Mental Flow, Focus and the Zone for Scientists
Whenever you are writing a paper, preparing a presentation or performing a delicate experiment, you are facing a performance challenge: how to get the best output with limited resources of time, energy or grant money. This is when you need to get into the Zone. The Zone is the state of mind where you actively do your stuff with best performance, master every detail, and fly above the difficulties. And it’s enjoyable. While well acknowledged in athletics or car racing, the Zone is a concept largely underrated in academia.
Tips how to get into the Zone:
1- It comes only with experience. The first time you do something, you will not get into it: too many things to control, too many fears/issues… The Zone requires experience and training in the activity.
2- Don’t force. The Zone is essentially sub-conscious. Recognize when you’re out of it and don’t feel guilt. That happens, you will recover. Forgive yourself.
3- Get motivation on a single specific task. Select a challenge you really wish to achieve. Not too easy, not too difficult. You need a genuine sincere will. Don’t worry about success chances while setting your goal. If there is a chance, that’s enough to give a honest try. Obviously select only one task at a time. The Zone is all about mental focus.
4- Set the right conditions. Timing is an issue, some people just don’t perform well before 10am or without a dose of caffeine. The Zone is a connection between body, mind and the rest of the world. So get your body mechanics in working order. Same for inner emotions. Same for external disturbances like excess noise, light or heat.
5- Turn off disturbances. Turn off all non-necessary items for socializing: phone, internet… People will call you later, you’re in the Zone now. Doing your job more efficiently leaves more free time later for other activities.
6- Reject negative feelings. Fear, anger or unrelated irrelevant thoughts are the paths to the dark side. Throw them away as soon as these thoughts appear. Because they always appear. Focus on breathe and on your current activity is a proven method. Also don’t pay attention to your mistakes. Mistakes are normal, you notice them, correct them, you have to move on.
7- Visualize success. You must be convinced of your success chances. Even if they are very weak, there must always be hope. See yourself performing ideally well. Get the energy from the positive feelings.
8- Focus your attention to positive feedback. Every little step is bringing closer to success. Focusing on positive feedback will improve your self confidence. Enjoying what you are doing is key.
9- Get lost. Your sense of self should disappear as the notion of time. This is where you connect all pieces and get the best performance.
10- Rehearse and try again. Probably the first time it will last 5 or 10 minutes. It disappears if you become too much aware of it and want to control it. Focus on the activity and on rejecting immediately negative feelings.