Your Never-ending (and Needless) Pursuit of “the Zone”
Are you looking for a surefire path to “the zone”? Are you frustrated with your inability to find it? Well, with apologies to the plethora of mental-performance experts who provide blueprints to help people find the zone, I’m here to tell you: You don’t have to pursue the zone in order to perform at the top of your game. Relieved? I hope so, because only when your mind is free from the burden of trying to find mental clarity, does it leaves space for insights, answers, and excellence to come pouring through.
Here’s an illustration: Let’s say you’re a pro golfer playing in the last group of the last round of a major championship. The night before, you worryingly tossed and turned, and now, on your way to the golf course, anxious thoughts and feelings abound. You’re also convinced (like most people) that anxious thoughts and feelings represent a problem; you must be in the zone in order to win a major championship. Therefore, you recall a deep-breathing/visualization technique that your sports psychologist recommended for these exact moments. You think about how you’re supposed to implement the technique: “Okay, breathe in the through the nose, out through the mouth, and picture the ball going toward the target.” But then you think, “Oh, wait, maybe it’s breathe in through the mouth, out through the nose, and picture myself holding the championship trophy. Darn, I can’t remember what I’m supposed to do. I better figure something out, and quick!”
What’s happened in this illustration is your revved-up thinking and anxiety has generated more revved-up thinking and anxiety. You’ve crammed your head with deliberate personal thought, leaving no room for fresh ideas to naturally work their way in. Said another way, you didn’t like the anxious feeling as the final round approached, and since you didn’t know that clarity of mind is guaranteed to appear on its own (which it will always do if you don’t try to fix things), you have jammed the inherent functioning of the system.
So, what’s the alternative? What should you do when, prior to “big” performances, you’re feeling unsure or anxious, i.e., you’re not in the zone?
First, understand that you are not living in the feeling of your circumstance (the major championship). You are living in the feeling of your thinking—whose quality is constantly in flux. That’s why, even when people struggle, they still find momentary glimpses of being okay with the same circumstance that appears to be troubling them.
Second, realize that negative thoughts (actually, all thoughts) are random, neutral, and powerless—unless you, and your sports psychologist, turn them into something that must be avoided.
Last, go live your life, or, as I say to the athletes with whom I work, simply stay in the game. If you hit the golf ball in spite of your errant thinking, your state of mind is on its way to clearing up all by itself.
Here’ the bottom line on reaching the zone: People fight to find it because they are convinced that the zone is some sort of a nirvana-like source of happiness or success. The trouble, though, is no one can find clarity if they plug away from a state of confusion.
So, again, the next time the perceptual field appears a little hazy, merely step up to the ball and let it fly. You’ll be amazed at how easily your mindset will self-correct to clarify, consciousness, and freedom—if you’re not trying to get there.
Garret Kramer is the founder of Inner Sports. His clients include Olympians, NHL, MLB, and collegiate players and coaches, and he often conducts seminars about his “inside-out” paradigm for performance excellence. Garret has been featured on ESPN, WFAN, FOX, and NPR; and in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Sports Illustrated. He is the author of the book, Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life, www.stillpower.com.