Finding Your Zone: Ten Core Lessons for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life - by Michael Lardon

Simply put, the Zone is a mental state in which your thoughts and actions are occurring in complete synchronicity. The thinking part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, is bypassed and one's mind is actually operating at a more primitive, reflexive level while being fully engaged. When the thinking brain is quiet it can react (or act) more efficiently, sampling increments of time in smaller intervals, which is why people who have experienced the Zone talk about feeling as if time passed slowly and effortlessly. Four characteristics people experience when they are in the Zone: (1) superconcentration, or complete mental absorption in a task; (2) the experience of time slowing down; (3) a sense of detachment from outside influences; and (4) a resulting supernormal performance.


When you become more aware of your dreams, hone them, even direct them, you begin to create a pathway to the Zone. For in essence, the Zone is a dreamlike state, a state in which the flow between the conscious and the unconscious mind is unencumbered. So if you are able to tap into your dreams, you begin to tap into the Zone.

The simple suggestion of asking clients to take a moment before going to bed and thinking of a question or important situation to dream about often leads to dreams that unmask hidden obstacles and clarify important issues. Great accomplishments take effort, and by mobilizing a little force within ourselves, we can learn to recall our dreams and write then down. If we do this and free-associate to the themes recurring in our dreams, we will tap into a great reservoir of wisdom and strength.


Comprehensive preparation takes foresight and is obtained over many weeks, months, or years of dedicated work. When you've accomplished this level of preparation, then your mind is more at ease during times of pressure or stress. Great preparation allows you to lose your worries and simply become one with the task at hand.

If you want to take it to the next level in whatever pursuit, you must constantly ask yourself: How can I prepare? How can I prepare to be better? Who knows more than I do, and how can I learn from them? You must be careful not to let confidence mutate into arrogance because it will blind you from having the curiosity essential for learning. Knowledge is power, and preparation gives us a greater knowledge on how we will react in battle.


The tool of solipsism is something everyone has the innate capacity to utilize; however, to access and strengthen this vital skill takes practice and effort. Desire is transformed into will through a process that first starts with practicing the exercise of engaging in tasks that are mentally difficult. The goal is to transition your mind into a state of autopilot and learn to pass through the task without mental anguish. The more you practice and trust your ability to go beyond pain, discomfort, or even boredom, the more you enable yourself to function on autopilot and access the Zone. Remember, the Zone doesn't happen by magic: It is the training of your mind that enables you to get there.


Have a simple and consistent routine and you will find yourself in the winner's circle.

Our brain possesses these incredible abilities of which we are not aware. However, when we consciously try to control our performances, we unwittingly lose touch with--or undermine--our natural ability to adapt and perform in highly competitive environments. How can we learn to manage intense stress so that our brain is free to do its thing? It's a delicate balance between conscious effort and innate reflexive trust.

Keep things simple so you don't clutter your mind with extraneous nonsense. Trust your own innate ability; and most important, stay positive and believe in your own God-given ability.

We have the ability to accomplish so much more in life when we learn to not let our minds get cluttered with complexity. If we know a way that works, then we must trust it. If we see something we can visualize doing, then we should go do it.


Excelling in any sport or any other performance-related activity mandates that you must resist distractions of the mind--whether these distractions come before, during, or after your performance. These distractions might be internal, such as psychological fears, anxiety, or pangs of self-doubt. Or these distractions might be external, such as a chaotic environment surrounding you. When you are able to keep your mind still, staying precisely in the moment and not letting your attention waiver, you resist experiencing what the Zen masters refer to as "monkey mind," or noisy mind.

We must use our energy wisely if we are to facilitate getting in the Zone. Worrying about the past or the future does not help the present situation. Overwhelming anxiety is an expensive experience. It drains us of the precious mental energy required to stay focused and transition our awareness from each moment to the next. The attitude of staying focused on exactly what is in front of you--not behind you (in the past) or what is in the distant future--is of paramount importance in all performance-related activities.

If you find yourself becoming anxious, all you have to do is let your attention drift back to the here and now and your anxiety will dissipate. When we manage our anxiety, we also conserve our energy. This simple redirection of attention sits at the core of most ancient meditative practices, whose goal is to conserve energy. These practices allow us to expend our energy on the next shot, rather than waste energy on some extraneous thought or emotion. It is the transitioning of attention from moment to moment that is critical in facilitating peak performance experiences.

