How many times have you heard someone say, “I was just in the zone!” after a great round? On the other hand, perhaps you were riding and having some difficulty with an exercise when your trainer yelled, “Come on, pay attention, get in the zone!”
You wonder, What does that mean? How do I get there? It’s such an alien thought. What does it feel like? you wonder, afraid to verbally question it for fear of sounding dumb.
In all honesty, athletes talk about being “in the zone” but when asked about how they get there, they rarely can give an answer. For most of them, the only skill or knowledge they have as far as replicating that state of mind is to hope they can do it again. This is often how pre-ride behaviors become habitual, hoping to replicate a previous outcome.
The “zone” is a mental state of total involvement in the present moment without the mental burden of doubt, worry or fear of the results.
What’s important is to understand that being “in the zone” is indeed a real state of mind. Whether we’re athletes or not, we all have the capacity to become very absorbed in an activity that results in a higher level of overall accomplishment.
To be “in the zone” involves a number of psychological factors, which include:
High Interest Level
It has been studied and we know that when one is “in the zone” they are totally absorbed in what they’re doing. The focus is so heightened that one often loses awareness of outside distractions, such as time. Have you ever been so involved in something that when you check your watch you can’t believe how much time has passed?
You need to have confidence and believe you can succeed. We train and practice repetitively to gain the self-esteem and confidence in ourselves and in our mounts. Moreover, our trainers would never let us enter the ring unprepared or underprepared. They help to fertilize our confidence.
Have you ever felt that inner drive or motivation to succeed? We feel challenged by the task but not overwhelmed by it. Can you think back to a time (sports-related or not) where you were just totally lost in an activity because of its challenge and enjoyment? The task kept your focus and motivation high enough to complete it.
Emotional resiliency is an area that can be a stumbling block for many in finding “the zone.” Frustration, stress and adversity impact all of us in all areas of our lives. The difference is how we handle these things and if we allow them to stop or fuel our growth.
We need to remember that although it’s great to win, being “in the zone” is more than riding against beginners when your riding is much more advanced. The zone attainment encompasses competing at the appropriate level. When you get that feeling of not being able to be stopped, chances are your confidence level was high and you were in a situation where your opponents were challenging because they were on the same level of competency.
While there is no specific recipe for attaining “the zone,” the love for the sport is a necessity. Sometimes it’s necessary to find a game or a challenge within a practice to keep it interesting. Finding something to challenge yourself with during a boring drill can change it into a challenging task. Perhaps you can play “horse show” when taking a lesson and have your trainer judge your round.
Resiliency can be built by keeping a journal of your lessons. You can track patterns or trends that you can address. This helps not only in the learning process but also in improving mental toughness. Learning from adversity makes it a positive experience and helps to develop resiliency.
There are a variety of techniques that you can utilize to help “psych” yourself up. The necessary level of arousal varies from person to person and the athlete has to make that determination.
Some psyching-up techniques that you can utilize are:
∙ Imagery (videos of previous good performances)
∙ Positive self-talk
∙ Arousing music/calming music (depending upon the individual)
∙ Breathing exercises to lower brain states
∙ Stretching (causing relaxation through muscle elongation)
∙ Relaxing statements (to enhance focus)
When you reach “the zone,” your actions will just happen. Your thoughts won’t be conscious and your actions will be directed through the subconscious. Your instincts will prevail as you flow into the zone.
It’s a process that’s well worth developing.