“It’s just about being in the zone, in any sport…”
– Mark Teixeira, Professional Baseball First Baseman
Most seasoned triathletes will tell you that it’s not all about winning. You know that real passion for triathlon comes from enjoying the experience and wanting to do better each time. However, this is not easy due to the fact that triathlons are undeniably grueling. But what isn’t often discussed is ‘being in the zone’ – a state almost every athlete covets and hopes to achieve. Being in the zone is a magical experience; almost spiritual. Let’s break it down, mile by mile.
What is ‘the zone’?
Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, psychologist, coined the term in 1990 in his book entitled “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”. Simply put, it is a heightened state of presence in which everything around you blurs into insignificance and you are completely focused on what you’re doing. Everything flows, time seems to have slowed down, and you experience the present moment to its fullest.
How do you get ‘in the zone’?
‘The zone’ is a state where there are no mental distractions, judgements, or worries. You are totally immersed in what you’re doing when you do something you love. The task becomes effortless.
It may sound tough especially if you regularly train for endurance sports like triathlons, but it’s simple with a bit of practice.
Here are four steps to help you get there:
- Thought awareness
Our thoughts get in the way because they force us to rationalize, worry, plan, judge, and a million other things. The easiest way to become aware of them is to realize that they are different entities. Practice this every day to achieve better results.
As basketball legend Kobe Bryant says in the video below (http://bit.ly/2fHN2VJ), ‘Stay in the present, don’t let anything break that rhythm… become oblivious to everything that’s going on… you don’t think about the surroundings or what’s going on with the crowd.”
- Thought control
Once you are aware of your thoughts, you can control which ones to entertain – the ones in the present. This way, you learn to give your full attention to what you are doing. If you’re doing a set of 20 reps, focus on the one rep you are doing instead of all the 20 you have to do. Or, in a triathlon race, put your focus on the mile you are running and not the whole race.
Tony Jacklin, British golfer says, “When I’m in this state, this cocoon of concentration, I’m living fully in the present, not moving out of it. I’m aware of every inch of my swing…I’m absolutely engaged, involved in what I’m doing at that particular moment.”
- Finding comfort in your discomfort
Often triathletes find the sustained physical effort required of them uncomfortable, punishing, and repetitive. But to get in the zone you have to love the discomfort and accept it. Don’t try to push it out of your mind. When you embrace the discomfort you will find mental strength.
Here’s how Christopher Bergland, world-class endurance triathlete, handled the pain:
“I would visualize the jolt of pain entering my body through the soles of my feet was energy coming from the core of the earth. My feet became a conduit that allowed my body to tap into an infinite energy source that propelled me forward like I was plugged into a nuclear reactor.”
- Doing something for its own sake
Goals are good, especially in competitive sports. They egg us on to get to the finish line. But often, thoughts of them prevent us from enjoying the process of getting there. To get in the zone you need to think of the journey and not the destination. ‘Autotelic experience’ is what Csíkszentmihályi called it. It simply means doing something for the love of it.
Tennis great Billie Jean King spoke of this:
“It’s not the big prize I’m going to win at the end of the match, or anything else. It’s just having done something that’s totally pure and having experienced the perfect emotion…”
As you reflect on the season gone by, and prepare for the season to come, ‘being in the zone’ is something that will take you to the next level of performance in triathlons.