The best athlete is in alignment—physically, mentally, emotionally, and, spiritually. This athlete is aligned not just in body as discussed previously, but also in mind and soul. I refer to this as “ total alignment.” During a victorious performance, an athlete may refer to experiencing “ flow” or being in “the zone.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Hungarian psychologist and optimal experience researcher, defines “flow” as follows:
A sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes disoriented.1
Ursula Grobler, American rower, recalls being in “the zone” during her gold medal performance at the World Indoor Rowing Championships in 2010:
Part of the magic of finding and staying in your Zone during competition is that you’re no longer competing in your mind. That is, you’re not preoccupied with thinking about what you’re doing. You’ve trained enough; your body and muscles know what they’re supposed to do. Just let them do it and enjoy the ride, enjoy the game.2
I would equate “flow” or “the zone” to being in “total alignment.” If you are out of balance in any of these areas, achieving this desired state of performance is elusive. I recall a time when I was in “the zone” on my mountain bike.
It was 2004 during a circuit race in Breckenridge, Colorado. Riding multiple laps on the same course, I recollect going faster and faster each time. It was as if I had become one with the trail. I didn’t see any obstacles, only the smooth line before me. My body relaxed and floated effortlessly up and down the dirt path. The crowd disappeared. My mind was calm and focused, completely absorbed in the present. It felt as though I were riding outside myself. I was exhilarated, having no concept of my effort or time passing. When asked why I race, it is for these unforgettable experiences. I don’t recall my race result that day, but I’ll always treasure the memory of being in “the zone.”
In Zone Mind, Zone Body, Roy Palmer, Alexander Technique® teacher and sports coach, defines seven characteristics of “the zone” experience that reflect “total alignment”:
(1) Being totally absorbed and focused on the activity. (2) Experience of an internal clarity and understanding exactly what is required, knowing their skills are matched to the task. (3) A sense of ecstasy—being outside everyday reality. (4) “Being in the moment” focusing completely on the present. Unaware of time passing—a sense of time slowing down. (5) A deep passion for the activity leading to higher levels of performance. (6) Sense of serenity—no anxiety, no ego, no worries about the outcome of action. (7) No sense of effort. The activity becomes easy. Getting out of the way.3
These seven characteristics tie together your personal traits in the four dimensions—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. When all these aspects are balanced, you can reach peak performance. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, leaders in human performance, cite harmony in these same areas as necessary for full engagement: “To be fully engaged, you must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.”4
When fully engaged, you can reach the Ideal Performance State (IPS). In the book, The New Toughness Training for Sports, Loehr defines IPS: The optimal state of physiological and psychological arousal for performing at your peak. […] You are most likely to experience IPS and perform at your peak when you feel: confident, relaxed and calm, energized with positive emotion, challenged, focused and alert, automatic and instinctive, ready for fun and enjoyment.5
Regardless of the name—“flow,” “the zone,” “full engagement,” or “IPS”—the meaning is the same. You are aligned in the four critical dimensions— physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In my opinion, this “total alignment” is at the center of athletic success, as you will see in my model for sports performance.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). FLOW: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.
- Wilson, L. (2015, Feb. 9). Famous words from sports figures about competition. Retrieved from www.positiveperformancetraining.com/ famous-words-sports-figures-competition
- Palmer, R. (2006). Zone mind, zone body: How to break through to new levels of fitness and performance – by doing less! Penryn, Cornwall, UK: Ecademy Press.
- Loehr, J. & Schwartz, T. (2003). The power of full engagement: Managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal. New York, NY: The Free Press.
- Loehr, J. E. (1995). The new toughness training for sports: Mental, emotional, and physical conditioning from one of the world’s premier sports psychologists. New York, NY: Plume.