How to Be in the Zone
We’ve all heard of being in the zone. Whether it’s work, sports, or a passion project, you know what it feels like to be so engaged, time flies and you feel unstoppable.
However, this “in-the-zone” mentality can feel fleeting or tailor-made for athletes or CEOs. But it is possible to find and maintain in all aspects of your life.
I am a naturally competitive person. I like to win, I like to learn, and I like to push myself and grow. For some, they label me as Type A. Type As are known for being competitive and rising to every challenge. So being in the zone should be reserved for these people alone, right?
Not even close.
Achieving a performance mindset is not about perfection (or even competition). It’s about performing your best to achieve your goals. Any person can live purposefully and in the zone on a daily basis. At the job you’re not sure you love. At the gym when you’re tired. In the meeting you almost slept through.
It all starts with mental preparedness and a little thing I like to call knowing your desired outcome. To know your desired outcome, you have to possess a balance of focus, awareness, and mindset.
You focus on your desired outcome and the strategy to achieve it.
You are aware of your situation and emergent opportunities to achieve your desired outcome.
You have the proper mindset to achieve your desired outcome.
Let me give you an example. When I do high-intensity interval training at the gym (otherwise known as HIIT), I start off with a clear, desired outcome. I want to make sure I maximize my workout for calories burned and overall fitness. I don’t walk into the gym without a plan or wander from machine to machine. I set a goal before I get there, and I know the desired outcome I’d like to reach by the time I leave.
On my intense days, I try to hit 1,000 calories within my target heart rate zone. With new technology such as Myzone, Fitbit, or Whoop, it is easy to measure and manage all of this. However, it is not always easy to achieve it.
So how do I make sure to reach my desired outcome? Usually, I start with clear focus on my desired outcome. About a quarter of the way through the workout, I become aware that my legs are starting to burn and it feels like my heart is going to explode. I start thinking about why it might not be a good day to work so hard-I didn’t sleep well, my knee kind of hurts, blah, blah, blah-and I start to reflexively slow down.
Then, I look at the Myzone board. I see my heart rate drop from the top zone to a lower zone. My focus sharpens. I start pushing harder. My purpose for being there starts to motivate me a little more. I reconnect to my desired outcome.
As a result, my mindset becomes recalibrated. It connects with the times in my life that I have successfully achieved. I am no longer aware of my burning muscles and racing heart; however, I am aware of how alive I feel. I am the zone. My body is going full out, and as a result, I feel completely alive.
While this is great for exercise, how does it translate to work? It all comes back to one thing: harnessing your attention. Often in high stakes meetings, things can get crazy. During those times, I pause and ask myself: is my attention appropriate?
Appropriate, you might ask? What does that even mean? This concept is really broken down into three questions.
Am I focused? (Am I focused on my desired outcome and prepared strategy, or simply proving that I’m right?) So often, we get caught up in proving we are right, that we never achieve what we set out to do. Make sure you know the origin of your focus.
Am I aware? (Am I aware of any new information or strategy that might be divergent of my original strategy but will get me to my desired outcome?)Sometimes, we get so focused on our strategy that we can’t see an opportunity that’s literally right in front of us. But this new opportunity might not be part of the original plan, so we ignore it. However, if you stay aware, you will recognize that the “new” way can be a better way to achieve your desired outcome than the old way. It just takes awareness.
What is my mindset? (Do I have a cognitive bias about the outcome, or is there an emotion influencing my decision?) We are often influenced by emotion: fear, anger, self-loathing, anxiety, etc. Assess how those emotions cloud your ability to focus on the desired outcomes. Make good decisions based on facts, not emotions.
This simple question- is my attention appropriate? -usually resets my attention and helps me make decisions when I’m in the zone or trying to get there.
So whether you want to stay in the zone at work, on the court, or anywhere in between, here are a few daily strategies to help you achieve your desired outcome.
Focus on the goal. Like with any good outcome, to get there, we can get caught up in the process. The minutiae. The drama. The setbacks or failures. Keep your eye on the desired outcome. Define your ultimate goal for the day. For your workout. For how you want to feel. Focus on one thing at a time-one goal, one outcome-to intentionally stay in the zone and achieve what you set out to do.
Don’t talk yourself down. We are conditioned to have a “fight-or-flight” response. It’s so easy when things get tough to back down. This is especially true when it’s a physical feat, but even more so when you are wavering in your professional life. Visualize what you want and then go after it without talking yourself out of it. Sometimes it really is better to act instead of think.
Get intentional. Set a silent notification on your phone, watch, or Fitbit for once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. When it goes off, do one of the following:
Take three deep breaths. This has been proven to calm your nervous system and lower blood pressure.
Pinch your index finger and thumb together. A simple technique to harness your attention and bring your focus back to the present moment.
Clench your fist and release your hand to free the tension. This move can also help slash food cravings.
Whatever it is that you want to achieve, stay focused. Stay in the moment, distraction-free, and make it a habit to set and reach your goals.
It all starts with attention. Where’s yours?
This story originally appeared in Thrive Global on June 29, 2018.