The Baby Zone

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The zone is the second most natural thing people do next to breathing.  We first experience our zone the moment we are born.  Pay attention to babies, they intuitively go into profoundly deep zones.  It is how they learn.  Babies absorb themselves in everything.  They stare down mom, the dog, and the paintings on the wall.  They absorb themselves in music and deeply focus on new and familiar voices, they are constantly zoning in to the stimuli all around them.

The baby zone is where it all starts.  As children grow the zone continues to expand to enable them to achieve more advanced learnings.  For example, learning to walk is a daunting, difficult undertaking.  Babies will stumble and fall countless times prior to taking that elusive first step yet never consider discontinuing the quest to walk.

History has never known a baby that thinks, “You know, I just really can’t do this.  What is wrong with me?  What-if I never learn to walk?  I’ll never have any friends.  I’ll be stuck like this forever!”  The child’s naturalistic, meditative zone state creates an unwavering belief that walking is right around the corner.

Whether it’s learning to read and write, throw and catch, or swim in the pool (to name just a few of the countless things we learn when intensely focused), the zone remains a huge part of each person throughout life.

In order to learn, to achieve goals and rise to the next level, you need to access your natural capacity to trust yourself.  Self-trust is inherent in the zone.  It helps to dissolve doubt, worry, fear, and the myriad of symptoms that serve as zone blockers.  Trust is a hallmark of Zonefulness.  So, your zone has been with you all along.  It is readily available to you any time, all the time.  Walk on.

A Case Study: 5th Inning Triumph

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A major league baseball player who was mired in a most unusual slump was referred to me.  As a first year starting pitcher he was unable to make it through the 5th inning of his first five starts of the season.  He rapidly developed an irrational belief that he would never again make it through the 5th inning.

Interestingly, he pitched extremely well during the first four innings of each game he started.  After being unable to survive the 5th in his first two starts he began to worry.  Specifically, he began to “what-if” about not making it through this most troublesome inning.  So, the five days he had to endure between starts became mentally excruciating.

He began obsessively engaging The Toxic Three zone blockers that guarantee poor performance.  “What- if it happens again?”  “What-if I get sent down to Triple-A?” “Why am I playing like this?” “I don’t belong in the big leagues, I’ll never make it, I’m a loser,” played over and over in his conscious, overthinking mind.  Unbelievably, he explained that he would actually calculate his earned run average (ERA) rising during the 5th inning.  He would do this after surrendering runs, prior to the next batter stepping up to the plate.

Now, I already understood that anyone who makes it to “the show,” the big leagues, is a world class athlete.  Any major league baseball player is better than 99.9999% of the players in the world.  So when he said to me at the outset of our session, “I don’t know what you think you can do, I already know I’ll never make it through the 5th inning,” I was prepared.

I continued, “I have a question for you, but I don’t want you to answer it until later in the session.  Here goes: ‘What’s so special about the 5th inning?’  I promise we’ll come back to it.”

I proceeded to inquire about his Personal History of Success, his ability to support himself and his teammates when having a difficult time, and about his Future Memories of Success.  I was highlighting The Big Three techniques that create Peak Performance.

Personal History of Success: Why-ning (asking, “Why did I play so poorly?”) is used as a positive trigger to magnify your Personal History of Success.

I was curious about the road that brought him to the highest level of professional baseball.  “So let’s put the stress and pressure aside for just a moment and talk about pure baseball.”  I continued with the following questions, “When did you first realize you loved the game?  Who were your primary supporters?  What are your most meaningful memories of your life in baseball, from little league, and high school, on to the minor leagues?”

Over the next five minutes I learned a great deal about his passion for the game.  He told me of “playing from the time I could barely walk with my brothers and dad; the smell of the glove oil I would use to break in a new mitt; the ping of the aluminum bat when I hit home runs; the sound of my mom’s voice cheering me on; the awesome feeling of getting drafted; the party we had when I signed my first contract,” and on and on he went.

I could feel his energy heightening as he reconnected with and detailed his Personal History of Success in baseball.  So I said, “Can you tell me about a time, from little league to the present, excluding your past five major league starts, that you did NOT make it through the 5th inning?”  I fully anticipated that he would remember a few times when he was off his game and was taken out prior to the 5th inning.  He looked up for a minute and reviewed his career as a pitcher and realized that he could not, amazingly, remember a single time he was removed from a game, on any level, before this season.  “So what’s so special about the 5th inning?  Don’t answer that yet.”

