September 28, 2018

23. The Zone

In this week’s episode Pricey interviews Grego about The Zone.

PRICEY: The number of times I’m chatting with you, and you’ll talk about a zone. You’ll say, “When the guy was in his zone”; “When actually I was in the zone”. And obviously that’s a really important thing. What do you mean by a zone?
I’ll tell you a story to start this off. I remember I was coaching rugby at GPS Premier Rugby in Brisbane many years ago. And I was hanging out with a coach guy called Matt Pini who played for the Queensland Reds and Italy.
And one of the wingers from GPS ran down the touchline, did an amazing step or two, dived over in corner, scored this incredible try. And he was a goal kicker. And he’d been having a bit of an off few weeks, but he walked back, put the ball on the tee, and never for a second looked like missing. He just put it straight over. And the reason was, he was in the zone, and he was in the zone as a result of his run, as a result of him playing to the absolute peak of his ability.
So zone is when you are operating at the peak of your ability, where the challenge matches your skill. It is where you have full attention to the external world, so you’re having to operate at your peak. You’re responding to the external world, both physically and mentally; fully aware and fully engaged. Zero distraction. Right, is it important?
PRICEY: Hold it. Just before you get into why, I think I’ve actually experienced that. I know I’ve actually worked with a large group, and every now and again, I will have a difficult group. I will be the actual facilitator, and I find I go into this thing where I’m totally focused, but not only am I totally focused, I’m trusting my skills. I’ve almost got this gut-level skill, I’ve been in that space, I know what has worked, I’ve got attention on them. I’m not worried about the ego, and whether Damien’s gonna stuff up, I almost zone in. I narrow in on the audience, I’m trusting my particular skills. It comes from deep within, and all of a sudden, it’s almost as if … It’s a weird feeling, like I’m focused, I’m there, and I’m in the zone. And it’s fantastic.
Greg Layton: That’s a beautiful example, and I have those sorts of experiences when I’m coaching as well. What you also find is things like time will slow down.
There is a set of neurochemicals that get released. I won’t sit and go through them, but basically this is like a cocktail of awesomeness that goes into the body. That’s why you get this wonderful sense, or a real sense of good feeling afterwards: adrenaline, oxytocin and serotonin are streaming through your bloodstream. They make you feel great; they’re really good for your immune system and your body. The thing is, there are many different types of zone or flow, depending on what you’re really good at … it may be playing a musical instrument, or playing in a band. You might be public speaking or coaching. Let’s say you’re an engineer, and you’ve got this incredible piece of work in front of you, and you’re just totally immersed in the design, and you’re using every part of your skill to absolutely nail this job.
Right, and you’ll have this great sense after … You might come out two hours later and go, “Wow, that was fast. Gee, I enjoyed that.” You might have some good music going as well, so there’s a rhythm to it, there’s a focus to it, there’s a biochemical part to it. It is incredibly good for you.
PRICEY: I actually had an experience. I was at a dinner a week or two ago. And the man who the move Mao’s Last Dancer was made about was giving a talk. And he got up, and he didn’t have one single note. He spoke for about 40 minutes, but you felt there was an energy there. Now, I’m sure he’s given that talk many, many times. But I didn’t feel as though he was just going over the same old talk. I felt he was listening to us, he was trusting his own self. We were the total focus of this particular man.
GREGO: In those moments, you are so in tune with your skills, that they happen without you thinking. And that’s one of the things about the zone is … you know, sometimes … like perhaps when you’re facilitating, you’ll say something, and you’ll go, “Gee, that was quite good, where did that come from?”
PRICEY: Where did that come from? Yeah. I’ve actually had that.
GREGO: Or if you’re a surfer, you’ll be going along and something tricky will happen on the way. You’ll do a move you didn’t know you could do. And so what they discovered, there’s some amazing work done around the field of extreme sports, and the way people operate under intense pressure. So very highly skilled, extreme sport athletes. And what they discovered is when they’re in the zone, there’s certain brain waves are flowing, right? And the brain wave that is responsible for incredible insight in the world, the gamma wave, only fires when you’re in the zone.
PRICEY: You know, one of the things I’m thinking here is, I’d imagine if you work hard, and you worked hard on the actual skills, and you’ve practised the actual skills, and you’ve got into a pattern of using those particular skills, and you’re trusting your own actual self, in the zone, another deeper level of skill or awareness comes up, which you didn’t know you actually had.
GREGO: Exactly. That is exactly what happens, and often if you see … The easiest one is on the sporting field; you see somebody go … They do something, they go, “That was magic.” The utmost skill, the best thing you ever seen. The athlete never planned it. Like it was just totally in the zone. Often they’ll look back and go, “I can’t believe I did that.” Like, “I don’t even know where it came from.” Right? That’s what happens in flow and in the zone.
