THE ZONE OR FLOW STATE

Over the last few months I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of working with folks who earn their living by being professional sportspeople.

These people are golfers. Some are golfers who are at the very beginning of their careers, others are golfers about to break through, some are accomplished players patiently and diligently honing their skills over long and successful careers, some are major championship winners and some are world-class players of stature and renown who are moving up yet another gear.

All these golfers possess immense talent – talent that goes beyond the boundary of the meaning of the word ‘wow’ and onto something else. Make up your own word for it so you can use it when you see it and everyone will know what you’re trying to describe. That’s how beyond ‘wow’ these guys are.

But all these talented pros are searching. Searching for the ‘thing’. The thing that will allow them to bring their best game and their best golfing heads to every tournament they enter.

So they can win.

Not make the cut, not smile with satisfaction at getting a six-figure cheque for being 10 shots behind the winner. So they can win.

And to win they almost certainly need to be… (cue Twilight Zone music)… in ‘The Zone’.

We’ve all heard or read of athletes, musicians, artists, soldiers, rescue services and even business people entering a state that allowed them to perform at their very best and beyond, regardless of the circumstances.

“Everything was in slow motion”, “I had so much time to get things done”, “I was perfectly calm and focused”, “I just knew I was doing the right things and everything would be ok”, “I just completely relaxed and let it happen around me.” “It was like I was in a world of my own, a little cocoon that I was safe in.”

These folks are in The Zone or the Flow State – a magic phenomenon dispensed sparingly by the Performance Gods to those that have pleased them. Or so some think .

Whatever term is used to describe that wonderful state of focused unification of mind and body in the execution of a task or activity – there’s no shortage of discussion and debate about what conditions are necessary for Flow to exist. The scientific community has identified a number of components and conditions it feels are required but I believe there is a model that can work for anyone who seeks consistently higher levels of performance.

I have formed a very simple view of it – one that can be utilised by anyone who seeks to perform at his or her best.

Using our golfers as examples I suggest there are only three things to consider and monitor to get us into the best position to enter ‘Flow’.

They are:

1.The current state of your physical wellbeing, i.e. you feel ‘ok’

2.The current state of the your game, i.e. you’re playing pretty well, not necessarily your best but ‘ok’

3.You’re willing to let Flow find you, i.e. you’re able to ground yourself in the simple truth that you create your experience and therefore your ‘reality’ from the inside out. Flow is already there and you’re ‘ok’ with handing everything over to it.  Let’s label it Quality of Mind.

It’s easier to visualise than explain so here’s a couple of pictures below – the timescale is assumed to be a full tournament but is completely transposable to a single round.

flow1a

In State 1 the player is in excellent physical condition, is striking the ball beautifully but has slipped into believing that what they think and how they feel will determine how well they’ll play. Being stuck in that place leaves the player at the mercy of circumstance and what the round throws at them. What it throws may be lots of luck, holed putts, great shots and a good score on the day. But on the days when the breaks don’t come, early holes deliver missed 3 footers and the confidence slips – what then?

In the Flow State shown below the player is happy to accept what his/her game delivers on the day, feels pretty good physically and is in a space where they’re willing to let their round unfold. The good mental space the player inhabits is one generated through understanding the nature of thought and the realisation that excellent mental performance is not dependent on the other two factors. Good breaks or bad, the player maintains equilibrium and a calm sense of acceptance and grace during the round. Each shot is assessed and made ‘in the moment’ as it arises – not in advance, not in retrospect.

flow2a

In the example above we’ve introduced a ‘handicap’ by reducing the Quality of Play and Physical Well-being but lifted the easiest factor to manipulate – Quality of Mind.

When any of the three ‘Flow Factors’ are out of the Flow Zone issues can arise but as long as the Quality of Mind factor remains within the boundary the player can make any necessary adjustments without impacting overall performance.

So how does a player achieve ‘Quality of Mind” and what is it?

Quality of Mind is innate in all of us. It’s not a determination of good or bad – thoughts and thinking aren’t good or bad, they’re just thoughts and thinking. I’ve used the phrase as a label to encourage us to ask whether the qualities of our current thinking are serving us well. For example, if we’re wrapped up in feelings of doubt about our abilities it can feel very real that we’ve lost our abilities – they’ve deserted us.

But we know that’s not possible. It must be something else. If we ask ourselves the question, “where are these feelings coming from?” we remind ourselves that they can only come from one place – they’re coming from the thinking we’re doing, moment by moment. Nowhere else. The feelings aren’t coming from ‘out there.’ As soon as we realise that we’re the source of whatever emotion we’re experiencing we begin to reset. It’s just thought. Our ability hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s where it’s always been and it’s available to us at any time. Even if our thought generated feelings suggest otherwise.

It’s easy to lose touch with this gift when it’s been ‘eroded by circumstance’ or ‘education’ or beliefs that we’ve developed or inherited from exposure to others who have lost the skill.

 

Coaching, discussion, hypnosis and cognitive work are all excellent tools for helping clients get great results for themselves and I use these extensively.

However, my objective is show my clients how to be self sufficient in monitoring and maintaining their mental performance all the time – they know when their thinking is ‘going off’ and they know what to do to get it ‘back on’.

That’s why Inside Out and the principles are so important – the other tools on their own are bit like duck tape. That’s not a criticism of duck tape, it’s simply recognising that, while duck tape has loads of uses, you maybe wouldn’t want to rely on it to keep your roof on in a hurricane. When you understand Inside Out and the principles your roof stays on.

One of the many beauties of knowing how to get to this innate quality of mind (beyond just being a consistently higher performer) is to be able to bring the same quality of mind back with you from the golf course, sports field or office to the home, to relationships, family and friendships. Simple.

Imagine that for a moment – imagine you can enjoy Flowing through the Zone in every aspect of your life any time you want.

Now that would be fun, wouldn’t it!

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