 

Find out how this story ends by purchasing a copy of ZONEfulness!

No One Gets Rid of Anything

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Clients frequently tell me that they want to “get rid of anxiety and negativity.”  The reality is that we always have the ability to be happy, sad, angry, afraid, confident, calm, content, enraged, overcome with laughter, frozen with surprise, and yes, anxious and negative.  We are alive, vibrant, reactive, complicated individuals.  However, we can learn to modulate and regulate our responses.  Specifically, in the world of peak performance we can use symptoms to our advantage, as positive triggers, to reconnect with our zone.

My personal history with experiencing self-criticism and what-ifing, and in turn helping others to understand these negative reactions to our environment while providing the tools needed to work through them, doesn’t mean that I’m not prone to flare-ups.  These symptoms reverberated through me for many years, wreaking havoc with their unpredictability and toxic energy on and off the basketball court.  They may still show themselves from time to time before a speaking engagement or during a workshop with a team.

These symptoms continue to live inside of me.  But presently, they are microscopic.  It’s not possible to get rid of them completely.  When these symptoms are provoked, I recognize the triggers, which allow me to launch into my inner dialogue: “Thank you, what-if, for reminding me what-will it be like when I succeed.  Thank you, self-criticism, for reminding me to talk to myself like I would a good friend.”

This inner dialogue dissolves the symptoms back to their microscopic resting place.  I use the symptoms of anxiety and negativity as powerful reminders to support myself and to zone–in.

How Zoning Out Triggers Zoning In

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Session two began with a discussion of how the zone blockers, notably The Toxic Three, can be utilized as positive triggers to zone in and perform at your best.  I explained, “Owen, whenever you find yourself what-ifing, worrying, or beating yourself up, make the problem the solution.”

Owen looked at me quizzically as I continued, “Say, ‘Thank you what-if, for reminding me, what-will it be like when I play well and hit the ball hard.’  ‘Thank you what-if, for reminding me to remember my love for the game and my Personal History of Success.’  ‘Thank you self-criticism, for reminding me to treat myself like I would a teammate or a good friend.’

So, you see, the zone blockers, the symptoms, can actually be used to your advantage.  Symptoms make you zone out and play poorly.  Now, they really can be incorporated as powerful reminders, to zone in.  And remember, the symptoms that take you out of your zone live in your conscious mind, which is extremely small and limited.  But your zone lives in your subconscious mind, the place where you can really trust and support yourself, that infinite space that creates calm, confidence, and peak performance.”

Finally, I gave an example that I knew would be of personal significance to Owen, a lifelong Phillies fan.  It went like this: “I want you to take a moment and remember the little league team you played on at the age of 12.  Now, consider that the conscious mind that blocks your zone and creates anxiety is this team.” (His team was the Rockets.)

“Just imagine that your subconscious mind is a major league team, let’s say the Phillies.  Could the Rockets, a bunch of 12-year-olds, ever beat the Philadelphia Phillies?”  Owen rolled his eyes and laughed at this ridiculous question.  “So, here’s the best part of everything we’ve been talking about: Your subconscious mind, where your zone lives, is the Phillies, and your conscious mind, where the symptoms live, is the Rockets.

The subconscious mind can’t ever lose to the conscious mind and I know that you already know that the Phillies would never lose to a little league team.  So, your zone is extraordinarily stronger than any worry, why, what-if, or self-criticism.  And now these symptoms can trigger your zone!”  Owen’s comfortably curious look was becoming more and more hopeful.

The Big Three of Peak Performance: Powerfully Calm Techniques

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The Big Three:

1. Extreme Self-Support (internal strength).
1a. Support from family, friends, coaches, and teammates (external strength).

2. Personal History of Success (positive focus on past peak performances and outcomes). Magnifying the good!

3. Future Memories of Success (positive focus on future peak performances and outcomes). What-willing: “What-will it be like when I succeed?”                     

Owen was introduced to The Big Three of Peak Performance when I guided him into the 15 minute zone during his first session.  He was able to comfortably explore his Personal History of Success; experience Future Memories of Success; and reconnect with the support he has received from family, friends, coaches, and teammates while focusing on his own capacity to support himself at a higher level.

