Becoming Zone Ready

Oct 01, 2020

How do you get into the zone?
Each time an athlete performs they are searching for a way to find the mythical place known as the zone.
“When you get in that zone it’s just a supreme confidence…”
“Things just slow down. You really do not try to focus on what’s going on because you can lose it in a second. You have to really try to stay in the present and not let anything break that rhythm.” – Kobe Bryant
The zone appears to be mythical because it is so elusive. George Mumford doesn’t have the answer to how create this flow state at will, but he has taught some of the greatest basketball players in history how to be zone ready.

Last week I listened to a podcast (10% Happier) where Dan Harris interviewed Mumford who worked with legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson teaching his teams the importance of and how to meditate.
There were many valuable lessons in this interview, but two that resonated with me the most were Mumford’s explanation of mindfulness and how it helps athletes become zone ready.
Too often people think meditation is the process of slowing down the mind or clearing the mind of thoughts. Mumford explains these are both misconceptions, “That is the crux of the problem you are not trying to turn your mind off you are trying to create space and let your mind be,” said Mumford.
“The goal is to present to what is so if you have all these thoughts and negative self talk can you create space, observe it let it speak to you without identifying with it.”
“Meditation is not trying to go anywhere or do anything, meditation and being present is just seeing what’s there and letting it speak to you.”
“The goal is to be present to what is. … Can you create space where you can observe it without being identified with it.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the psychologist credited with defining the concept of flow, which is synonymous with the zone. He describes flow as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
Performing in a flow state is performing mindfully. This is the biggest reason Mumford believes that a mindful practice makes athletes zone ready, “It’s a monitoring aspect with more-- rather than ‘I got to make this shot’ -- no just shoot,” said Mumford. “You’ve trained your nervous system to do it, so now your conscious thinking needs to be quiet and let your body do what it does… Nothing exists but this moment and what you’re doing.”
Mindful practices such as meditation and yoga teach you to trust intuition and act accordingly. These practices do not make the experience of flow predictable or reliable, but it does give you a better chance of taking advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself.