance.
A group of intrinsically motivated people working out together is always a powerful thing. Having a workout buddy can provide these same effects.
5. Set Times
It is important to set times and schedules to keep yourself accountable. This will allow the concept of time to drop away more easily. Because you will be losing all consciousness of time, make sure you are in a location where you can work as long as you like without being disturbed.
Flow can begin in as little as 10 minutes. It really depends on the individual and their connection with their task. Once you enter the zone you will likely never want to leave. The condition has been known to make the greatest minds in history forget their food, sleep, and even basic hygiene as they worked in the zone. How you choose to wrap your life around your experiences in the zone will be a subjective but important matter.2
The zone is certainly a place of peak physical performance, but entering this hallowed spot is a mental game above all else. By disciplining the mind to remain focused and gradually improving your skills and challenge levels, the flow state will kick off faster and more frequently.
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