Access The Zone in Cardiff
What is The Zone?The Zone (sometimes called the “flow” mental state and the peak performance zone) is considered to be a state of optimal functioning. It is a heightened state of focused awareness and inner clarity in which your acquired knowledge, creativity, emotions, skills, motivation, passion and practised skills are synchronised, automated and “flowing”. You are not “consciously” trying to perform; you have immersed yourself “in” the state of performing The zone is a state of optimal focused awareness and every part of you is harmoniously operating within the essence of your peak performance. You are very much inspired “in” this moment; with no ego or fear of outcomes. When you are in the “zone”, your brainwave activity level is reduced down from the Beta level (which dominates when you are focused on the outside world) to the “Alpha” level. In the Alpha state, you are conscious but you are relaxed. Alpha brain waves dominate when you are being creative, emotionally connected and decisive.
The informal zoneYou will have experienced the zone in informal situations. Have you been immersed in any of the following activities?
- Having a conversation and being “connected” with your partner.
- Writing effortless flowing content for your essay or thesis.
- Feeling drawn into the suspense of a thriller movie.
- Playing a video game.
- Reading a good book in a public place and not noticing people walking by.
- Playing a game of chess and losing track of time.
- Feeling emotional when hearing someone talk about their journey of achievement.
- As an audience member being fascinated by the presenter (lecturer, teacher, speaker or entertainer etc.) and the content of their presentation.
Getting into the zone to enhance your performanceThe “performance zone” or “peak performance mind state” is a term that has been synonymous with elite sports performers. Consider the level of concentration and skill demonstrated by professional sports people when participating in golf, shooting or archery, or of elite athletes immediately before and during a sprint track and field event. The performance zone is not exclusive to sports people however, you can sometimes see professional musicians completely absorbed into the emotion of their performance; their eyes are closed and they are barely conscious of their surrounds. Similarly, actors can be seen in the stage sides, deep in concentration and rehearsing their script, just prior to their stage entrance. They then appear on stage seamlessly recalling extensive, emotion-filled dialogue as is reading from an autocue. The performance zone can be considered as a highly productive state of awareness particularly when you can access it to achieve work tasks. Employers value employees who can maintain long periods of concentration. Getting into the performance zone at work is easier if:
- You are passionate about the task.
- You believe in the need to complete it.
- You can develop your creative abilities.
- You can use/transfer a few previously learned skills.
- You can visualise (at some level) the potential solution.
- You have an incentive but it is more intrinsic.
- The work situation (physical structure, resources, personnel, reasonable timescale etc.) meets your needs to fulfil the task.
- Life outside work is stable.
Strategies to enhance your performance zoneDo you find that in your practise sessions, you are “nailing it” but when it comes to the big occasion, your performance is below standard? If this happens on a regular basis, then it’s time to review your performance strategies. Consider introducing some the following performance zone strategies to boost the performance of your skills:
- Focus on the requirements of this moment – as close to the present as possible.
- Remove any judgment about your performance – that includes your own (internal) or from the audience, coach, peers or opposition (external)
- Centre on the quality of the next one objective and let it go when it’s completed – the result will take care of itself.
- Cut through perfectionism by focusing on the function of your performance.
- Distance any external problems or distractions – unload them well before you get on the performance stage or the arena.
- Identify and focus on the relevant performance cues that are specific to enhancing your performance in your activity e.g. when defending your opponent with the ball in basketball, by watching their midsection, you are less likely to be faked. Discuss this with your coach/teacher.
- Simplify your approach when you are on the performance stage. Analyse the complexity in the practise session/tutorial, when you are away from the performance stage.
- Keep your mood playful – that doesn’t mean that your performance is not important; a playful state lowers the stress you place on your performance.
How can you practise staying in the performance zone?In the early stages of your new skill acquisition, you are unlikely to access the zone. This is because you are conscious of what you are doing and what is required of you. You are also unpractised and unrehearsed. It’s a bit like experiencing your first day at work or learning to play a piece of music for the first time; you feel overloaded with information due your own high expectation of wanting to appear capable. With focused practise sessions (e.g. when being coached), the formation of individual practise skills combine to create a network of coordinated schemes. Gradually, the schemes become familiar and fluent. With continued practise the schemes can then become automated and operate at an unconscious level. Repetition is an essential physical part of accessing your performance zone. Is accessing the zone just down to practise? Accessing the zone in performance situations requires the use and development of your imagination, emotions and beliefs. These can then combine with your practised physical skills. Breathing techniques, meditation, mental rehearsal, mindfulness and visualisation are useful tools to help cultivate your performance zone; these mind tools require you to imagine how you want to be during your performance (not what you are dreading happening i.e. the negative “what if’s”). Find a suitable situation in which you can regularly practise the mental rehearsal of your peak performance. Here are some visualisation techniques to practise when you are away from the performance stage, as it gets closer to your performance and during the interval breaks. Find a relaxing situation, close your eyes and use relaxed breathing techniques to lower the level of your brain activity i.e. get into your “alpha” state:
- Imagine that you are performing at the highest level for your activity, with all the features of your performance present. By doing this, you can train your mind to get used to performing under pressure.
