Modern Australian

Let it happen or make it happen? There's more than one way to get in the zone

  • Written by Christian Swann, Associate Professor in Psychology, Southern Cross University

We often hear about people being “in the zone” when they have excelled, be it at sport, playing music, video gaming, or going for a run.

For decades, researchers have tried to find out what the zone is and how to enter it. And the assumption has been that there is one zone that we can experience.

Our research with athletes, however, suggests there may be two types of zone.

One is a “flow state”, where athletes describe effortlessly “letting it happen”. The other is a “clutch state”, where athletes report “making it happen” by purposefully and powerfully stepping up in a key moment.

Here’s how to decide which zone you need to be in — and how to get there.

A woman swims laps in a pool Research with athletes suggests there may be two zones. Shutterstock

Flow vs clutch states

Much research or media reporting about the zone is often based on interviews with athletes which take place some months or years after their performances have happened.

This means our understanding has been based on old, and likely faded, memories. As a result, people remember their experiences as one zone.

For our research, we interviewed athletes within days or hours of exceptional performances, allowing them to describe their experiences in much more detail.

We heard frequently of different ways of being “in the zone”, sometimes employed during different parts of a challenge. As a polar explorer told us, “They’re definitely two different states.”

A marathon runner told us:

It was like two different races.

A woman runs in the park. In the flow state, your performance effortlessly clicks into place as if you are on autopilot. Shutterstock

The flow state is where you become completely absorbed in what you are doing, you perform the task effortlessly — as if you are on autopilot — and it feels like everything harmoniously clicks into place.

The clutch state was described as “making it happen”, where athletes purposefully step up their effort and concentration during important moments in a performance.

This state describes clutch performance — a common term among fans and media in sport — such as Michael Jordan’s famous buzzer-beater in the 1989 playoffs (from from about the 2:00 mark in the video below).

Read more: The psychology of the clutch athlete

Which zone should you aim for?

We would all love to be in the zone more often. Now that the research is telling us there are actually two types of zone, a first step is to recognise which zone you’re aiming for.

Clutch performances occur in certain situations under pressure, when there is an important outcome on the line. Think meeting deadlines, running to catch the last bus home, or being at the end of a race with a personal best on the line.

Flow occurs in situations where there’s novelty, exploration, and experimentation. This might be playing a golf course for the first time, running a new route, or sitting down with a blank page and brainstorming ideas. There’s no pressure or expectation — you’re free to explore.

Both zones can happen in the same event too. For example, runners can be in flow during the start or middle of a race, and then realise they have a chance of breaking their personal best or a chance to win, and flip into a clutch performance at the end — like when Shura Kitata won in a sprint finish in the men’s 2020 London Marathon (from about the 2:05 timestamp in the video below).

How can you get in each zone?

Research suggests the type of goals we set plays an important role in getting into each zone.

Clutch performances occur when we realise there is an important outcome at stake, we understand what is required, and we step up our effort. You’ve probably done this before — like pulling an all-nighter to get your assignment finished, staying late at work to meet an important deadline, or pushing hard to record a personal best.

The key to these clutch performances is having a specific goal in mind, and understanding clearly what you need to do to meet the challenge (for example, “if I can run this last kilometre in under five minutes I can break my personal best”).

Once this challenge is set, it’s quite natural for us to increase our effort and intensity in order to achieve the goal.

Let it happen or make it happen? There's more than one way to get in the zone Megan Rapinoe of the USA football team in action during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final match between USA and Netherlands. Shutterstock

To get into flow, however, we need to think a bit differently. We need to create situations where we can explore — where we’re free from expectation and pressure.

An important part of this is setting open goals such as to “see how well I can do,” “see how many under par I can get”, or “see how fast I can run the next five kilometres”.

These open-ended, non-specific goals help avoid pressure and expectation, letting you gradually build your confidence, and increasing your chances of getting into flow.

Authors: Christian Swann, Associate Professor in Psychology, Southern Cross University

Read more https://theconversation.com/let-it-happen-or-make-it-happen-theres-more-than-one-way-to-get-in-the-zone-149173

NEWS

A vaccine will be a game-changer for international travel. But it's not everything

ShutterstockThe United Kingdom yesterday became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for widespread use. Following a review by the country’s drug regulator, the UK government announced it...

Researchers, librarians, filmmakers and teachers are eager for the copyright reforms the government has promised

Ea Maples/Unsplash, CC BYIn August, the communications minister announced a series of changes to copyright laws to “better support the needs of Australians and public institutions to access material in...

From 'arse-ropes' to 'flying venom', a history of how we have come to talk about viruses and medicine

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NDSymptom, virus, epidemic, quarantine.We’ve become used to these terms in 2020. But the “COVID-19 vocabulary” might have been very different had it not been for a...

the singlet — a short history of an Australian icon

'Shearing sheep, Barcaldine District', 1948Queensland State Archives, Item ID ITM1154347There’s no denying the popularity of the singlet. The Chesty Bond, Australia’s best known singlet, has notched up more than 350...

China plays reverse 'poke the bear'

In the moment, Scott Morrison’s angry denunciation of the offensive Chinese tweet about alleged Australian war crimes seemed a reasonable response.In retrospect, it was probably ill-judged. This is so even...

Should Australians be worried about waiting for a COVID vaccine when the UK has just approved Pfizer's?

ShutterstockThe news that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has gained emergency approval in the United Kingdom and may be distributed to selected high-risk groups as early as next week is welcome.Headlines also...

Climate change is resulting in profound, immediate and worsening health impacts, over 120 researchers say

ShutterstockClimate change is resulting in profound, immediate and worsening health impacts, and no country is immune, a major new report from more than 120 researchers has declared. This year’s annual...

6 unis had Hindi programs. Soon there could be only 1, and that's not in Australia's best interests

La Trobe University is in talks to discontinue its Hindi program, along with Greek and Indonesian. In the mid-1990s, six Australian universities taught Hindi. If La Trobe ends its program...

Thomas Banks’ Quest for Love tackles life as a gay man with disability

Thomas Banks' Quest for LoveReview: Thomas Banks’ Quest for Love, directed by Pip KellyIn Thomas Banks’ Quest for Love, Banks — a writer and comedian with cerebral palsy — addresses...

Why can politicians so easily dodge accountability for their mistakes? The troubling answer: because they can

Damian Shaw/AAPIn recent days, the issue of government accountability was brought into sharp focus — again — when NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian admitted that community grants awarded primarily to councils...

Feeling sore after exercise? Here's what science suggests helps (and what doesn't)

ShutterstockHave you been hitting the gym again with COVID restrictions easing? Or getting back into running, cycling, or playing team sports?As many of you might’ve experienced, the inevitable muscle soreness...

Eliminating most homelessness is achievable. It starts with prevention and 'housing first'

The stereotype of a homeless person – those living in tents or sleeping in parks or doorways – is just the visible tip of the much larger crisis of homelessness...



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion













Popular articles from Modern Australian

Be Smart Before Buying That CarWater Costs in SydneyThe Pros and Cons of Artificial Christmas TreesThe most popular types of rouletteMaintaining your asphalt driveway is made easy with these pointers5 Effective Car Mods for Absolute BeginnersYour New Home Needs A Great GardenHow To Identify Signs Of Stress In Your ChildInstalling Shade Sails On your Garden10 Tips for Clearing a Blocked DrainCarpet Cleaning: Where Is It Headed In The Future?Common Repairs to Shipping ContainersThe lifestyle Choices of the Australian Millennials5 Tips For Creating a Kid-Friendly Backyard