Have you ever noticed that some days you just wake up with the feeling that the world is your oyster? Problems come up and the solutions are clear as day! Other times you can’t even seem to come up with enough inspiration to figure out what you’re going to have for dinner? So what’s the difference? How can you be so on top of your game in one instance and feeling like you should be back in grade 2 in another?
The answer, in my experience, is presence. How present are you in this moment, right here, right now. The question that this then bring up is – how do I stay present and operate in a space of peak performance.
Today, I want to talk about a book I stumbled on from Tim Ferriss’s Blog – The Art of Living by Josh Waitzkin. While I truly think it is worth the read or listen,(note: I don’t get kickbacks for this kind of promo, it’s just a great book) it is, in someways a very specialized book. It’s part autobiography, and if you’re interested in martial arts and chess its a great story. It also carries some sound principles that although he applies it in a very specialized manner has some good uses at a day-to-day level.
In The Art of Living Waitzkin talks about “the soft zone”. It’s that space where you are at a heightened, peak level of physical and mental presence. Your senses are clear, your thinking is crisp, and your body is ready to move. So how do you get into that soft zone, that peak performance state?
Waitzkin suggests creating a routine that will leave you primed and ready to go. Science is on his side with this and it follows good behavioural principles. So how do you do it?
1 – What’s an activity that you are completely present for, every time. Most people usually have at least one of these, maybe more. What is that one activity you do that you are fully present for, no mind wandering, no anxiousness, just simple, blissful presence where all you focus is on what you are doing and/or who you are with. When you’re done that activity you feel energized, pumped, and you are free of the 10 million thoughts that invade your life. In the book Waitzkin uses the example of someone playing catch with their kid. For me it might be playing rough with my boys, playing soccer with my friends, or playing guitar. All of them leave me feeling really jazzed – I’m in the soft zone.
* to speed the process up it would be best to pick something that you do everyday (more on that below).
2 – Waitzkin recommends picking 2-3 more activities that incorporate at least one physical activity – going for a run, Tai-Chi, Yoga, a workout, even stretching and some that may promote calming the mind – meditation for instance. None of these are a requirement, but we do know that physical exercise is one of the best tools to create good mental health and peak cognitive performance. Also think of activities that speak to various aspects of your personality. For instance, some sort of music is necessary for me.
3. Chain them together – Put the activities together in an order that makes sense to you, but that lead up to that soft zone activity. For me that might look like: Sitting Meditation (10 mins) -> Tai-Chi Chuan (20 mins) -> Play Guitar (30 mins).
I now have an hour long routine that, when I’m done should have me in a space where I am ready to produce inspired work! Doing this daily means that within a couple of months the other activities – in my case sitting meditation and Tai-Chi should also be associated with the optimal performance state. The unconscious mind loves to makes connections so continuously completing the other activities that lead up the big show (the soft zone activity) will train your body and mind to associate that peak performance state with the other activities.
These associations have huge implications for how fast and how often you can get into “the zone”. You can play around with shrinking your ritual when you are in a crunch and don’t have time for the whole ritual (see Waitzkin’s chapter on “Making Smaller Circles”). So, it might be possible, with enough conditioning, to get to that peak state just by doing the meditation?
So, what’s your ritual? Can you do it every day? What have the result been? Let us know!
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