I think the thing to remember here is, there’s many, many different types. It’s worthwhile doing for a number of reasons. One, because you’re mastering your craft, and you’re doing something to the best of your ability. Two, the biochemical response that goes through the body is fantastic for your mental health and your physical health. Absolutely. You should be doing it for that reason alone.
Which I actually have a theory that’s one reason why athletes really struggle after sport, because they’re in the zone, multiple times every single day. Every single time of the day, they’re … three or four times a day, they’re releasing the biochemicals into the body that are responsible for their mental and physical health. All of a sudden, they get switched off, ’cause they’re not going to training any more. Right, so that’s one reason I think they struggle with life after sport. And they go into the corporate world, and they’re not getting any flow at all, ’cause they’re not experts at what they’re doing just yet. So what this … zones occur when you’re doing something you’re generally an expert at. Or you’re good at, not an expert. You’re good at.
PRICEY: And just very quickly, Greg, like that zone, and you just threw in the word “flow”.
GREGO: Same thing for me. I think the two can … So the two are generally interchangeable, in my definition or this one here, where you go in flow, or you’re in the zone, or you’re in the moment. That’s what we’re talking about here at the moment.
PRICEY: And really part of the key to it is to actually trust you. You’ve worked hard, and in the trusting, an energy is released. And in the trusting, you’re almost a celebration of you.
GREGO: Yeah. So I suppose the key thing is how do you do it, right? Because when I’m working with people and I go, “Let’s look at their schedule over a week”, I’m looking for how many times they’re getting in the zone or in flow. Most people in their professional life … to be honest, a lot of the time, particularly when they get into senior roles, it can be zero times a week, right? And that’s not good. It’s not good for your mental health, not good for your physical health. We need to be able to find something. Maybe you go for a morning ride, and during that morning ride, like it’s a good course, you’re a 100% pushing yourself … A ride where you float along and do nothing doesn’t do it. There’s gotta be moments where you’re fully committed. And I think that’s what I’m talking about here; it’s not something where you’re half in, right? You’re all in.
PRICEY: Yeah, so you’re really committed, you’re all in, you’ve worked hard, you’re back to your own self.
GREGO: Yeah, you’re using your skill to the best of your ability, or you’re using your energy to the full of your ability. So do that any number of ways you can, right? So I don’t care what hobby it is. It could be anything from chess to painting to musical instruments, to rock climbing, running, cycling, swimming, walking. Probably not walking. I think walking is a level below that. More meditative rather than full zone, because it’s not complex enough, right? So this is what we’re talking about. Something that really gets you moving.
PRICEY: I’m fascinated by what stops us getting into a zone? What are the things in our day-to-day that we just don’t get into this beautiful, special space?
GREGO: Well, I think a few things. First and foremost, the number of distractions and chaos that are going on our lives, and we prioritise work or another email, one more thing over going and experiencing the world, and doing something. Or let’s just say … as I said before, I gave the example of an engineer or an architect building or creating something, and using all that creative spirit and expertise they’ve got. They do that, but they leave their email on, or they’ll leave their phone on, so they’re constantly being distracted.
So it’s almost that you’ve got to create a bubble. We’ve spoken in previous episodes about meditation. It’s a bit like this as well. You’ve got to create a set-aside time for 100% attention. And when you don’t do that, that’s when you don’t get it right.
The second thing I think, is … I know a lot of people that don’t get in the zone very often because they have stopped mastering something. They’ve stopped doing something as a hobby for the purposes of doing it. Just for the fun of doing it. So maybe they don’t learn tennis anymore, maybe they played as a kid but they don’t anymore. They don’t paint anymore, they don’t do something for the sake of doing it, and pure pleasure of doing something to the best of your ability.
PRICEY: To me Greg, one thing that I’m finding too is, I think that zone is linked to a thing that you are passionate about. It’s an area of your life that you’ve got genuine energy for, and you’ve got some natural skills in. You’ve got passion for it, but you need to hone those skills, you need to deepen that.
GREGO: That’s right, you know and that’s when you see … you know there’s the old story where there’s nothing worse than listening to the best guitarist in the world play guitar, when they don’t want to play. It’s horrible. But then also the person who wants to play guitar, they just love guitar, but boy can they not play a note. It’s just terrible you know. So they’re playing terribly but with passion. When you can put the two together, the passion and the skill, or the passion and the talent, that’s when you get something that’s really, really high quality. But when its missing, one of those two items are missing, passion or talent, then you know you get varying response.
