If it hasn’t happened to you yet, I can only tell you that it will. Some day you’ll be standing at the craps table, tossing the dice and hitting numbers over and over, while time and the outside world seem to disappear. Congratulations. You have just entered the Zone.
Your ability to slip into the Zone and maintain that state allows you to harness your intelligence, creativity, and talent and subconsciously put them to work for you during high stress situations. Craps players who cannot get into the zone suffer from what I’ll call Sevens Anxiety. Their inability to access the zone limits their performance in the gaming arena. Their results, while occasionally good – generally fall short of great.
So how do you go beyond good to great? The key is to consider the Zone as separate from any activity – be it craps, competitive sports, or writing the great American novel. And we’ve all had a little “taste” of the Zone, even if we haven’t yet mastered it. My UFO enthusiast friends often talk about having “lost time” episodes that they associate with alien abduction events. I look at lost time events as Zone events. My friends immersed themselves so deep in thought on a subconscious level that everything else “disappeared” and they lost track of time. You may have had the same thing happen while driving in your car. Ever get lost in thought while driving, then snap out of it and you’re not sure exactly where you are? How about you runners? You get your headphones on and fall into the rhythm of the run. The rest of the world just fades away and the next thing you know you’re five miles down the trail. All of these experiences share something in common. They all deal with the temporary suspension of the subject/object relationship.
Say what? Here are a couple of examples. An artist finds himself lost in the shades of blue on his canvas. The writer’s characters take over and write the book for him. The martial artist gets lost in the rhythm of the kicks and punches he’s throwing. Suddenly you stop being self-aware, and begin to sense a connection between all of the seemingly unrelated parts of the activity we’re involved in. It’s as if we’re stepping outside our bodies and viewing things on the big screen of life. It’s like we’re actually becoming the dice . . . the felt . . . the back wall.
Okay, so much for getting into the zone subconsciously. How do you do it on demand? There are many different disciplines that have all or part of the keys. Meditation, prayer, Yoga, Tai Chi, music by Vivaldi, long distance running, spa treatments, and many more. Just look for moments in life where the world disappears and time ceases to exist.
One of the core techniques that will help you enter the Zone is deep breathing, or breath control. Sometimes I refer to it as “belly breathing.” If you’ve taken one of our classes you were probably instructed to Set the dice, Aim for your landing zone, Breathe, Relax, and Execute. The breathing part of the SABRE acronym is a three step process. Breathe in slowly and deeply, hold it for a second, then relax and blow out stress and tension. Learning to “belly breathe” reduces stress and helps you access your deepest resources, even when the penny slot machine behind you is making a 25,000 coin payoff.
Here’s a little deep breathing exercise you can use to work on this technique. Lie on your back, and then put a book (I like to use a dictionary) on your stomach. Inhale and watch the book rise. Exhale and watch it fall. Your chest should move very little, if any. You’re “belly breathing.”
Another technique I sometimes use is what I call “the Dr Pepper exercise.” Every day at 10AM – 2PM and 4PM take 90 seconds out of your day to focus on your breathing. Slow deep breath in – hole it – slowly exhale anger, stress, and negativity. You can do this anywhere – in the car, in meetings, or even walking across the parking lot. I also practice deep breathing first thing when I wake up in the mornings – and last thing before I go to bed in the evenings.
Does any of this help? Absolutely. Next time you find yourself in a moderately stressful situation, practice deep breathing and relaxing. Let’s say you have to give a speech at work, get stuck in traffic, or are in the middle of an argument. Stop for a second, take a deep breath, and relax. Doing so will change your body’s signals to itself. The fight or flight reaction fades, and you’ll be able to slip back into the Zone.