People do sometimes ask me, how they can stop thoughts to enable them to get into ‘The Zone’. Well the first thing is having thoughts is perfectly natural and not something we should try & stop. The second thing is that ‘The Zone’ isn’t something we can pursue, so they should stop trying to get there.
Being in the zone is generally when you are performing at your best with no attachment to conscious thought. Its not something you can think yourself into, you generally fall into it without noticing. Thoughts will still come and go but we don’t give them attention, we just let them keep on drifting by. We can’t think our way into it and when we are there there’s no need for any mental techniques to improve things, we are just in a natural state of being.
I’ve never had anyone approach me and ask how they can think a bit more on the golf course or in the pool. How can they cram in a few more positive images when they are taking a penalty or riding a wave? Yet so many people let their conscious thinking get in the way of performing at their best and above all enjoying what they do.
So if conscious thought can get in the way of us performing at our best, what can we do? Well the first thing is to start to notice where our experience is coming from. Do you ever notice how some people can stay calm when things are going badly for them and some freak out? What’s driving their behaviour? Well the difference is the thoughts they are applying to the situation.
It’s never the duff chip or sliced kick that’s the problem it’s the thoughts we have about them that create the experience. Our experience is 100% coming from within and as soon as we can start to see our thinking rather than just be caught up in the story, we give ourselves control and choice.
We are also constantly judging things that come to our attention. Deciding whether they are good or bad. When I say things, this could mean: what we’re doing (behavior & technique), the results were getting, the situation were in, how were feeling, what we are thinking. The list goes on. All of these are neutral things, situations, and experiences. That’s until we add thought which gives us our individual perception of what’s occurring.
Let me give you an example. At the start of the week I was running in the Dublin Marathon. I’d prepared fairly well and I had a plan to stick with the pacer balloons. The plan was going well, when at around 30k they started to stretch away from me a little. When I clicked this was happening my first thought was “Oh No!! I’m losing them!” I thought of all the work I’d put in and how the goal I’d set was getting away from me. My mind was getting busy in terms of who I might let down, how I was failing etc.
What was also happening was because I was thinking stressful thoughts my body was tensing up. Stress chemicals were starting to flow and I noticed tension creeping into my shoulders and back “Oh no!!” as I dropped further back (my language may have been a bit stronger).
Stress, anxiety and tension are never conducive to effective performance. So often though we allow ourselves to stay in these states, blaming the situation for how we are feeling and performing.
My mind was now racing as I had decided the things were bad, I was feeling bad, the future was bad. Then I clicked. None of these things were good or bad they just were. As soon as I could see this from a neutral position my mind started to quieten. When there’s no problem to fix the mind doesn’t have anything to do and thoughts start to move again without attachment.
Once I could separate my thinking from the situation I could make adjustments without judgment. I relaxed my posture, adjusted my technique, tension started to leave and pretty soon I had started to catch up again.
Mind made crisis over!
So to give yourself best chance of enjoying your game what ever it is recognise the following:
· The more you think about getting into ‘The Zone’ the further away you are from experiencing it
· Its never the situation that’s the problem it’s the thoughts your putting your attention on that are giving you that experience
· The more you can be gently aware of your thoughts, rather than allowing yourself to be sucked into the story your creating, the more control you have
· Try to see things from a neutral point of view rather than deciding whether things are good or bad. Doing this will allow the thoughts to keep moving and will make it so much easier to make adjustments to technique and behaviours.