Have you ever had one of those days? One of those days where everything you touch turns to gold? You are in the Zone, everything is going right.
These days can happen in business and in life but here we will focus on how they occur in sport and what you can do to increase their frequency – Substantially increase their frequency.
First, you feel great. Not just alive, you are alert and awake, really awake. You are ready, nimble, pro-active. But you can react as well, react in no-time flat to whatever is thrown your way. Think back, you probably associate these days with the great sporting experiences of your life. You might have difficulty coming up with words to describe how switched-on you felt.
It is hard to describe.
Why we do it!
When it all comes down to it, these experiences of being in the Zone are probably the reason why you do it in the first place. Why you make all kinds of sacrifices (some crazier than others) to train and compete. Being in the Zone as a solo athlete, or as part of a gelled, cohesive team is a feeling that is truly hard to beat.
Accessing the Zone is a Skill that can be learned and improved
Getting into the Zone is not a complete mystery. It is a skill, just like making a perfect 40 metre pass to a team-mate who gathers the ball in full flight because of where you have purposefully placed it.
Execution of skills require 2 things:
1. An understanding of the fundamental actions which underpin the skill and
2. Practice, practice and more practice of that skill with the aforementioned fundamentals to the fore.
Many people think that being in the Zone is being “on a good day” and is somehow out of your control. You are either on or you’re off.
Ever thought or said the following? “I had a crap race/game today, nothing I tried came off, everything went against me… I guess it just wasn’t my day”.
If the Body is willing – the mind can be too!
What I have learned through experience and study of sport, and sport psychology tells me that bad days can happen if you are physically not up to par in terms of fitness or you are unwell, but if the body is right then the mind can ensure that those kind of days don’t happen. As with anything worthwhile doing, faith and persistence are core success factors here. You will have to buy in to the techniques and keep working on them, if you are to get the results.
Make my Day!
Clint Eastwood (tough-guy movie actor for those reading this who were born after 1990) used to say “Go ahead Punk – make my day”. Well, If Clint were to use the 4 fundamentals of Accessing the Zone, he would be able to make his own day and would be a lot less reliant on “Punks” to do it for him.
1) Focused Calm:
Building focused calm is the gift that keeps on giving. Take time out for a few minutes 2-3 times a day in the lead up to an important event and just sit, stand, walk (whatever works) and do some deep breathing and focus on clearing your mind completely. This is not a time for thinking about games/races/events past or present it is simply a time for developing calm. Practice this enough and you will be able to find that calm when you need it most – when the pressure is on. This is hard to do and it took me years to do well. It initially felt like something I wanted to skip. However, I was getting ahead the moment, I started to try it.
Visualisation is a tried and trusted technique in sports today. The specific type of visualisation I refer to here is simple and straightforward. Pick the all-time sporting highlight of your career to date. The moment which you would gladly re-live over and over and never get tired of – it was that good! Well the good news is you can re-live it over and over and you will need to if you are going to access the Zone at will.
See what you saw around you, remember the sights the sounds the smells, was it cold or hot? Re-experience the moment – re-live the joy it brought. Practice this over and over.
It can sometimes help to kick it off with a physical cue like clicking your fingers. Use this technique in the lead-up to and before the game. It will help you get the emotions and feelings associated with positive self-belief going so you can access them freely during the game. Eventually, just clicking your fingers will bring the positivity flooding through – think Pavlov’s Dogs!!
3) Tough Thinking:
This technique and Tough Acting (below) came from a book called Toughness Training for Sport by Jim Loehr and is something which I found to be immediately transformational in terms of my ability to activate my Zone or Ideal Performance State as Jim calls it. It is simply using positive self-talk before and importantly during the game/race/event to instil a sense of control by using positive thinking to over-ride any negative thoughts which have a habit of creeping in if allowed when the going gets tough.
When it is getting really intense and the competitive battle is at full tilt – Think to yourself:
“This is tough, but I am tougher than this – in fact, I love it!”
“Why am I here – I am here because this is all I ever wanted to do – Now is my chance to live my dream so let’s go!”
When you have made a mistake which in the past would have upset you and affected your entire performance. Turn away from the mistake and think:
“That was a mistake but, mistakes happen and I knew that coming in so why should it be a surprise? – Now back to the next ball/tackle/mile”.
When your opponent is on top – Think:
“Just hang in there – keep going, stay strong – no-one is more resilient than me. I will stick at this and I will prevail in the end”. “I need this challenge, I was born for it!”
1) Tough Acting:
Tough Acting is using your body to transmit positive vibes to your mind which will set the tone for that performance you are longing to give. Tough acting is literally using your body to Act in a way which shows determination, positivity, toughness, resilience, fun, control.
Actors summon real emotions of joy, anger, sadness etc. when they play their roles – how else could they cry real tears on demand? If you are feeling glum and you force yourself to smile, your physical actions activate the area in your brain where joy is felt and you can make yourself feel happier immediately – the smile becomes real.
When you are nervous just as a big event is about to begin and you feel weak, dead on your feet – no energy – no spark.
Jump up and down on your toes like you have just got out of bed on the most important day of your life and you are going to go through walls to get the job done today!
The energy will surge back into your body, fears and anxiety will be replaced by a sense of being fully alert, awake and alive to the great possibilities of what you face.
When you are dealing with a tough opponent, a tough crowd and you have just made a mistake
Stay calm, stay poised, lift your head, walk tall and smile if you can – let that smile tell the world that this time you made a mistake but next time they won’t be so lucky.
Your body is the vehicle through which your performance is delivered. Your mind is the command centre which calmly navigates you through the battle. By getting used to connecting the two using the techniques outlined above, your good days in the sporting arena can become the norm as opposed to the exception.
Go Ahead – Make your Day!