Zoning Out

John just played the best golf of his life. After the competition John is recalling his best golf shots.  “That was so easy. I really don’t remember what I did. It was almost like someone else or something else took over and made the shot.  All I know is that the minute I realized I was in this state of mind I was out of it and I could not get back in. Wow! What a ride!”


John experienced a phenomenon that we call the Zone.  If you have been competing a while you should have experienced it as well.  When we are in the Zone we do not have to consciously try to do anything to achieve a high level of performance. It works automatically and below the normal state of consciousness.  The Conscious Mind is attentive and doing what it needs to do but seemingly without effort or thought.  The Subconscious is in the driver’s seat and moves the performer to the proper spot with ease and excellence is achieved.  There is no effort on the part of the Self-Image to interfere even if the player is scoring outside of his comfort zone.  This phenomenon is elusive and relatively misunderstood.


My friend, Brian Enos, a pistol champion says it this way.  “It is difficult to define ‘the zone’ because the zone experience defies logical explanation, in the way we are used to defining things. Things we normally say things such as – ‘this happened to me,’ or ‘I did this and that was the result’- fail to capture the significance of the zone experience.  This is because the zone experience is quite unlike our normal way of experiencing the world, in which subject and object are sharply defined. In contrast, the zone experience is felt more as a collapsing or merging of our subjective vs. objective method of perceiving.”


We fall into the Zone much the same way that we fall asleep.  You cannot make yourself go to sleep on command.  You cannot cause the Zone experience, not the experience that Brian and I are talking about. The Conscious Mind must give up control while still doing its job.  That is not its normal state and this is one reason it happens so infrequently.


It is much easier to keep the Zone from happening than to create a situation where it will happen more often.  Having coached elite athletes for more than three decades, I have never seen a technique, pill to take, biofeedback system, hypnosis, mantra or anything that can cause this phenomenon to happen on command.  Every year or so someone comes along and sells the secret to making the zone happen, but if their system really worked more athletes would use it and I would be the first one to refer clients to them.  It could happen someday but I have yet to see it.


I do believe there are things we can do to improve the environment that the Zone prefers.  One of the best ways is to not be looking for it and having the attitude that you simply do not need it.  If you have a planned, practiced system of thinking such as preload and mental program and you are trusting rather than trying, you can achieve mental consistency without the Zone.  You can do this on demand and without relying on the mysterious and elusive Zone for your success.


So, if you have experienced the Zone phenomenon today you were perhaps a bit surprised that it happened to you.  You should not feel that you have deviated from your system because you do not remember running your mental program or doing your reinforcement as you normally do. You Zoned-Out.  You might say that you were BLESSED by the Zone. It is one of the few good things in life that seems to happen more often when we are least expecting them.  Enjoy the ride!


-Lanny Bassham

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