Performing Our Best – How to be “In the Zone”
This is the week of celebrating incredible athletes. We just finished Super Bowl Sunday, the day two elite football teams face off against one another to determine who will be deemed football champions of the world. The Eagles won, not because of a single player, but rather how each player showed up and worked together as a team. Plus, the Winter Olympics start this Thursday. We will watch elite individual athletes and teams compete at the highest level of their sport to determine who is the best in the world. A common trait of all of these world-class athletes is their discipline to continually improve at both their physical game and mental game to compete at their best.
Here’s the deal: in order to perform their absolute best, a part of their mental game is about being “in the zone.” We’ve heard this phrase used for athletes of all types, a common trait amongst the elite, regardless of sport. The best athletes know they need to show up with an incredible amount of focus when they are performing. To be in the zone, the quarterback is fully present in the play in front of him, reading the defense and his own players, processing the information in a matter of milliseconds, and reacting accordingly. He is not thinking about the off-season tasks, an investment he’s considering, or his children’s schoolwork. Same with the downhill slalom skier, who gets her mind in the zone well before she’s in the blocks waiting for the starting gun, and stays there as she flies down the hill, winding her way around flags to the finish line.
Let’s take a page out of the athlete’s playbook, and learn how to be “in the zone” in our professional lives. It’s how we will perform at our absolute best, whether we are involved in technical tasks, involved in a meeting, or giving a presentation.
What are some techniques to get your mind “in the zone?”
1. Dedicate time for planning your day and week. Part of our reason for multitasking is we don’t establish a routine for dedicated time each week to complete our personal and professional tasks. Take 10-15 minutes at the beginning of each week to look over your schedule and your goals, and the first few minutes of your work day, to organize your thoughts and your priorities. This will allow you to be more present in your engagements each day, as you’ll have addressed the key areas in your life.
2. Keep appointments with yourself. Why is it true calendar events with ourselves are so often the first to be dropped? So commonly, we break promises to ourselves, when we would never do so with our family members, friends, or colleagues. Certainly, there are times when you must flex your schedule, such as the boss calling you in for an immediate meeting, or when the school nurse calls and your child needs to be picked up. These are exceptional circumstances which may break our self-appointments, but when we are truthful, often we break these appointments because of smaller, less time-sensitive interruptions. We love helping our co-workers (and feeling needed), and when they call with a question, we stop what we’re doing to answer them. We don’t eliminate our distractions for our self-appointments, and when we see an email or chat pop-up, we want to address immediately. Identify your main culprits (most of us have them), and find ways to stay in the zone in your appointments with yourself. Minimize or turn off notifications on your electronics. Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your office door or on your desk if you work in a cube. Establish, and keep, a schedule with your self, and your co-workers will soon adapt to your new habit.
3. Take a Breath. In the moments before your next task, take a few deep breaths and reconnect your mind to your next engagement. These can be done discreetly before a meeting, where you intend to be fully engaged and provide your perspective on the subject at-hand. You can take in a few breaths before you engage in your technical tasks, write a document, or participate in a peer review. Take in a few breaths before you meet with your client, either in-person or virtually. Deliberate breaths can bring us to a state of being present, which ultimately leads to us performing “in the zone,” in any situation we face.
Reach your potential by working on this one habit over and over again. Strive for progress, not perfection. We are so habitually used to multi-tasking, that keeping our focus on the moment will be a practice – never a mastery. We will be constantly humbled by our wandering mind and our draw towards multi-tasking. To gauge how this is improving your performance, reflect on your own stress levels. Have they decreased?