Getting “in the zone” is a transcendent moment in any workout, game, or performance. You let go and your body seems to take over. You hit your marks. Everything feels natural. For a moment, you’re able to make the impossible look easy. Brett Wingeier knows that feeling. He’s an athlete-turned-neuroscientist who set out to harness the code in our brains that allows us to feel like we’re in the zone.
What is the zone exactly? Some people call it a flow state. Wingeier describes that as a “state of perfect focus, where you’re not even consciously thinking about things, or processing moment by moment.” So basically, your body is acting without your brain having to tell it what to do. Athletes, musicians, and artists strive their whole careers for these moments.
More often than not, we see videos shared around social media of pro athletes like Steph Curry dribbling while catching a tennis ball and think, ‘yeah, but he’s a pro. I can’t do that.’ Wingeier emphatically disagrees. He proclaims that “anyone can be in the zone.” It really is mind over matter. According Wingeier it’s about blocking out distractions and finding a mediative focus which allows you perform any task — from playing a musical instrument to day-to-day work to jumping higher and running farther.
Wingeier dug deeper into how we can get into the zone and find our flow by looking at a study of freestyle rappers. Basically rappers were put inside a MRI machine and asked to freestyle (now that’s a cool study to be part of). As they got into their flow there was less cognitive control from the brain. Their minds let go and their bodies (tongues in this case) followed. Wingeier points out that this is backed up by the known science that our frontal lobe lights up as we’re learning something, but those lights fade out as we become experts and that skill becomes part of our subconscious.
Which, if we’re being honest, sounds like magic. Wingeier contends it’s not magic. In 2013, Wingeier started a project called “Halo”. It began as bundles of wires, electrodes, and circuits that attached to your head. This was refined into a wearable head set which — according to Halo’s website — uses neuropriming technology that “puts the brain’s motor cortex in a temporary state of hyper-learning that lasts for an hour.”
During that hour, whatever you practice will be absorbed more thoroughly by your brain.
We now live in a world where Wingeier’s headset can help our physical and cognitive performance with neurotransmission into our brains — speeding up the movement of information from our conscious minds to the subconscious. In short, he can help us get in the zone. But you don’t need to drop some major coin on that headset just yet.
Wingeier provides us with some fairly easy steps to get into the zone right now. First, use repetition — this is how the brain “gets better at anything” according to Wingeier. It’s a prime example of ‘practice makes perfect.’
Next, get some sleep. Wingeier puts being well rested up top in importance for helping you find your flow state while practicing. After that comes the hard part, you need to practice intelligently. “Smart, hard practice” is going to reap the rewards you’re looking for. A little coffee, or caffeine stimulation isn’t going to hurt, but Wingeier warns against over-doing it because as with any stimulant the prospect of over-dosing then crashing is real. Lastly, you have to be able to ignore distractions. So maybe turning off your phone while you’re training is a good place to start.
Maybe Arthur C. Clarke was right when he laid out his Third Law in Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination — “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So turn off the ol’ phone, drink a little coffee or green tea, make a smart practice plan, and get into that zone!