Note: This post is written by Cris Antonio
Imagine yourself going about your tasks as you normally would, but today, you feel everything around you begin to gradually fade out. It’s like becoming a third-party observer. There is no one else but you – just your hands and your body in motion. You know this process too well. Soon, your mind begins to focus on only one thing: the job that lies ahead. There are no people, no wind, no birds, no time. Your lips curl into a small smile as your hands swiftly move on its own accord.
Congratulations: you have just entered the elusive zone.
A lot of people think that “the zone” or “flow” – the mental state of heightened focus and performance – is only for top performers like athletes. But this condition can in fact, be achieved by anyone. Whether you’re a cook, a dancer, a writer, or an actor, going into “the zone” is what separates a good day from a great one. It’s the difference between placing first and being second.
If you’ve always wondered how to achieve excellence at work or in life, you need to understand how you can put yourself “in the zone” as often as possible so you can do more, and be more. But how? Here are six strategies to help you out.
Disclaimer: Getting into “the zone” is NOT suggested for beginners because it involves letting your subconscious mind takeover. It would be highly difficult (if not impossible) to achieve a certain level of flow as you’re not yet familiar with the process involved in your task. It is recommended that you invest time and energy into mastering your craft first, before worrying about going into “the zone”. Don’t fret though: you will eventually find your focus soon enough!
1. Get your goals straight.
The finish line is more than a destination: it’s for direction. Whenever athletes set a target for themselves, they are really giving themselves a path on where to go.
In his book “The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive”, author Jim Afremow tells readers how having specific goals increases awareness of your own performance. It’s like having a guiding star leading you home. In the book, speed skater Dan Jansen encourages people to dream big. He says that the higher the goal, the more work you’re going to put into it. In this process, you’re already setting yourself up for success.
2. Find the stillness.
There’s a reason world-class athletes and other winning professionals cite meditation as one of their habits. In the movie “X-Men: First Class”, the young Charles Xavier (Professor X) tells his then friend Erik Lensherr (Magneto) that he believes “true focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity”. What his character was referring to is a state when you let your mind become still. Meditation can help you achieve this.
Don’t confuse doing nothing with being still: both are VERY different. When you do nothing, you’re surrendering. But when you become still, your focus becomes sharper and you’re suddenly highly aware of everything, from your limbs to the space around you. Stillness clears your mind and gives you more control over your actions. This is one technique professionals in intense occupations (i.e. surgeons) do in order to complete tricky tasks without batting an eye.
3. DON’T multitask!
If you want to get “in the zone”, you need to be fully immersed in the job before you. Whether you’re singing, dancing, cooking, or writing a report, you can’t expect to get 100 percent unless you GIVE 100 percent. You don’t see athletes using their phones when training, or hear doctors doing casual chitchat in the E.R. That’s because they need to constantly remain in their zone. Distractions not only lessen focus, they also impede performance.
Want to achieve excellence at work? Focus on ONE thing at a time. You’ll be surprised by how much faster you finish that task once you get into the “flow” of things.
4. Make it challenging.
When do you usually feel at your topmost condition: an hour right before beating a deadline OR days before a presentation? Challenges push us to our limits. Without some form of struggle, people wouldn’t know how good they really are, or how much potential they truly possess.
This is why athletes compete. There is a certain drive – a thirst – to know how far you can actually come. This personal push to meet challenges gets them “into the zone”.
So whenever you want to slip into that mental state of pure concentration, give yourself a challenge.
5. Get ready to let go.
Some folks always say that the key to a happy life is knowing you are never in control. There is some truth into that. According to Mihaly Csíkszentmihály, author of “Finding Flow”, “it is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself, rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were”.
Plenty of topnotch athletes who were interviewed said that they experience a sense of “letting go” just before they go into the zone. This does NOT mean abandoning goals. Rather, it is an understanding that you can only do your best and enjoy the process. After all, we are not in control of consequences.
6. Tap into your subconscious.
Aside from meditation, plenty of successful people like CEOs and doctors tap into the power of their subconscious. This involves visualizing how they are going to execute their plans, imagining success as the result. One of the reasons why this is effective is because visualizing impacts many aspects in the brain, including motor, attention, perception, and memory.
So in essence, imagining you’ve done a wonderful presentation is gearing your brain towards realizing that picture.
Ready to Go with The Flow?
There will be days when, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get into the zone. But that’s okay. Just don’t forget to create your own strategies so you can always find your way back – especially for crucial instances like during business presentations or for competitions. It’s not going to be easy conditioning your mind to employ laser-like focus on most tasks, so coming up with effective habits is a good start.
Whether you want to achieve excellence at work or in life, the habits we form will ultimately lead us to our final goals. As researcher Todd Heatherton said: “People get better at regulating their impulses. They learn how to distract themselves from temptations. And once you’ve gotten into that willpower groove, your brain is”.
The only question now is: are you ready to be in the zone?
Cris Antonio is the Chief Editor of Scoopfed.com. She’s currently focused on helping healthcare workers find better career opportunities through Locum Tenens. Aside from writing, Cris also enjoys painting, collecting toys, and reading German novels. Feel free to follow her adventures on Twitter @CrisWrites.