WHAT IS THE ZONE AND HOW DO YOU FIND IT?

Finding “the Zone” is the quest of every golfer (and every athlete, performer, or artist).  When you find “the Zone,” you play the best golf you are capable of, and you have a sense of being part of something that you don’t quite understand, but you want more of. You cannot get into the Zone by direct assault.  Where is it? There is no rational set of instructions for entering the Zone.  Yes, it all sounds a little mysterious, a little irrational.  It is. Our instincts and education have advised us to avoid the irrational.  Yet whoever has spent time in the Zone wants to get back to it.  So, how do we learn to invite this irrational something into our golf game, and into our life?    

Efforts to find “the Zone” have little to do with everyday problem solving, scientific method, or performance psychology.  The occasional Zone visitors can feel like they live in two worlds.  Most of the time is spent in the everyday golf world of technical thinking and struggles with various thoughts and feelings.  Rare moments are spent in the Zone, where everything seems integrated, natural, and inspired.  So, how can we connect these two worlds? 

On the golf course, as a player and coach, I have continued to notice and to hear about this division of the everyday world of effort and practice from the irrational world of inspiration that is experienced in the Zone.   Well, everyone knows that “there is a force in the universe that makes things happen, and all we have to do is get in touch with that force.”   OK, but how do we find an approach to golf that includes the technical, the psychological, and the irrational? One day this summer, on the 15th hole at Agawam Hunt Club in the middle of a charity golf outing, the obvious answer came to me.  I stood in the shade of a large sentinel tree, standing alone in the middle of a short par 4 fairway.  The answer seems rather mundane: we bridge the everyday world with the world of the Zone simply by focusing on the process of what we’re doing.  Hold on a little longer before you say ”big deal, everyone knows that, it’s golf psychology 101.”  

Just try to focus on the process – it is one of the master keys to the Game.  You will encounter, like Odysseus on his journey back to Ithaca, the detours and traps or your ego.  Of course, you cannot “go at” the Zone directly.  When you invite it to visit by focusing on the process right in front of you, many things will seem backwards.  For example, you find your targets when you stop aiming.  That seems backwards.  Your strengths become your weaknesses. Greater efforts seem to lead to larger obstacles.   

When you can focus exclusively on the emerging process that lies right in front of you, let’s call it “quality processing,” then, you will find yourself on a golf journey where you can post a score while at the same time pursuing something beyond a score.  You will start to play a game of golf for which the club and ball can almost become incidental for a time.   

What are the kinds of effects can you expect from immersing yourself in “quality processing?”  I guarantee your golf game will improve … and, strangely, your everyday life will improve.  You will find that you can “quality process” on the golf course and then bring that method into your life.  You will just notice some evening that you remain calm and cordial despite being on the phone for over an hour with Verizon Fios trying to get your TVs to work. You will almost dispassionately see your ego trying hard to disrupt your quality processing by saying “I just want to be doing something else right now.”  

If you’re just starting and want to know how to begin “quality processing,” I would suggest slowing down.  Stop multitasking.  Be curious, attentive, and patient. Something wonderful will happen.  On the golf course these directions translate into rather homely advice: stick with your pre-shot routine, keep your swing in balance, breathe correctly, focus on a target, plan where every shot will land and roll out, and so on and so on.  The Zone will find you.  And in your everyday life, whatever you do, no matter how menial or trivial it may seem, just be there – it’s more than enough.  As Bobby Jones said, “I never learned anything from a match I won.” In your “everyday life,” those moments of stress, where everything seems to conspire against the wishes of your ego (why is there so much traffic today, why is that clerk taking so long?), become valuable learning opportunities for practicing “quality processing.”  You will spend more time in the Zone on the golf course, and something healing, something peaceful will come into your golf game and into your life.     

Dr. Rich