The Toxic Three of Poor Performance: Zone Blockers (Symptoms and Anxieties)

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The Toxic Three:

1. Self-criticism (negative self-talk; analyzing and agonizing).

2. Why-ning (negative focus on past poor performances and outcomes). “Why did I do that?

3. What-ifing (negative focus on future poor performances and outcomes). “What if I fail?”

I have been working as a peak performance specialist with student-athletes at the elementary school, high school, and college level for more than 20 years.  I’ve also done extensive training with professional athletes over this period of time.  Whether it’s a little league baseball shortstop, a high school field hockey player, a college swimmer, or any athlete from any walk of life; I have been routinely peppered with toxic questions and negative expectations from student-athletes.

I have discovered that the most common questions are variations of “What-If I fail?” and “Why did I play that way?”  The most common self-assessments are: “I am the worst,” “I’ll never make it,” “I can’t believe I choked,” and so on.  All of these questions are symptoms of anxiety that are born of the ultimate concern, “Where did my zone go?”

Introduction to ZONEfulness

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Introduction

I had an “Ah-ha” moment in March, 2014.  I’m sure you’ve had the experience of an idea just crystalizing out of nowhere.  The “Ah-ha” is often so perfect that you find yourself wondering what took so long for you to discover it.

I was struggling to define my unique, experiential approach to being in the zone with student-athletes.  My style includes elements of meditation, visualization, and even some hypnotherapy.  Inherent in this model is an emphasis on the strength and future potential of each client I treat.  Essentially, I practice peak performance positive psychology.

But I knew I was doing more.  I facilitate a sensory experience for student-athletes.  In session, I guide them to recreate the zone they experience when competing at their highest level.  These zone exercises are the catalyst that propel each individual to access and maintain their peak performance zone while competing in their sport.

Zone exercises also enable student-athletes to more easily implement the principles of positive psychology that enhance confidence and generate Extreme Self-Support.  The zone exercises were initially characterized by an eyes closed, meditative state of relaxation.  Subsequently, I began facilitating eyes open, active, alert zone experiences.

Incorporating eyes closed, relaxed zones with eyes open, alert zones enables clients to naturally translate their experience from my office to real-time play in their sport.  This desired yet mysterious zone, manifested in competition, is now understood to be an accessible, powerful tool.

The student-athlete can, via specialized zone exercises and the principles of positive, strength-based psychology, rapidly step into the flow and confidence that characterizes their peak performance zone.

So what about this “Ah-ha” experience?  I was reading an article on PhillySports.com about the Penn State University men’s basketball team using mindfulness meditation as their primary tool for mental focus training.

Tim Frazier, Penn State’s all-time leader in assists, describes his experience:  “The game moves so fast, it’s hard to focus on the here and now.  Meditation slows me down [mentally], keeps me more relaxed and focused.”

Michael Baime, an internist and director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness states, “Elite athletic performance is mostly a mental game.  Mindfulness practice really isn’t that different from athletic training.  If you want to get neuroscientific about it, mindfulness practice changes the structure of the brain through which awareness operates.  Just as running increases the strength of the quadriceps muscles, mindfulness practice strengthens the executive control function of the brain.”

Mindfulness meditation is about being in the moment.  Specifically, it focuses on the experience of breathing and stillness.  If a thought interferes with the experience, the meditator is encouraged to be curious and accepting while refocusing on each comfortable breath.

Zone exercises enhance perception and sensation.  Revivification of the sights, sounds, and feelings of past successes and the magnification of future achievements are routinely experienced in this experiential process.

Mindfulness meditation is a critical element of the zone exercises.  It provides a calming, peaceful space for student-athletes to experience prior to exploring, for example, their Personal History of Success zone; their Future Memories of Success zone; or their Extreme Self-Support zone.  The mindfulness meditative state is a foundational element to the peak performance zone exercises I facilitate for clients.

And then it hit me:  ZONEFULNESS!

Zonefulness is the integration of mindfulness meditation, peak performance zone exercises, and positive psychology.  This book is a profoundly simple guide designed for student-athletes to generate and maintain peak performance by accessing the zone that lives inside of them.

Finally, please enjoy the experience this book has to offer.  You will have the opportunity to immediately exercise your zone and incorporate powerfully calm Zonefulness techniques into your athletic performance, and your life . . .