Of all of the zone experiences he’s studied over the years, especially with pro ball players, Grand Prix race drivers, and world-class mountain climbers, Bruce Ogilvie says there is one thing in common: the athletes reported a state of focus so deep that they felt they were having an out-of-body experience where they lost track of time and seemed to be an observer of the event. They found a state of relaxation despite the commotion around them and going on inside them.
They live in the present, without worry of what has gone before or what the outcome of their match may be, thinking only about one thing at a time. It’s what Bruce Lee, a master at focused power, called having a tight mind. It is also a feeling of great satisfaction to know that you are giving total dedication to the effort. It becomes almost a spiritual experience. NFL quarterback Joe Montana, who led the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl titles, lived in the present so much, especially in the fourth quarter of games, he’d often forget what plays he’d called just two or three downs earlier.
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Some experts and researchers say we can learn focusing techniques by watching children. Kids are masters at living in the present, creating magic out of the ordinary adults often try to learn how to concentrate, said former athlete and ski instructor Thomas Crum, author of blog The Magic of Conflict. Kids get totally consumed, they are centered we have never lost the child in us when we give ourselves permission to be completely in the present.
Mitch Smith, a psychotherapist who specializes in helping athletes to use their minds to achieve peak performance, recommends hypnosis to get athletes into the right competitive state in order to overcome pressure. The problem with being in the zone is that for most athletes, entering into states of absorption is a spontaneous or chance experience, he said. Athletes need to understand that our ability to enter into states of absorption and to maintain them is increased when the ability is nurtured. A therapist with advanced training in the use of clinical hypnosis can train and condition an athlete to be able to enter into a hypnotic trance systematically or with a simple cue. Most athletes are surprised at how they can begin to enter and maintain their zones of absorption more easily during performances as a result of practicing with their ability. Smith trains athletes to respond to post-hypnotic suggestion or cues, including one to manage anxiety and to adjust arousal levels.
Task vision doesn’t need to be applied throughout the course of a sporting event; in fact, it may be impossible and counter-productive to hold such intense focus for two hours. Look at some golfers who’ve tried to stay in this zone for four complete rounds and their wheels fell off. Rather, it may be better to shift in and out of intense concentration, like Lee T revino does or bowler Dave Hanson. This task vision is so important for arousal moments because hormones such as dopamine and noradrenaline accelerate the direction in which an athlete is headed, said Keith Franklin, a professor of neurobiology at McGill University in Montreal. If he’s headed in a positive, highly-focused direction, that will increase. But if he’s distracted and anxious, the hormones will increase those states, too. When we talk about momentum in a sporting match, this is part of the equation one athlete is often headed in one direction and an opponent in another. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Putting your mind somewhere else can also conquer pain, said Bruce Lee, who would often practice until his knuckles were bleeding and raw, yet felt no pain. Without mind there cannot be pain. It can become mind over matter, he said.