Getting in the Zone: Tips and Tools to Get You There Faster

Posted by Ainsleyaiken on January 23rd, 2019

Michail Csikszentmihalyi (MC) researched the idea of flow for decades at the University of Chicago.  He examined the idea of being in “flow” or as others might call it “the zone” by studying, researching and following people who excelled in sports, performing arts and business.

MCdefined flow as “The state at which people are so defined in an activity that nothing else seems to matter” (1990).  MC found that athletes would have an altered sense of time when in flow/the zone where time either appeared to slow down dramatically, or things happened quickly but easily.

Through his research, MC defined 9 conditions that had to occur in order for an athlete to get into “flow” or “the zone”.  The 9 conditions are:

The challenge of the situation matches the athlete’s abilities.

There is an effortless merging of self and actions

The athlete has a clear sense of goals – what she/he needs to accomplish.

There is feedback indicating correctness (either from a coach or self).

The athlete is solely focused on the task – controlling their concentration.

The athlete feels complete control without actively thinking.

There is no self-evaluation, self-consciousness or critiquing while playing.

Time transforms:  either speeds up or slow down.

Enjoyment:  the task itself is rewarding (competing, running, shooting, throwing).

Now that you know more about what it takes to get into flow and find the zone, let’s talk about specific factors MC’s research indicates can help us get closer to being in the zone.

Factors that can enhance an athlete’s ability to enter the flow/zone state are: 

Strong confidence                           Positive Thoughts                            Strong Focus

Being physically prepared

Having the optimal level of intensity for your game/match

Using a pre-competition plan                     Positive team interaction

Feeling good and tapping past good performance

Factors that can interfere with getting in a flow/zone state are:

Weak focus                        Making mistakes                              Negative mental attitude

Critiquing one’s own performance           Negative team interactions

So as you think about your next practice or your next game/match.  Focus on those things can enhance your ability to get closer to the flow state:  make sure you are using your strength cues, thoughts need to be positive, know where your focus is and direct it to what you want to happen, have a pre-competition plan that keeps you thinking positive and upbeat, and finally keep team communication as positive as possible. For more details visit here at-

Csikszentmihaly, M.; Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. Harper Perennial (2008).

Joseph Lenac

Licensed Psychologist


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