Posted by: mikeduckett | March 25, 2015

Getting in The Zone

(First published in Staff Canteen)

FlowLast time I talked about setting goals in a way that helps get your brain in gear. Now let’s think about how to make sure it’s the right gear.

Sports people call this ‘getting in the zone of flow’; it’s when they are at their best.

The last blog mentioned Rule 2: Separate your goal from the performance needed to achieve that goal and stay focused on what you can control – your performance. I can’t emphasise this enough.

When your goal is to have the biggest market share in a market it’s clear you can’t control customers; you can’tmake them buy more of your product than your competitors. A little less obvious is that you can’t control your staff; you can’t make them be creative, attend to fine detail or be customer focused. What you can control are the elements of your own performance such as thinking like a marketing person to gain customer response. What you can control are elements of your leadership such as persuasiveness and inspirational style to give you the best chance of staff responding.

Elite athletes don’t focus on winning or losing, because they can’t control the result. What they focus on is what they’re DOING from moment to moment.

This is all part of getting in the zone – a mental state that has been widely studied not only in sports but in other general walks of life. So what’s it like to ‘be in the zone’? You have almost certainly experienced it already; maybe when you’ve been absorbed by some task – working on an idea in development for example – and time simply flew by. You faced a stiff challenge but somehow you just knew you’d rise to this challenge. That’s being in the zone; when you’re at your best.

So the question is, what’s it take to get into the zone? (Before we say any more let me point out that you can’t force this and you can’t stay in the zone forever!)

  1. There has to be the kind of clear goal we just discussed
  2. The focus then needs to be on the task in the moment i.e. the performance we talked about above. Your thoughts are in the present; what you’re doing NOW (thinking; encouraging; presenting). Your thoughts are in neither the future nor the past (what response you might get tomorrow or did get last month).
  3. The challenge presented by the goal has to be neither too great nor too small. In the same way that playing a set of tennis against Andy Murray would push most of us out of flow and into anxiety, then telling a junior to produce the most complicated market report may well be beyond their skill level and push them to the point where anxiety reduces performance. Equally, on the other hand, Andy Murray would be very unlikely to get into his zone of flow playing me, as my challenge for him would be so low that he’d be pushed into the boredom zone and not play at his best.

wcf4. To get in the zone you’ll need unambiguous feedback; so continuing the tennis example, when you see the ball you served slam in the back for an ace you know immediately that your service action was good. Can you get similar immediate feedback on your performance in the board room/customer’s office? If you’re focused on your performance in presenting a new market campaign and someone says an idea doesn’t sound viable, that’s good feedback. However the more subtle areas of your performance may prove a bit tricky. For example, you don’t always get immediate unambiguous feedback about your inspirational leadership style so you’ll need to be tuned to notice it when you do get it!

These are four key aspects to think about if you want to be at your best and then if you do get in the zone you’ll know because time will distort (as they say, ‘it flies by when you’re having fun’); you will lose any self-consciousness and feel in control. ENJOY!

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