- Identify your most emotionally confident and resourceful state. Visualise how you would be demonstrating this confidence when performing at your peak level.
- Recall the feeling of confidence from past experiences of your achievements. Or visualise confidence demonstrated from a role model in your area of expertise. “Paste” this feeling into your next performance.
- To maximise body (or any part of you, including your voice) functionality, imagine your body part being the perfect “fit” in your performance situation.
- Practise focusing your mind on empowering affirmations (positive statements), images/symbols, emotions, and words that will inspire, energise and motivate you e.g. passion, power, rhythm, intensity, determination, invincibility, flow, belief etc.
- Identify and narrow down the key qualitative processes/techniques of your peak performance e.g. fluency and rhythm. Practise imprinting them into your mental scheme.
- Visualise removing the feeling of “trying”. Instead, access the feeling of “being”.
What disrupts the performance zone?Excessive stress and anxiety can shatter your peak performance zone. When you are worried about something or you are getting frustrated with your performance, your level of brain activity increases. You are taken up, out of the automated “alpha” state and placed back into the “beta” state where you are conscious of your surrounds and trying to force your skills. Stress and anxiety management is thus an important part of staying in the zone. What is your stress? Stress can be different for everyone. What destroys one performer can motivate another. Your beliefs about yourself and your ability are essential components for keeping you mentally focused and in the zone. Negative traits can be learned from early parent conditioning, peer criticism, and your own interpretation of failed performances. Negative traits act as the source of your future insecurities and worries. They pull you away from the present, away from your performance zone. When you can identify the nature of your negative beliefs, you can work on centring this negativity. Using visualisation, you can realign your distortions to remove fear and judgement. With practise you can access positive thinking states. Here are some common negative beliefs (stressors) that can take you out of your performance Zone and ways to correct them: ● You doubt yourself and your ability – You don’t believe that you or your skills are good enough to succeed. How you think and communicate also reflects this. In your mind, you believe that you can’t do it!
Zone Tip - Visualise displaying your skills with complete confidence. Picture the peak of your playing abilities to acquire your performance zone.● You are a perfectionist – Your refusal to accept anything short of perfection means that you apply yourself rigidly to your performance. This can work when you are in control, but when something takes you off your path, it can strain other parts of your life.
Zone Tip - Visualise having a wider, balanced perspective to access your performance zone.● You are easily intimidated – Opponents will stare at you, mock you and physically attack you (when the referee is not there) in the hope to rattle you and knock your concentration. They want to undermine your self-worth.
Zone Tip – Visualise keeping your “cool” and boosting your own self esteem to acquire your performance zone.● You want results now! – You are impatient and that exposes your inability to be disciplined with your effort. When things go wrong you get angry.
Zone Tip – To access your performance zone, visualise having a calmed patience. Imagine reaping your rewards in the long term by staying on your mission.● You fear (another) injury – Having been injured or seen your peers sit on the sidelines for extensive periods, your fear of injury is holding back your progress. You are restrained and shy in attack.
Zone Tip - Visualise having a mental toughness when you compete. This is a necessary part of acquiring your performance zone.● You fear failure – Linked to perfectionism, your sensitivity to making mistakes builds your fear of failure. You are so preoccupied with avoiding mistakes that it impedes your ability to do what is right.
Zone Tip - Visualise your ability to bounce back from errors or blips; learning from your mistakes will keep you resilient in your performance zone.● You try too hard – Your aggressive style overwhelms your skills set. You force your playing style, wrongly equating over-exertion with successful performance. You risk injury and fatigue.
Zone Tip – Visualise balancing your effort with other important skills e.g. agility, rhythm. Appreciate what is “smarter” (not harder) to achieve your performance zone.● You are sensitive to criticism – Your sensitivity to people’s comments eats away at your soul because you may believe that you need to be right. You become preoccupied with their criticism; it gnaws at your self-esteem and your performance. You are unable to distinguish if it was said as an attack or as feedback to help you improve your abilities.
Zone Tip – Meditate with the comment to identify if there is anything that you can learn from it. Then consider if it can be discussed to clarify its meaning. If not, let it go. Visualise that you are worth more than the attack made on you to keep you in your performance zone.● You have high expectations – It’s good that you have ambitions, but your high expectations create an inner feeling of constant emptiness. You create unrealistic and unachievable goals that ultimately cause you to doubt your abilities.
Zone Tip – Reorganise your goals so that your interim objectives are realistically achievable. This will lift your confidence in your abilities. Visualise the combination of your long term goals and short term objectives to ultimately achieve what you want.● You stay in your comfort zone – You underplay your potential and lack the “grit” to go up a few gears when the situation demands it. Low pain threshold, tiredness and apathy prevent you from achieving a higher ranking.
Zone Tip – Visualise your power, resilience and determination to develop your physical and mental stamina. This will keep you in your performance zone.