How to Find the Zone

Have you ever found that spot in your mind where you lost track of time while completely immersed in your favorite sport?

Some call it “The Zone”while others may call it “The Flow”.

For all — it is serendipity.

You are kayaking down a clear jungle river with Class 4 rapids crashing all around you as you paddle hard and sneak your way through to the other end.

Your glide mere feet from a monstrous Class 5 man-eating bone crusher rapid and your heart lightly flutters as you streak on by.

Learn what Pro athletes say about getting into the Zone

Your climbing a sweeping sun splashed limestone cliffline.  Endless tufas and featured roofs line the route above you.  You are in the zone and only think about what is ahead.  Your focus is amazing at this point.

Learn what a Navy SEAL says about getting into The Flow

You mentally prepare yourself for a long and arduous CrossFit workout called Murph.  Your mind is ready and you plunge into the deep end with all that you have.  Emptying your soul and mind in progressive steps until your body lies in a pool of sweat of the gym.  The flow was yours and you were the flow.

How do we get to that secret spot that we so desire?  We all chase it.  Some more than others.  The place where cell phones, bills, work problems and world chaos cannot penetrate?  Is it elusive for only those that have that immersion within their sport? Can only the top level athletes pierce the veil and be sucked into the flow?

“Be fully aware. Be engaged. Remind yourself
to live in the present moment, The Zone.” -Jim Fannin

For some, it is part of a daily practice.  Whether it is their daily yoga or stretching practice.  Some run long distance – secreting powerful hormones that put their mind and body in the “runners high”. Some submerge themselves in freak-a-zoid hard workouts while others dial their minds in on the smooth putting green of Augusta Nationals.

Pro athletes and top performers in their fields know about the zone.  For them it is now second nature.  They seek it and if finds them. They become one.

“The zone really refers to when you’re performing automatically,” says Aynsley Smith, Ph.D., a sports psychology consultant at the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, Rochester, Minn. “It’s when you’re absolutely free of worries, free of inhibitions and so confident and relaxed that your best performance just kind of comes out automatically.”

But so much for the esoteric mumbo-jumbo, how do we get you to find “the Zone”.  It has been said that some top level athletes have an intrinsic ability to find “The Zone”.  They may be hard wired says Dr. Michael Lardon, a prominent sports psychiatrist who works with Olympic athletes and PGA players.  His new book, Finding Your Zone offers a road map for finding the zone.

Dr. Lardon went on to talk about Tiger Woods and his ability to keep his mind only on the task ahead of him.  Dr. Lardon explained “Tiger is fascinating. He was [recently] paired against a kid, a rookie, who had shot low on Thursday and Friday. The kid had a six-shot lead. At the press tent, they asked Tiger when the last time he was paired with a player he’d never heard of, on the weekend. He said he couldn’t remember. Then they asked how it felt, that they’d almost handed the kid the trophy already. Tiger looked the guy dead in the eye and said, “In golf, they don’t hand the trophy out on Friday.” That’s a simple line. But it’s a template for beautiful mental hygiene. Tiger doesn’t get ahead of himself. He’s not thinking about how many British Opens this will make; he’s thinking about keeping the ball low.

When asked if Tiger was at the peak of his performance Dr. Lardon responded “Tiger’s very unusual, just the way he was raised, just the way the passion that was kindled. It was, “Do your homework and you get to play golf.” The way he was taught proactively, made him great too. When most of the players of his level get famous or win a Major, they take a large step back, i.e. Rich Beem or David Duval. There’s an onslaught of attention. With Tiger, he was ready”.

So how do you achieve a portion of that legendary focus and drive that can put you into the zone?

The biggest step you can take is to know that the zone (aka “Flow”) is real and can be entered into at your own will.  Now that you want to get into a state of flow, you have climbed half the mountain. The rest is having a solid method.

For each of us the method is different.  Here are a few ideas to get your mind rolling and moving in the right direction.  Relax yourself.  You may have a favorite radio station or set of Ipod mix that gets you staged for the zone. A ritual to start out with like sipping a strong cup of coffee while soaking up the morning sun. You walk to your favorite corner of the gym and read an inspiring quote or view a photo from a magazine that was recently taped to the wall.  Your mind begins to flutter images of your future self – walking boldly in a valley of chaos.  You begin to calm your mind. You are becoming centered and oblivious to all of the distractions and problems of the world around you.

You have eliminated distractions and now have an objective (hard workout, championship golf fame, paddle a Class V rapid).  You are  creating a situation conducive to focus.  You are now ready for the flow. You can now start your workout or golf game or writing project that you have prepared for.  Your mind is ready and your body will follow.  You are now in the zone.

Move through the project you are focusing on — with ease.  You are perfectly ok with all that comes at you as you are passionate about your project and know that you will overcome.  You arrive at the end without looking at your watch for minutes or even hours.  Time has shot past you as you were engrossed in the moment – unaware of all of the distractions that flitted past you.  You emerge on the other side as a better person or athlete or writer than when you started the day.  You have experience the zone.

Read more on The Zone:

Question: Coach Brad,
I love to read your stories daily. I strive daily to achieve something outside of my comfort zone. I encourage my employee and family to do the same as well. Being outside of your comfort zone is really the only time that your mind is sharp and open to learning. I have attached something about attitudes “Proactive versus Reactive” that I read a few times a year to put my mind in check. Being a beer guy can clutter your mind quickly with negativity from many angles. So I use this to gather my thoughts and put everything in perspective. Thank you for the daily motivation. Keep up the good work…… Tim.

Answer: Thanks Tim.

Read more on preparing for Mental Toughness:

About the Author:
bradBrad McLeod knows first hand about mental toughness after being kicked out of a top tier Spec Ops training unit. He failed out of BUD/S the first time after failing a math test (made it through Hell Week and Dive Pool Comp). He came back a year later and graduated and served as an operator on the Navy SEAL Teams.


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