If you’ve ever been in the zone while practicing a sport, you know that the zone is a place you want to be. For competitive athletes under a lot of stress, being able to get in the zone is almost essential to be able to perform optimally and beat the competition. So whether you’re competing at nationals, you’re an aspiring Olympian, or you’re a high-performance athlete participating in competitive youth sports programs, it’s a good idea to learn about the zone. Here are some important questions:
- What is the zone? How can the zone help me perform my best?
- How can I increase my chances of getting in the zone more often?
In this article, we’ll answer those questions for you so you can achieve peak performance and beat the competition.
What is the zone? How can the zone help me perform my best?
When you’re in the zone, your mind is completely focused on the task at hand so you have more control over your body and can, therefore, perform the task optimally or achieve peak performance. When you’re not in the zone, you’re more likely to get distracted by your thoughts or nerves, and the pressure of the competition is very evident to you. Let’s take a look at two different scenarios to better understand what it’s like to be in the zone.
Weightlifter 1 – In the zone
As you walk up to the bar to prepare for your deadlift, time, along with any and all other distractions, seems to fade into the background. It’s just you and the bar, and your body already knows what to do. Your feet take their positions beneath the bar. Your legs stay straight at your hands reach for the bar below you. Your knees bend slightly, so you can feel the cold bar gently touching your shins. Your back straightens, your chest lifts, you feel your lungs fill with air, and in one, seemingly, effortless motion, you stand up.
Weightlifter 2 – NOT in the zone
As you walk up to the bar to prepare for your deadlift, your mind races. Feet hip-width apart, hand shoulder-width apart. Do NOT let the bar move away from mid-foot. Breathe. Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe. And pray. Don’t forget to pray. Dear God, please give me strength. The bar is in front of you now. As you look down at it, you begin to go through your checklist. 1. Place your mid-foot under the bar. Shins not touching. Heels hip-width apart. Toes out at 15 degrees. 2. Bend over without bending your knees. Grip the bar narrow…. But, what if my hands sweat too much and I can’t grip the bar? And that’s when you realize, your hands start to sweat…
Most athletes can relate to both weightlifter 1 and weightlifter 2. We know what it’s like to feel pumped up and confident – to feel in the zone. And, we also know what it’s like to have a bad day. “I know I could have done it,” we say. “It just wasn’t my day.” And that’s often how we talk about our performance – like whether or not we achieve peak performance is up to the sports gods, rather than ourselves. It turns out, we have a lot more control over our ability to get into the zone than we think.
How can I increase my chances of getting in the zone more often?
Researchers have been investigating the topic of the zone and how to get in the zone and have been finding that athletes have a lot more control over their ability to get in the zone than they think.
They’ve found that mindfulness meditation practice can serve as a tool for athletes to quiet their minds and improve their ability to focus in high-pressure situations, allowing them to experience the zone more often and achieve peak performance when it really counts. If you want to get in the zone more often, mindfulness meditation is your answer.
What is mindfulness meditation and how does it work?
Many of us, both athletes and non-athletes, are constantly thinking all day long with very little control over what we’re thinking about. Additionally, our brains are wired for negativity, designed to pay attention to problems and threats. When we were still living in caves and danger was around every corner, this trait was very useful in helping us to survive. Nowadays, most of us don’t need to protect ourselves from constant threats, but our brains are still wired to think we do.
For athletes, this natural negativity bias often results in thinking about or imagining all the things that could go wrong with their performance. Remember weightlifter 2? Weightlifter 2 was so focused on what could go wrong that eventually their fears became reality. That’s why it’s so important for athletes to learn to quiet the mind so they can focus on the task at hand rather than on the pressure or on what could go wrong.
So, what is mindfulness meditation?
Simply put, mindfulness meditation is a tool to quiet the mind. According to verywellmind.com, “Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that involves focusing your mind on your experiences (like your own emotions, thoughts, and sensations) in the present moment.” It is the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience it.
The idea is that by giving the mind just enough stimuli to focus it, we’ll be able to quiet the rest of the mental chatter so we can focus all of our attention on one thing. If we practice mindfulness meditation enough, we should be able to apply the same techniques in real-life situations when complete focus and attention are necessary – at work, at school, and of course, while training or during competitions. That way, we’re more likely to get in the zone and achieve peak performance.