When I talk about how to get in the zone, it may well be different to what you think I am going to be writing about here. Here, when I mention how to get in the zone before a training run or a race, especially a marathon, I am referring to the level of anxiety or arousal that you have before and during the run. (As always, this process can be used in other sports and other aspects of life too, my focus is on running)
I know some people may snigger when using the term arousal and think of it in terms of something sexual, but please note that I am talking about something quite different here. Throughout the literature in sports psychology, this is addressed as arousal or anxiety and different authors and researchers have different ways of expressing what they mean in this topic. Getting in the zone!
Moving on to the matter at hand, I am going to illustrate the issue that can sometimes occur when it comes to arousal. In their 1999 book Foundations of sport and exercise psychology, Weinberg and Gould describe a piece of research whereby an athletic coach asked his 400-metre runners to run all out, and to exert themselves and give it 110 percent.
Then a few days later, the same runners were asked to run exactly the same distance, but this time to run at 95 percent. The times for the 95 percent run were better than those for 110 percent.
The results of the research were interpreted to suggest that trying to run at 110 percent effort, which may well be considered an over-the-top amount of arousal, resulted in the runners tightening up more than was necessary, including muscles not needed for running. At 95 percent, the muscles not needed for the run remained relaxed, which allowed those muscles that were required for a fast run to function without as much resistance. They became more efficient and effective runners at 95% effort and as a result ended up running faster.
So todays blog entry is now all about getting to the optimum level of arousal and practicing getting into that zone so that we run faster during our training and races.
Way, way back in 1908 in their work entitled The relationship of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation, featured in the Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, Yerkes and Dodson explored the effect of arousal and their work has been a bench-mark used by many throughout the last century.
Their various studies and pieces of research led to the idea of an inverted-U theory when it comes to optimum arousal. It always reminds me of the law of diminishing returns I learned in a college economics class – if one man works in an acre large field, the work gets done slower than if 2 men work the field. If 3 men work that field it gets done quicker and likewise for 4 men. However, if you put 10,000 men in that field, there would be too many and it would not get done effectively or as the field owner might wish. Likewise, our inverted-U theory means that you get better performance as you exert more effort and have more arousal, but then when there is too much arousal, the performance is mal-affected and gets worse.
Throughout the years, as with most long-standing and pioneering theories, there have been several modifications and challenges to this theory. The basic idea of the inverted-U has general acceptance which is that performance increases with arousal up to some level, but arousal beyond this level interferes with performance. More modern research has gone on to indicate that different athletes have various best arousal levels, and it has also been confirmed that each runner has a unique optimum amount or level of arousal for their own best performance, and performance is diminished when arousal is under or over this level. This optimum level is now viewed as a range, that is, a zone.
Being in the zone varies greatly throughout various sports, as you’d expect and it also varies within individuals, and many theorists and researchers suggest that you do not just need moderate levels of arousal to achieve best performance, but all this debate and discussion is not what you are after.
I want to help you find out that optimum performance zone for yourself and teach you how to spend more time in it, so that you can train and race in the zone – the right zone for you.
Using Self-Hypnosis For Getting In That Optimum Zone:
Step One: Induce Hypnosis.
You can do so by any means you desire or know of. You can use the process in my Science of self-hypnosis book, use the free audio we give away on this website to practice or have a look at the following articles as and when you need them; they are basic processes to help you simply open the door of your mind:
Heavy Arm Self-Hypnosis Induction Method
Using Eye Fixation for Self-Hypnosis
The Chiasson Self-Hypnosis Method
Hand to Face Self-Hypnosis Induction
Using Magnetic Hands for Self-Hypnosis
The Coin Drop Self-Hypnosis Induction
However, with this process, an induction is potentially too much activity, so I teach my clients how to adopt a hypnotic mindset and simply have a mindset that is positive and expectant. Again, to really understand the cognitive set of the hypnotic mindset, go grab a copy of my Science of self-hypnosis book where it is explained in simple but comprehensive terms.
Once you have induced hypnosis, or just adopted the hypnotic mindset, move on to the next step.
Step Two: Imagine an occasion when you performed a difficult task really well. Ideally, an occasion when your arousal level was spot on, maybe this is a time when you ran at your optimum level or a time when you felt you were really in the zone. If you struggle to think of an exact occasion, you can imagine and create one, or you can choose a time which was very close to being perfectly in the zone.
When you have engaged all your senses in this, seeing, hearing, and feeling this occasion or instance in your mind, start to examine how the body feels and become aware of what your mind is doing – what are your thoughts, ideas, internal dialogue?
