Everyone experiences the zone differently, but a key feature of being in the zone is often described as a “flow” state of mind. It’s a mindset where all the skills you have worked so hard to gain are at your fingertips and just seem to flow through you. In my experience, I would describe it as when my mind and body work together effortlessly. Sometimes this comes with a sense of time slowing down or a heightened sense of intuition where you feel what’s going to happen before it does.
However you experience the Zone, understanding that it is a state of mind can help you find it and enter the zone more often.
Searching for the Zone
Creating an environment that encourages a zone-friendly mindset requires a few conditions. First, you need to be facing just the right amount of challenge. If you are faced with something that is too easy or too difficult, finding the zone is nearly impossible. You need to be in a mindset that forces you to really try, but not so difficult that you don’t believe you can overcome the challenge.
Secondly, you have to be a little nervous. This is a cue to your mind/body that overcoming this challenge really means something to you and will work harder to meet your goal. When searching for the Zone, you should have a few butterflies in your stomach, but if you fall into extreme anxiety then your mind and body will begin to shut down and you’ll lose touch with the Zone.
The Zone is a mindset where your mind and body work together as equals. Learning to balance your mind and body can make the Zone more attainable.
If you overthink a fight or a moment, you’ve put too much emphasis on your mind. This creates moments where your mind is in the fight, sometimes even seeing what is going to happen, but your body is struggling to keep up. You should be focusing on the right cues that help you make the best decisions possible, but not to the point that you try to control the entire fight.
On the flip-side, if you focus purely on what your instincts want to do, you’ve put too much emphasis on your body. You’ve trained hard and developed muscle memory, but that muscle memory lacks control and responds to cues from your opponent. You should rely on your reflexes and muscle memory, but not to the point where you lose the ability to make decisions throughout the fight.
Learning to find balance will take time and requires both analytical and instinctual fighting. Spend time focusing on each mindset and slowly start to combine them until you can find a balance. When this balance is achieved, you’ll be able to truly enter the Zone.
Creating an Anchor
Once you’ve found the Zone, you can use a technique called “anchoring” to help you return to the zone when needed. The idea of anchoring is simple: you put yourself in the desired state of mind (e.g. the zone) and perform a small physical action that your mind begins to associate with that mindset. Every time you feel like you are in the Zone, perform the same action and you’ll begin to anchor that action with the feeling of being in the zone.
Try something simple like squeezing your thumb between your forefinger, pounding your chest in a specific way, or a series of steps you take before a fight. It takes a while (several weeks at least) to properly associate it as an anchor, but when the anchor is established you’ll be able to bring back the zone mindset much easier.
During my years playing ice hockey, I developed two different anchors to help bring me back to the right state of mind. The first was a simple breathing exercise I would go through before going back on the ice. I’d take deep breaths in through my nose and and out through my mouth in rapid succession. After a few repetitions, I’d incrementally slow down each breath, lowering my heartbeat and bringing me back into the mindset I needed to give it my all.
The second anchor was before a face-off, I’d take a moment to stretch the muscles in my back, neck, and arms. The physical sensation distracted me from any anxiety and brought me back to the moment I was in. Both of these techniques I still use when fencing.
Whatever you decide to do, I have a final piece of advise when you are trying to create an anchor. Make sure that, whatever physical action you do, it can be done immediately before when you want to enter the Zone. An anchor ties a physical action to a certain mindset and has a immediate response. If there is too much time between the physical action and when you want to enter the zone, it won’t be as effective.
Use It Wisely
Hopefully, you will take on the challenge of finding the zone and anchoring yourself to that state of mind along the way. The Zone is an excellent tool in fencing and other challenges of life, but remember that being in the Zone isn’t required for every fight. Sometimes the level of intensity associated with being in the Zone just isn’t appropriate for certain situations. Don’t forget to have fun, goof off, study, and learn. Use the Zone wisely and it will never lose its impact.