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Best Practices

Being In the Zone

One area of psychology talked about (particularly in sports performance) is “Being In the Zone.”

Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.

Many other terms and idioms exist for this mental state: to be on the ball, in the zone, or in the groove.

Many know the feeling. Unfortunately, for many that’s a past feeling including Marketing People, CEO’s, Heavy Hitters, and a host of people who are out-of-the-game or have been out-of-the-game for a long time. They have lost that feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

You can tell when someone is as “Rusty as Nails” because their speech and action gives them away. They don’t talk in present tense (only past tense) and you don’t see any numbers on the board.  Or, they may talk about the “future” as if someone who’s as “Rusty as Nails” will accomplish great things in the future. They are out-of-date and out-of-touch so take what they say with a grain-of-salt. Why? Because what they are talking about is unproductive and not focused on the business. Unfortunately, they really can’t even do the business because the “numbers” aren’t there. If people are living in the past they will miss the opportunities of the present because of their focus. Some people live in “ancient history” and need to start working on their mental training.

Involvement and activity are the key words related to this topic.

Here is an article on being in the “Zone” related to runners.

The “Zone” of Optimal Running
By Richard Ferguson, PhD

(Running Journal/May 2002)

Have you ever had a race or workout when you felt totally effortless, while running faster than you had ever run before? It was if you were just floating along, totally confident, relaxed, and in complete control. Time almost seemed to stand still as you were totally focused on the race, not on your physical discomfort. If you have ever had this running experience then you were probably in what sport psychologist refers to as the “zone,” or in “flow.” Often this experience is called the “peak experience” or “peak performance.” You probably thought to yourself how great it would be to feel this way in every run.

What then can the runner do to maximize the chances of getting in the “zone” and having a peak flow experience? First of all, we must try to understand just what is actually happening when we get into the “zone.” In almost all cases being in the “zone” have specific characteristics for the runner.

The first characteristic of the “zone” is you feel totally relaxed, both physically and mentally. You’re very calm and loose. Next, your running feels automatic with no conscious effort being involved. You are focused on the present, not in the past or future, just totally concentrated on the now. It’s like everything is just flowing along and falling into place.

Other characteristics are feelings of complete confidence with absolutely no fear. You simply know you are running well and will continue to run well. Finally, you have total control over your emotions and you can almost feel yourself being energized by your confidence.

Jim Loehr, sport psychologist for many of the world’s top athletes and business executives compares being in the “zone” with living in a cocoon. You are completely detached from the external environment and all distractions. The feeling is as if you were indeed in another world.

We know that getting into the “zone” can facilitate great performances, so the big question is, how can we maximize our chances of getting there? As of right now we really don’t understand exactly how to get into the “zone” each and every time, but there are some tricks you can do to improve you odds, and even if you don’t actually reach the “zone,” these suggestions will certainly improve your running, even if it doesn’t lead to a peak experience.

First, use imagery everyday. Imagine yourself running free, fast, and effortless. By employing imagery you can almost program your mind and body for success. Yes, imagery really does work! Next, before a race think only about things which are under your control. Don’t focus your attention on your own self-doubts, other runners, or possible negative race experiences. Zero in on the present and use positive self-statements to boost your confidence. Just say things to yourself like, “I’m fit, and I’m ready to race.” Don’t try to analyze other runners. You have no control over them.

Optimal anxiety before a race is also a key. If you feel really anxious before a race, try to relax by focusing on positive aspects of your preparation by visualizing yourself having a good race. If you feel flat, try to get yourself excited by using the same methods. The key is to do your best to get to your optimal level of pre-race anxiety or arousal, not too nervous, but not too relaxed either.

Being focused on the task at hand is another critical aspect of peak performance. Being able to concentrate when under the stress of racing can be difficult, but with practice, concentration and focusing skills can be improved. The key is to continually work on concentrating on your race and yourself, not your competition, fans, or how you look. Learn to narrow your focus in on what you need to do to run your best. In other words, don’t allow yourself to become distracted. Work on this during your training runs. Just like running, mental skills take practice to develop to the maximum.

Research into the “zone” and peak performance has shown that as an athlete improves their mental skills and trains properly, then the likelihood of getting into the “zone” increases, along with the chance of having that monster race we all dream about. It is quite obvious that mental preparation is indeed the key to great performance. Be honest with yourself. How can you expect to run your best, even if your are well trained physically, if you can’t put it together mentally?

While we can’t guarantee we will always be able to reach the “zone,” we can at least give ourselves the best opportunity. So start today at working on your mental training. With the proper physical training, a good mental training program can go a long way in helping you reach that “peak performance” and you will simply “flow” along in your next big race.


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