Being “in the zone” is where the top performers in sport, entertainment, business and so on get their professional advantage over the rest of us. In the zone is also where we each perform at our best and can make the most of our opportunities, talents and opportunities.
We have all seen top professionals be on top of their game, and we’ve all seen top professionals have an off day. When everything is flowing, with focus, concentration, timing, energy, enthusiasm and so on, we say they are “in the zone”. When they are distracted, emotionally challenged, uncoordinated and just out of it, we know they are having a bad day.
One of the tricks in getting top performance out of people is to get them into the zone. This is where sports psychology, motivational speakers, and other performance enhancing techniques (apart from steroids and other chemical contributions) can be worth millions of dollars to people in highly competitive environments.
How does a person enter the zone on their own? Is it possible to get yourself into the zone and ensure top performance? The answer is obviously “yes”, since so many top performers seem to be able to do it. So, what’s involved?
One issue is self-confidence. Cassius Clay the boxer (alias Mohammed Ali) arrogantly asserted “I am the Greatest!” His self-induced confidence was part of his persona, contributing to him being three-time World Heavyweight Champion. Clay would jive-talk his opponents in the ring, just as his hero, Jack Johnson had done in a previous era.
Top tennis players, golfers, performers and sales-people exude confidence, as a shield around who they are and as a weapon against their challenges.
Another popularised idea is that of focus. The saying, “Wherever you are, Be There”, demands that we push past distractions and things that keep us from being “in the zone”.
We have all seen top performers ‘psych themselves up’ (as we like to call it) by berating themselves, accessing the emotional energy of anger, and so on.
Many years ago, as a junior sales-rep, I was taken on the road by a rep who shared with me his secret. He subscribed to a particular sales guru who promoted the idea of the ‘magic neck-tie’. Now I don’t think that’s what they called it, but that’s effectively what it was all about. The rep would sit in this car, tie-less, for about 30 minutes, going over his objectives for the presentation, checking his paperwork, props, etc. He would do a mental rehearsal of the whole process and see himself coming out with the order in this hand. Once he had arrived at that euphoric point of confidence he would then put on his neck-tie and head in for the appointment. The whole trick was to get him into the zone. When I asked him how it was working for him he made some lame excuse about still working on it. What that means is it wasn’t making him much more successful than before.
Probably the most impressive example of saw of a person getting “into the zone” came from a sports psychologist who I once interviewed. He was on the support team for a woman who was running the Sydney to Melbourne Ultra-Marathon, over 864km. That’s a huge, multi-day race and it’s incredibly gruelling.
The gal kept being pepped up every time she felt like giving up, which was often. She had no hope of winning so her only ambition became to finish the thing. However, about an hour or so from the finish line she stopped completely. Her support team had used all their best tricks to keep her going, but she was totally exhausted, emotionally spent and completely done-in. She was weeping, cursing herself for ever thinking she could do it, angry with everyone and wracked with pain.
That’s when the sports psychologist came up with the line, “I guess he’ll just have to be disappointed.” She asked him what he meant. He told her, dismissively, that he had already flown her dad down and he was already standing at the finish line watching others make the distance. At that the woman turned her face toward Melbourne and pressed on, without a break until she collapsed in her father’s arms.
The point in these accounts is to show, as sports psychologists know, that we all have more in us than we ever access. Being in the zone is where we are in touch with that other something, avoiding the competing thoughts and pressures which undermine our best.
But being in the zone is also the way to access more than just our own talents and abilities. It is possible to also be in the zone, so to speak, when we are accessing divine experiences in our lives. That’s what I hope to get to next time we discuss this topic.