In most people when asked to explain this in words to me in a hypnotherapy session, they’ll use words along the lines of relaxed, strong, focused, concentrated, confident, and smooth.
It does help to express in words what the feelings are, so tell yourself what words best describe your feelings when you are in the zone – you may even find the feelings themselves start to become more noticeable as you mention them.
Once you feel that you have imagined the optimum arousal as best as you can and even started to feel some of those accompanying feelings, now imagine a large scale of some sort, perhaps like a thermometer, or a large dial or scale of some kind that goes from 0 to 200. Get the colour of it clear in your mind and notice the variety of details to have it vividly in your mind.
Notice that when you are performing at your optimum level of arousal, the scale sits nicely at 100. That is what we aim for as often as possible; 100. This is the arousal level that we now refer to as your best performance level.
Step Three: Next up, now imagine an occasion when your level of anxiety and arousal was too high for you to perform to your best. Maybe this was an occasion when you experienced an excessive amount of anxiety that impaired your performance.
As you imagine that, notice what you see and hear and start to notice how the body and mind feel. As we did in the previous step, start to explain this using words to yourself. When I do this with my own hypnotherapy clients, the kinds of words that are typically used are words like tense, worried, distracted, uncertain, weak and unfocused that are used.
Now look at your scale so that you can see that the scale is now reading somewhere in the region of 130, 140 or even 150; just see where it is for you and really notice the difference. Once you have spent the right amount of time on this anxiety laden experience and have a good, clear idea of how the scale is different, then move on to the next step.
Step Four: Now it is time for you to practice how to bring the scale down. You can of course just imagine bringing it down using your imagination and letting the scale alter your feelings. This might work better when you are practiced at this. However, we want you to get a real physiological sensation and physical evidence for the scale coming down in the first instance.
Start to practice bringing the scale down to 100 (the optimal level) by using your breath. Each time you inhale, say the word ‘strong’ or ‘focus’ to yourself – use any word that you can then go on to associate with optimum performance.
When you then exhale, start to say the ‘relax’ or ‘smooth’ or ‘soften’ to yourself and imagine the scale then goes down 10 or 15 points or so. and as the breath goes out, the scale will come down 15 or 20 points, about halfway back to 100.
So when you inhale, you gain poise, strength and focus and when you exhale you relax and ease yourself towards that optimum 100 mark.
Aim to get yourself feeling strong and confident, while letting go of excess tension.
When learning to breathe effectively, learning to breathe using the rib cage and the diaphragm will ensure that you bring in much more air. Push the tummy out when you inhale and draw it in when you exhale and use the lower torso to breathe more deeply and effectively. As you practice using this breathing technique to get the arousal level to 100, once you have practice lots of times, you find that breathing this way prior to a race, helps you do that when you are not hypnotised too.
Allow a few breaths to help you get your scale to 100, and ensure that you feel that you have achieved a controlled and optimum state of mind and body. When you are sure of that, move on to the next step.
Step Five: Now we are going to test and practice more rigorously!
So now imagine being in another troublesome and problematic, over-anxious experience once again. Practice running through the previous steps and reducing the scale and get it to 100. Practice doing this with another 2 or 3 examples to really get confident on how to do this.
You’ll start to find that when the scale reads 100 more often inside your mind as you think of these previous experiences, optimum performance will come much more naturally and you are almost starting to reframe previous poor experiences.
Remember also, this does not have to be experiences of only being nervous or anxious before an event. It can also include reducing anxiety and creating optimum arousal during an event of some kind too; in the middle of a marathon or a race when the crowds are cheering you or you are feeling a certain way about your current time, for example.
Step Six: Exit Hypnosis. Open your eyes, wiggle your fingers and toes and start to practice your breathing prior to training and any races you run. It should start to become associated physically and mentally with optimum arousal levels. The more you do this, the more easily it’ll start to happen by itself too, as a matter of course.
So there you have it a self-hypnosis process for developing the right level of arousal when running – helping you get in the zone. Practice really does make perfect with this process, so get practicing.
If you’d like to learn more or if this has resonated with you in some way, then visit these pages:
1. Has poor psychology held you back from performing at your best? Would you benefit from advancing your mental game? Want to get in the zone?
Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason
2. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others performa better?
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
3. Have you read my book Hypnosis for Running: Training Your Mind to Maximise Your Running Performance? It helps any runner, athlete or sportsperson maximise performance.
Likewise, if you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar. Alternatively, go grab a copy of my Science of self-hypnosis book.