“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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    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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