Learn to get in the process by following these three simple rules:

  1. Always try to have fun! Let yourself become absorbed in the task at hand. We fall into self-induced trance states that allow us to block out distractions when we are having fun.

  2. Conserve your energy. Learn to differentiate what variables involved in your performance (or task) you have control over, and focus on them, not the other ones.

  3. Live in the process. Institute the "two scorecard" exercise in all performance-related activities and judge yourself on your effort, and you will never feel like you have lost control. You will think like a winner, and your confidence will build.


In essence, the most effective way to manage difficult emotions and thoughts in competition or in life is to develop the ability to slow down when agitated and become conscious of your reaction. This process of seeing your emotions and thoughts separate from yourself is the basis of your know-mind awareness.

It is our know-mind awareness that allows us to observe our thoughts and see if they make sense or not, enabling us to differentiate ourselves from our thoughts just as we differentiate ourselves from our physical symptoms--such as that of a sore throat. When we learn to differentiate ourselves from our emotions, we can learn to become the master of both our feelings and our thoughts, paving the path to self-actualization. The ability to see with your know-mind awareness can be developed through many avenues including physical training, meditation (mental training), and spiritual practices. When you develop this ability, thoughts and emotions become waves that dissipate on the shores of your consciousness.

Know-mind rules and tools for dealing with difficult emotions and thought when in the heat of battle:

  1. Slow down your pace.

  2. Visualize placing the disturbing thought or emotion on a leaf and let it float downstream.

  3. Utilize an attentional shift technique (like Pancho Gonzales).

  4. Do a body check--correct your posture, stretch your fingers, and breathe with a soft belly.

  5. If angry, imagine holding a hot coal and dropping it.

  6. If frustrated, substitute curiosity (like Steve Elkington).

  7. Learn to pulse your concentration to avoid burnout.

  8. Don't think ahead (be like Yogi Berra, "It isn't over until it's over").

  9. Remember positive past experiences (like Dave Binn).

When you have time to reflect:

  1. Embrace the difficult emotion and transform its energy (like Jimmy Shea).

  2. Utilize the ability to cognitively reframe (like the little league boy who strikes out).


When we seek approval, whether it be conscious or unconscious, we set ourselves up to be at the beck and call of too many masters. Fierce competition has such intense demands that adding more pressure only leads to overload and failure. Caring what others think separates us from the direct experience at hand. When we do this, we cannot mobilize know-mind awareness and we cannot be in the Zone.

You can choose who and what you listen to if you pay attention to your instincts. Resist pandering to the reactions of others. Have the courage to keep your motivation pure and the strength and discipline to resist caring about what others think about you.


Inappropriate fear responses are debilitating and make the quest for peak performance impossible. However, if you learn to understand the nature of your fear, you can disarm fear and master an emotion that most often masters us. We can conquer fear by mobilizing four of our own innate abilities:

  1. The phenomena of behavioral desensitization, or "getting used to doing it". Allow yourself to continue to revisit the same stressful situations. The knowledge that desensitization happens without conscious effort is comforting and gives hope, often allowing us to persevere through difficult times.

  2. Cognitive recontextualization, or "seeing the forest from the trees". Understanding that life goes on and that you will survive no matter what happens during a performance will allow you to do your best.

  3. Spiritual faith, or "believing in God"

  4. Know-mind awareness


You can grow your own self-confidence by mobilizing its four components:

  1. Mastery experiences provide the cornerstone of confidence, but they are nurtured by paying careful attention to process goals and not results.

  2. To take advantage of vicarious learning, look around and surround yourself with the most talented people, people who have already achieved what you want. Never be afraid to ask questions and learn.

  3. Identify who it is that inspires you and learn everything you can about them. Model his or her work ethic as an approach to life.

  4. Spend time with positive people, people who will encourage you to seek your dream and inspire you to find the inner strength needed. Negative people are not necessary. It is your responsibility and choice to create environments of positive thought. Surround yourself with successful and positive people and let them persuade you that you can reach your goal--thus fostering the Zone-enhancing tool of verbal persuasion.


Do not take the path of least resistance. It will not lead to transformation and your life will not change. Without change, life is mundane, often leaving us living vicariously through others, wasting precious time. Take a stand, allow yourself to dream but realize that there are no shortcuts.