Being “in the zone” – on the field and in the boardroom

In an interview with the American Psychological Association, sports psychologist Dr. Shane Murphy talks about what it takes to be an Olympic athlete. The last question asked by the APA was “What does it take to do your very best when the pressure is on? You talk about being in ‘the zone’. Is that how athletes master the psychological skills that allow them to deliver their best in competition?” Dr Murphy’s response is quoted below…

Yes, athletes need to be in that “zone” whenever they are performing. It’s interesting that our research has shown that anyone in a very stressful or demanding occupation or role has to learn those same skills to stay in the zone – successful surgeons, great musicians, ballet dancers, emergency responders such as firemen – it’s a combination of years of practice to develop the skills to perform at a high level, plus the laser-like focus on the job at hand. What’s fascinating is that we find that athletes often don’t need to be perfect to succeed. Being in the “zone” isn’t about perfection as much as it is about staying in the moment, not worrying about failure, and not worrying about what the result might be. I find every athlete to be unique in their approach to that “zone,” but they use some combination of psychological skills such as visualization, goal-setting, concentration, relaxation or mindfulness, psyching up, positive self-talk and developing a consistent routine in order to get there. Once they’re ready, they focus and let it happen. Their bodies are prepared to succeed – usually it’s the mind that can get in the way – if you let it. (Feb 2010, American Psychological Association)

I found his answer especially interesting as it relates both my sports hat and my business hat. It is easy to see why the principles of sport psychology have been successfully applied to the boardroom. I often find myself thinking about how I might apply sports psychology principles in the office. While Dr. Murphy doesn’t mention your typical desk job environment, being in the zone is just as relevant when performing in an office enviroment. Whether you are working with sales figures, presenting your group’s latest R&D effort,  or negotiating an important deal, your performance is enhanced when you are present, aware and act without emotional attachment; when you are “in the moment”.