“Drop In” to the Zone

Posted on December 11, 2009. Filed under: JumpPost, startups | Tags: , , |

When people ask me how I’m doing these days, my regular response is “awesome.  I’m in the zone.”  I’ve been in the zone many times before, but typically this state only lasts for a few days or maybe weeks at atime, before it diminishes and reverts back to what I’ll call my baseline mental productivity.  The strange thing is, this “zone” has lasted for about 2 months, and it’s going strong.  What I’m learning, is that it is possible to actively perpetuate a certain mental state through conscious effort and replication of context.

First, let’s explore for a second, the concept of “the zone.”  It’s pretty hard to define, but for me it’s an energy and state of mind in which you are able to move through all facets of life without friction.  Imagine, driving through Manhattan, guided largely by your intuition, where every light you approach turns green at just the right second.  Athletes might talk about being in a state where no movement is conscious, but rather there is a perfect alignment between your instinct and the context in which you’re acting.

I’ve written before about positive feedback loops.  The zone, in many ways, is a constant positive feedback loop.  In times like this, productivity is extremely high, thought is particularly sharp, social interaction is particularly rich, and energy is extremely high.

Slipping into the zone is not easy, but it is possible to practice entrance into this state.  If you have ever attempted to surf, the experience is very similar.  You spend a ton of energy paddling as hard as you can to get into the wave’s path, and then as the swell forms behind you, you must pop up at exactly the right moment.  A second too late and the wave passes you by.  A second to early and the front of your board plows into the sea.  But, if you are able to drop in just right, you immediately switch from a state of frenetic exertion, to extreme calm, and yet you move at 10x the speed of when you’re paddling to high hell.

Much like surfing, I have found that there are certain practices you can develop to “drop in” to the zone more frequently and for longer periods of time.  A lot of it is maintaining a state of mind and attitude that is conducive to allowing the calm of the wave to carry you.  Simply remembering what the zone feels like is enough to open your mind to this calm.  To that end, replication of context that exists when you are in this state can be an effective way to “remind” yourself what you are trying to achieve.  Music is one of the most effective triggers for me to replicate a context.  If I am listening to a band during a period of particularly high functioning, I will continue to listen to that band and that band alone until I burn it out.  Similarly, if I wake up at a certain time of day, I will keep waking up at the same time of day, replicate the same routine, eat the same breakfast, etc…This may sound a little crazy, but constantly drawing analogies between the day you are in, and yesterday where you were unstoppable, makes it much easier to believe and function as though you are unstoppable today.

I know not everybody functions in this manner, but for those who know what I am talking about, and I think many entrepreneurs are similar in this way, I have a theory that 80% of what you accomplish in a year is likely achieved in “zone like” periods.  Being conscious enough of this state, to know when you are in it, and working extraordinarily hard during these periods to maximize output and take advantage is key.  When you’re not in the zone, looking at the friction in your life, and figuring out why you keep missing the wave is essential (although difficult).

P.S. I just asked my friend George Bell to describe his zone, and he talked about things slowing down to a point where you can move through an environment (professional, athletic, or otherwise) seamlessly.  I’d be interested to hear everyone else’s descriptions of their own “zones.”

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8 Responses to ““Drop In” to the Zone”

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Wearing the same socks all the way to the series? Pregame rituals? Lots of sports analogies here. For athletes, being in the zone means letting the muscle memory they built with 000s of hours of practice work free of mental interference (stress, media, personal life etc). What is the entrepreneurial equivalent to muscle memory?

Another thing for another post perhaps is the fine line (but important distinction) between a routine and a rut.

good post jc. the zone is a zen mental space for me. i also notice that when i’m in the zone i “know” things will happen the right way, it’s like constantly having a hunch that things are turning up roses — and they do. it’s feeling of very authentic and pervasive trust. triggers for me tend to also be music, but yoga does it for me, as does meditation. i guess it’s doing something that takes up enough mental chatter that my head can do its thing without interruption. i also think you made a great point about remembering what the zone feels like — its easier to get somewhere if you know where you’re trying to go.

Great post. For me, getting into the zone is the easy part, and like you said it’s staying there that’s tough. In my opinion, you must continually establish and re-establish goals in order to maintain momentum. The times I find myself unproductive are the times when I’m not exactly sure what I am trying to accomplish. If you have that end goal in mind at all times, the zone will come.

Great to see other Brooklyn entreprenuers making things happen. Peace.

jordan – i think there’s something like this in psychology that’s called ‘flow’.. i jsut googled this and this guy Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi published stuff on it several years ago and it’s quite an interesting theory.. check it out.

thank Yang. Looks like an interesting body of work. Wikipedia link here for others: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi

Here’s his Ted Talk on Flow. Interesting stuff for sure: http://bit.ly/6JFKUW

My zone can be described as:
Conscious choice on each word about to say and each piece of action about to take.

It is not easy for me to drop in. My closest effort to repeat it is by setting aside 45 minutes thinking nothing on an daily basis.

[…] of life to another.  At the core of flow state I believe is a surrender…A few years ago I wrote this post about dropping into the zone…at the time I was just discovering and getting to know this state of […]

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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