The “Zone” is a mental state where we’re completely absorbed in an activity. We’ve all experienced it in our lives regardless of whether it’s completing a task at work or playing a video game. But the zone (also known as the flow state) is a mythical place that we as athletes aspire to find thru practice in training and competition.
There’s a mountain of material out there to read from every self help author with theories ranging from the obscure to the outrageous, but at the end of the day it comes down to what works for you. I’ve learned thru trial and error that I need certain elements to be in place to find my zone.
1. Goal Setting: Some events I enter will have outcome based goals. That is, I am aiming for a win, a podium spot, to beat a time or a particular competitor. With other events I set performance based goals such as nailing my lines thru an especially hard rapid or having a technically sound downwind leg in an ocean race.
2: Confidence: Be overwhelmingly confident in my preparation for the event. Have I done everything I promised myself I would do, to get here? This gives me the confidence I need to focus on achieving my goals. At the end of the day, confidence equals success.
3: Knowledge: If I have an outcome based goal, I will size up the competition but absolutely respect what they have done to get to this starting line. Who am I racing against? What are their strengths, weakness’s and tells? If I have a performance based goal, then the knowledge may be more focused on the technical nature of the race course including various plans for lines thru a rapid or understanding the effects of tides and wind on the course.
4: Centered: There are also certain criteria I aim to put in place before I pull up to the start line to maximize my chances of being centered enough to compete in the zone. I look to have a light hearted attitude that finds humor and fun with the proceedings while avoiding the weight of the events importance. I like to remain alone with my thoughts and be relaxed both physically and mentally. I also give myself plenty of time to reach the start line so there is no feeling of being rushed.
If I can put all this together then I’m able to maximize the chances of finding that hyper-focused state known as the zone. The kayak dances beneath me as if it knows where it’s going, while the physical effort of driving it forwards feels like it’s on cruise control. The distractions of the crowds or other competitors fade into a peripheral white noise. And hopefully goals are reached.