PRICEY: Greg, what do you think is going on when you’ve seen a great tennis player or someone such as that, and for the first set they seem to be in the zone, the timing’s there, they’re focused, they’re playing some fantastic shots, and then all of a sudden, half way through the second set, something stops?
GREGO: Yeah, well normally what happens there, is their mind shifts out of the present. So, they’re thinking about results, they’re thinking about either something which just happened, which was a point they lost, or a game they lost or something that went wrong. Or they’re in the future thinking “Oh my God. I’m going to lose this game on Centre Court, in front 10000 people in the stadium, and the 15 million that are watching.”
So as soon as attention leaves the present, that opens the door for all sorts of things. Fear, ego, all that kind of stuff. So one of the ideas, and if you look at a Federer and Nadal in tennis, one thing that you will notice, is that they are always very, very present. Nadal has all his funny little mannerisms that he does all the time, to keep him in the present. He’s very deliberate with that. Federer has other ways. But if you’re going to go out and play a game of tennis, one of the things that you should try and do, is say to yourself, “I’m going to play this as in-the-moment, ‘in the flow’ all the way to the end. I’m just going to be patient. I’m just going to play the next shot, the next shot. Every single point. Every time my brain starts thinking about something previous or in the future, I’m just going to can it. Come back to just the next shot.”
PRICEY: So, we’ve got a huge link between the flow and awareness, and the choice for the present moment, and to stay in that zone.
GREGO: Exactly. Yeah, the zone is you’re 100% ‘in the moment’. There’s no future, there’s no past, you’re just responding to what’s in front of you.
PRICEY: So within that zone, there’ll be times when it’s pure and you’re just taken away, but then you’ll be distracted or something will happen … back to my example before, when I was working with that particular group, sure, that twenty minutes, half an hour, forty minutes one, really in the actual zone, then I might lose a bit of confidence or someone says something left field, I almost have to then reset it, and then focus again, and then get it going again.
GREGO: Yeah, that’s right. And so another method I suppose to maintain that is, from a coaching perspective, is put your attention back on the audience. So, an external attention as opposed to an internal attention, helps. If you’re thinking all about you, and you think about, like you said, like Nick Kyrgios who is pretty famous for having a bit of a tiff at the moment. He makes it all about him, not about the tennis. Not about the game, not about the shot, and when the attention is internal, that’s when you start thinking future, past, one of the two, so what we’re talking about is external attention in-the-moment, and then you’ll stay in the zone.
It’s exactly the same about the engineer who’s sitting down, or the architect creating something, where’s their attention? On the design.
PRICEY: You know Greg, I’ve actually had that particular thing happen to me. When I’m in the middle of working with a group, and someone will ask me a left-field kind of question, and sometimes with a bit of anger or a bit of hurt, and if I then in that zone, then choose to focus on them totally, and on their energy and their hurt or anger or whatever the particular thing is, I get that zone back.
GREGO: Exactly, as soon as you make that moment about you, then you’ve lost that little conversation anyway. So the zone is … lost what I was going to say. What else, do we think?
So Pricey, just one more thing I open the door on is, hacks. How do you get in the zone more easily, more often on a week-to-week basis, when you’re super, super busy? Now one of the things I try and do, is in-corporate the zone into my existing life as much as possible.
So if I’m going to get fit, I try, and get fit in the zone. So if I go to the gym and do a workout, I do a highly intense workout, so it requires full attention, lifting weights and all kinds of crazy stuff so that I’m in the zone, in-the-moment, right.
I try and play a bit of tennis or golf, so it requires all my attention. I’m in the zone and I’m loving it. I try not to do stuff like that, where it’s just hit and giggle. Most of the time I make it pretty serious if I can. Not as far as massively competitive, but allowing me to enjoy the zone.
I might go for a rock climb at lunch, right, and do it with a mate and we swap back and forth a couple of times. At least to get in the zone where’ve you can.
PRICEY: So this part of the zone which is kind of a stretching, the zone will stretch you beyond the skills which you think you’ve got this particular moment?
GREGO: Exactly.
PRICEY: And I think over this next week or two, I’m not going to go out there looking for the zone, like I’m looking for some Yoda figure, but I think it’s just about giving it my very best, best shot, but trusting me and giving it my total attention to that which I am passionate about, and know that the flow will come.
GREGO: It will come, absolutely. Remove all distractions. Give yourself that bubble to do whatever it is you do, to the best of your ability, and then try, and dial up your hobbies, re-engage those things, pick up the guitar again, whatever it is for you, and knock it out of the park.