How to Stay Motivated And In The Zone

So, you’re playing golf…no (I suck at golf), you’re playing 9-ball with someone who’s speed (ability) is clearly below your own. Let’s be real, it’s fun to win, but after a while it get’s boring, especially if there’s nothing staked. The game is too easy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you try to take on an open or professional player, like Mr 600 John Schmidt or Max Eberle, it’s gonna be fun cuz they’re good guys just to hang with, but you will find yourself demotivated because you ain’t gonna beat them, no way, no how.

John Schmidt Mr 600, all-time high runner in 14.1 (straight pool)

Compare this with shooting against someone who is your equal. As the match progresses, you win a few games and you lose a few games. Some safety play ensues. You have a chance of winning the match, but only if you really bear down. Your focus narrows, distractions fade away, and you find your stroke, you’re in the zone. A win is not guaranteed, but it’s possible. Tasks like these, science has found, are the most likely to keep us motivated in the long run.

We all love a challenge, but only if it’s within that optimal difficulty zone. That’s how we improve, by playing someone of equal or slightly better ability. Playing someone slower is boring, playing a pro is frustrating, even if they are good guys. But playing right on the edge of success or failure is incredibly motivating and stimulating to our brains.

This is called the Goldilocks principle, named by analogy to the children’s story, The Three Bears. Us humans experience peak motivation when doing things right on the edge of our current ability, or from pool player parlance, our speed.

By doing things that are right at the Goldilocks zone, is the secret to staying motivated. Most often you lose motivation when you get out of this zone, either you’re dying of boredom, or you’re shoved into a task that’s simply too difficult, or impossible. The big question is, how do you put yourself in a situation where you’re always in the Goldilocks zone?

How To Stay In the Goldilocks Zone

Max Eberle, pro pool player, artist and author

Being in the zone is what all athletes and top performers in virtually any game or sport, and even in intellectual endeavors, is trying to maintain. The zone is this mental state where you are so focused that the rest of the world disappears and the task at hand is a complete joy. Your mind is actually in an alpha state, and you are achieving not only peak performance, but also maximum learning.

To stay in that state, or what keeps us in that state, is the feedback we get as we make great shots, or break new all-time highs in your running speed, or write a paragraph that flows, is concise, and transmits the perfect message to your reader. That feedback is the key to maintaining the zone.

How To Use Your Mind Palace

When in the zone there are physical and mental positions, actions and feelings that come together to create a unified, fluid state of mind. The feeling of being in the zone. It is critical that you become hyper aware of what these queues are, and remember them, commit them to memory, associate them with some event, or thing, so that it can be stored and retrieved from your memory.

An excellent mental trick is to use a technique called the Mind Palace, made popular by Ron White, the Grand Master of Memory (an actual official title). A mind palace is where you go around your house to each room and find 5 significant things that you commit to memory and number, starting in the first room, 1 to 5, then continuing to the next room starting at 6, and going to 10, and so on. If you have five rooms, then you will create 25 storage places in your mind to store things.

Now, I won’t go into the entire technique, so I’ve embedded a video from Ron, where he explains the the Mind Palace in detail. Use this technique to remember those Zone queues for instant recall. Then, whenever you’re in the zone, and you feel yourself drifting from that sweet spot, instantly recall one of these queues to help you get back on center. The Mind Palace will help you in many areas of your life, by helping you stay in the Goldilocks zone.

5 Steps To Get In The Zone

The recall of memories that you associate with being in the zone is a critical aspect of getting there, but setting up the conditions to get there is also important. Let’s look at a more systematic, 5 step process that you can incorporate with the Mind Palace skill you now posses.

  1. Engage in something that motivates you. The zone emerges from the sweet spot between boredom and anxiety. Your goal is to create the environment, the right conditions necessary to get there.
  2. Recall something that can act as immediate feedback. Use your Mind Palace super power. You need something that you can hone in on, so you can adjust and maintain the flow.
  3. Focus by breathing with intent. Be in the present moment, as if the past and future do not exist. Well, mostly because they don’t, but go with that.
  4. Develop a rhythm. Call on your skills and act. If you are off then recall and adapt.
  5.  Understand that it’s okay for the mind to wander, just be aware of it when it happens and consciously bring it back.

Being in the zone is really no different from engaging in meditation. And it’s a skill, a skill you can develop so that you can enter that alpha state at will. So, commit to a daily meditation, start with just 5 minutes by concentrating on some activity, one thing. That’s important. Recall from your Mind Palace something you associate with that thing as being the north star, the epitome of that action, the thing that gives you the most satisfaction. Increase that mediation over time to 10 minutes, then 15. There is no set time, find what works for you. You are training your mind to get in the zone, so your ability to do that will depend on your commitment to do it.

Over time you will find it easier and easier to get into the zone and stay there. You’ll be motivated to get there because when you are there your body will reward you with dopamine. That’s what will get you into the zone, a natural high, the best high.

The cool thing is that this technique can work for all activities in your life. Once you master one, the others should follow.

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