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Sports, Sports Psychology

In the Zone: The Psychology of Winning

Competitors, musicians, athletes, and every day people like you and me seek the mysterious and elusive state of supreme focus and elevated confidence commonly referred to as the “zone”. In my recent post on professional surfer’s winning mindset Andy Irons spoke of being in the zone (you can read his description here). Occasionally we see people enter this place (and if we’re lucky experience it first hand) where time seems to stand still, motions become fluid and natural, and tasks transcend the clumsy and mundane, reaching a level that reveal glimpses into a world of perfection that typically lie beyond our every day experience.

I received an e-mail this week from Dr. Patrick Cohn of www.peaksports.com. Dr. Cohn is a sports psychologist who has developed a program which enables athletes to overcome mental barriers, increase focus, and achieve higher levels of success in their area of expertise. Here is an excerpt from his e-mail on the zone:

“What really is the zone? The zone is simply a mental state of total
involvement in the present moment. I like the word *immersed* as it
indicates you lose yourself – or your sense of self – when you
perform, which is how some athletes describe the zone…

Being in the zone is a state of total involvement in a task without
the mental burden or worry, doubt, or fear about results.

Many of the top athletes do–Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Maria
Sharapova, for example. But some athletes are blocked from entering
the zone because they are overtaken by massive distractions such as
fear of failure and worry.

The top athletes know how to harness the power of the zone by using
thoughts and images to trigger a mindset to enter the zone.

‘I felt as though I was driving in a tunnel. I had
reached such a high level of concentration that it
was as if the car and I had become one.’
~Arton Senna, F1 Race Car Driver

Arton Senna’s quote is a common description of how athletes depict
or explain their experience in the zone: the driver merges with the
car; the tennis player joins her mind with the ball and court; the
golfer becomes one with the club and the ball; and so on.

Entering the zone may sound zen-like and magical, but actually
achieving this level of immersion is very simple…

When your mind fully connects with achieving a goal, such as serving
an ace, attention is absorbed into the present – the here and now
only. Your mind is riveted to the thoughts and images that help you
execute with precision.

With pinpoint focus, fear of failure, worry, doubt, indecision, and
other mental traps are forbidden from entering your conscious mind.
In this state of concentration, mental distractions struggle to
compete for your attention, but lose the battle…”

Have you ever experienced the zone? What were the characteristics of that experience that stick out in your mind? Analyzing the experience and practicing steps that lead to the experience may hold the key to unlocking future “zone” experiences. Check out my recent post on engrams to discover 10 steps in developing positive mental maps.

For further information on the zone including a psychological study posted on WebMD check out this link

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The Quotable Climber

"I believe that no man can be completely able to summon all his strength, all his will, all his energy, for the last desperate move, till he is convinced the last bridge is down behind him and there is nowhere to go but on." Heinrich Harrer
August 2008
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