Some of us that have dreams and goals that are set in stone. We work tirelessly to achieve them on a regular basis. Because those goals and dreams are personal and unique to use, we do not mind putting in the required effort to make them into reality.
However, no matter how much we love what we do and cherish the journey to reaching our dreams, we all still take breaks from time to time. Even if it’s just to rest our eyes from the screen, taking an active rest day from training, or hanging out with family and friends.
Sure, there are times where we can go hours on end writing, training, or doing whatever it is that’s furthering our ideals. And it generates tremendous results, but this is not the case all the time. I personally call this being in the zone. Actually, taking breaks will make the zone last longer and help us get into it more often. How so? First, let’s discuss what the zone is and why we should try to acquire this state as much as we can.
Welcome To The Zone
The words are just flowing; we’re just pumping out the reps; all the pieces are falling into place. We may have been at it for hours and we’re still going strong. We feel we have a lot more in the tank and nothing is stopping us. Voila! We have entered the zone.
Whether we’re an aspiring athlete, entrepreneur, writer, etc., we want to be as productive as often as possibe. Time is of the essence in getting to our goals. So getting into this zone of non-stop productivity will only benefit us. But getting into this zone is more than just simply working for hours on end, hoping the engine will get revved up for the work. It just can’t be forced.
Multiple sources give different data as far as the average human attention span. We’re not talking about the transient attention span here, which is the attention given to something when distracted or from a sudden stimulus. This attention span supposedly last for only about 8 seconds and doesn’t apply to our discussion here.
The attention that I’m referring to is the focused attention span, which is what we’ve been discussing. The attention that we give to our work, the focus that we use when we concentrate on something to get it done. The time period of this lasts anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, depending on the source.
With this in mind, we just cannot force ourselves to get into the zone as mentioned in the last section. Which one of us haven’t ever felt like not doing our work, our training, our obligations, or whatever it is that we know we should do? How many of us tried to force ourselves to focus on it only to find that we’re not nearly as productive as we usually are? This is because we’re trying to force ourselves to be in the zone when we’re not in the right situation to be in it.
This can be due to various factors, such as lack of rest, distractions, uncomfortable setting, etc. All of these takes away our chances of getting into the zone. Although there are certain areas of life that some of us cannot avoid, such as those of us with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or other medical conditions that requires medication depending on the severity. But there are things we can do for the factors that are within out control.
So… Zone < or = 20 Minutes?
Before we get into how we can get into the zone, let’s discuss a question that you may have after reading the above passages. Does it mean that being in the zone for more than 20 minutes is impossible? Of course not, as some of us may be able to relate some of the earlier experiences I’ve outlined, the zone can last for hours sometimes.
This is because being in the zone is being focused on something that we enjoy and look forward to doing. I personally feel it as if my thoughts are moving faster than my body, and my body is constantly playing catch up. And this can go on for a while. Some of my friends call me crazy for thinking about it like this, but I believe that this is a perfect example of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
When we’re doing something we enjoy or very focused on, we often lose track of time. So much so that hours go by without a single notice on our part. The inverse is also true, where if we’re uncomfortable, or in distress, time seems to go extra slow, especially if we’re staring at a timer. So the zone is simply us being so focused and productive on our task that we even lose track of the “20 minute limit” that our attention span is subjected to.
The How To
The easiest thing that we can do to get into the zone is being in the right setting. For most of us, our home is the place that we have the most control over. So we may set up at a place in our home where we can have the easiest time concentrating on our task, such as our bedroom, home office, etc. We may time it when no one else is around to minimize the distractions.
If we’re athletes, we may find a gym or a track that has less people. Or we could switch up our schedules to go at a time when its least crowded. Better yet, we may have our own home gym that we can use at our convenience. Whatever the case may be, choosing the optimum setting is the foundation to being in the zone.
A lot Most of the time in life, we don’t get to work in the ideal setting. The kids may be around, the AC broke, all the squat racks are taken for bicep curl (seriously? that’s the cardinal sin imo), etc. Sometimes when we find ourselves in situations like these, it may just be best to find another time when the setting is more conducive for focused attention.
If we must get to work however, there are a few things we can do. I personally have in mind the list of things I want to accomplish every single day. If it gets to be overwhelming just to keep in mind, I write them down. I do this regardless if there are distractions present or now. It has become a habit of mine.
If there are distractions present, I go over the plan on how to get those things done. I have in mind the order that I’ll be taking on each task and a general idea of how they’ll be completed. I feel this gives me additional confidence that since I’ve already figured out how to complete the day’s work, I just need to execute. This makes it very easy for me to handle distractions because if I get sidetracked, I can still pick up right where I left off when I return.
Taking Care of Yourself
We can be in the ideal setting and have no distractions around, but we’d be hard-pressed to get into the zone if we don’t take care of our bodies. Obviously, having a balanced diet, regular exercise and getting enough rest are all important. But in this case, we’ll be discussing the importance of sleep since it plays a direct role in our ability to concentrate.
As Part 1 of my sleep article points out, REM sleep is the sleep phase in which we dream and have our mental faculties restored. It is also this phase where we store what we’ve learned into our memory bank. Many more mental functions occur in this phase of sleep, all for the purpose of us retaining what we’ve learned and restoring our mental powers so we can continue to learn and function mentally when we wake.
Guess what happens when we don’t get enough REM sleep? It’s that simple, we wake up tired, we forget things, and we lack focus and attention. All of these are big no-no’s when it comes to being in the zone. For us athletes, we’re in that much more need of sleep because we need to repair our bodies more so than the average person through SWS. Again, if this isn’t making much sense, give this article a quick read.
So if we’re really serious about getting into the zone as much as we can, then sleep has to be a priority because that is the one thing we have the most control over out of the other factors.
If All Else Fails
Sometimes no matter what we do, the zone just isn’t coming to us. We just don’t feel it. We may have so much on our mind that we can’t shake the distracting thoughts. While each and everyone of us operate differently, here’s what I personally do. I purposefully distract myself.
By distracting myself on purpose, I give my mind something else to focus on. For me, it’s important that this “distraction” is very different in nature to what I was originally doing. For example, as I’m writing this article, I have another tab opened in my browser on Youtube. I have a battlerap video on and every time I’m “stuck” or the words just aren’t flowing smoothly, I watch a few minutes of the video.
I go back to my writing after my mind has been completely off of writing. Each and every time, I think of how to word the sentence better, or what the next point should be, or how to make the article more interesting. I simply repeat this process until I get into the zone.
As mentioned earlier, some days we just won’t be able to get into it no matter what we do. It may help to take a day off or simply take a break entirely from what we’re doing. I view these as a purposeful long distraction to rest my mind completely.
So what has helped you get into the zone?
Side note: It is those hard days that are hard to tough out I feel are the most important, especially for those of us that are into athletics. But that’s a total different topic for another time.