How can we get into the zone?

by Emily Barker,

We’ve all heard the term getting in the zone – that moment when everything just clicks. Often the idea of the zone has been associated with elites athletes, such as Olympiads, but what about ordinary people – can we get in the zone?

That is what Kath Woodward, Frontiers Specialty Chief Editor for Gender, Sex and Sexuality Studies, and her team are trying to work out by looking at different areas such as sport, computer gaming and music.

Rather than see the zone as one thing, she explained it is actually a set of phenomena.

The zone is when musicians, athletes, creative workers and others do certain actions with an unexpected and extremely high level of competence, often beyond the competence the individual thought they were capable of. It is linked to high-state performance.

Previously, the idea of the zone has been mainly been studied in relation to psychology and has been linked to the idea of flow. However, Prof. Woodward thinks there are other factors in play such as the environment, temporality and of course confidence in your abilities, which can include factors such as gendered expectations.

“You need a level of confidence in what you do, which might mean for adults a level of competence. You’re not going to get into the zone playing the violin if you can’t make a decent sound;” she explained.

Her own work focuses on sex, gender and sexuality in sport and particularly on the culture and embodied practices of boxing.

“Boxing is an example of a field where people do invoke the idea of being in the zone as a way of combining the feeling you have with the intentions you might have, where mind and body become one;” she said.

“For example when people box, sometimes they can clearly be in distress. But they don’t stop, they keep on going and what is it about this phenomena that makes them keep on going?”

The team also looked into the way that big corporations use the zone to try to motivate their staff, people now even have an app on their phones they can use to get themselves into the zone.

However, do not fear if you think you’ll never quite reach the heights of elite athletes and professional musicians, because they also found that the zone can be collective.

“We can all enjoy it, for example in music, you don’t have to be a performer, you can just be there.”

The project is an AHRC funded project with Prof Tim Jordan.

Further author biography and related research articles available via Loop.