performance scott ford zone

By Scott Ford

One thing can be said for all sports; they can all be played in either your normal performance state or your peak performance state. The question is, why would anyone choose to play in their normal performance state when they have the option of playing in their peak performance state? Seems like a no-brainer, and yet our normal state of consciousness, called Gross Consciousness is a tough nut to crack. Getting into our normal state of consciousness is no problem; it is the conscious state we grew into as we grew up. It’s our default conscious state, so getting into a gross state of consciousness is not the challenge. Getting out of it is. And that’s why the shift from playing in the norm to playing in the zone is such a challenging shift. It requires a shift out of your default state of gross consciousness and into your higher-order state of integral consciousness.

Transformational practices involve this shift of consciousness from gross to integral, so playing your sport in the zone can be seen as a transformational practice wherein the practitioner is not only growing up into a higher level of performance, but also waking up to a higher state of consciousness.

I can’t remember anything negative ever being said about the zone experience. It’s interesting, however, that there exists a deep resistance to the shift from gross to integral consciousness. The egoic self is the culprit in this resistance to integral consciousness, which is understandable since the shift we’re talking about involves the transcendence of ego. Why wouldn’t there be a deep resistance to integral consciousness when it involves your egoic self essentially getting dumped for your Authentic Self? The biggest challenge facing people who want to take up a transformational practice is that the transformation we’re talking about is the transcendence of ego, and frankly, ego doesn’t want to be transcended. It will resist as if fighting for its life, which, arguably, it is.

Playing your sport in the zone might not sound like a transformational practice, but if you look a little closer, the zone doesn’t side-step any of the transformational dynamics involved in waking up to your Authentic Self. In fact, playing in the zone confronts these dynamics in a very direct and immediate way. Get in the zone and you immediately experience the higher-order reality of your Authentic Self playing your sport in an integral state of consciousness.

Keyword: immediately. With the zone, there is no waiting around through years of sitting in meditation before you get even a glimmer of your Authentic Self. Play your sport in the zone and that waiting period is reduced to right here, right now. Welcome to transformation.

The immediacy of this awakening not only impacts your sense of who you really are as an athlete and a human being, but it also impacts your level of athletic performance. Playing your sport in the zone always results in a higher level of performance. Always. It never fails. Your Authentic Self playing in the zone always plays better than your egoic self playing in the norm.

There are plenty of reasons for this immediate leap in your level of performance, but for now the discussion is about the immediacy of the transformative process. The shift that traditionally has taken years to achieve can now be achieved in minutes. Repeat: minutes, not years!

That’s a huge claim, and yet this transcension from egoic self to Authentic Self has an underlying dynamic that is causal to this transformational immediacy, and that underlying dynamic is the immediacy of the present dimension. The underlying spatiotemporal dimension of the zone is the present dimension. Ego slips away with presence; there is no time for ego to make comparisons when you are in the flowing present. There is only time for the purity of an unselfconscious relationship between you and the game you are playing; the relationship of your Authentic Self playing the game in the flowing presence of the zone.

There is no better way to play your game than through a one-to-one interface between your body-mind and the flowing present. But that’s not our default interface. Our default interface involves the body-mind in a state of temporal and spatial flux, constantly flip-flopping back and forth between the past and the future. Nowhere is there a parallel interface to integrate past and future into a unified, flowing present. 

We assume that we are in the present in our normal waking state. But that’s an illusion. We spend most of our waking state just slightly behind the present in the immediate flowing past. And because we have been conditioned since birth to connect to the flowing past of our various environments, we are also conditioned to the state of consciousness that comes with that spatiotemporal asymmetry – our gross conscious state.

This is not a bad thing, mind you. It’s quite natural. Gross consciousness is required for our growth and development into adulthood, and it is the conscious state that we work hard to develop over the years, and with its development comes the simultaneous development of our egoic self. Again, a natural aspect of our development as human beings, so it’s only natural that we take this gross conscious state into the games we play. In other words, we play our games in our gross conscious state, which means we also play our games connected to the immediate flowing past of the athletic environment. We play our games just slightly behind the flowing present, in the flowing past.

Makes you wonder how we get so good at our sports when we play them slightly in the past. But this is not a condemnation of our normal performance state; it is rather an acclamation of our peak performance state. We don’t have to settle for performance in the norm when there are emerging models for performance in the zone. These emerging models are not only transformative for your game, but also transformative for your “self.” A zone performance takes a transformation of consciousness; a transformation out of your normal state of gross consciousness and into your higher state of integral consciousness. Likewise playing in the zone is a transformation out of playing your game in the flowing past as your egoic self and into playing your game in the flowing present as your Authentic Self.

That’s some serious transformation going on as you shift out of the norm and into the zone:

1. Performance transformation.
2. Consciousness transformation.
3. Self-transformation.

All underpinned by a spatiotemporal transformation out of the past and into the present. And there’s one more transformation that cannot be overlooked. In psychological terms the transformation from playing in the norm to playing in the zone involves a transformation from heterotelic experience to autotelic experience. Heterotelic experiences are based on external motivations, i.e. playing to win or lose. Autotelic experiences are all about internal motivations, i.e. playing for the sheer sake of playing.

Watch little kids playing some time; doesn’t matter what they are playing. Just watch them play and you will see the joy of playing for no other reason than to play. That’s an autotelic experience. That’s playing in the zone.

Then go out and watch adults playing tennis in a competitive, USTA League match, for example. Compare the difference between little kids playing a game just because it’s fun to play versus adults playing a game to beat the crap out of their opponents. That’s the difference between an autotelic experience and a heterotelic experience. That’s the difference between playing our games in the norm and playing our games in the zone.

Would that we could play our adult games as if we were little kids playing our games for nothing more than the pure joy of playing. Would that we could trade in the heterotelic experience of playing in the norm for the autotelic experience of playing in the zone.

Guess what?

We can! But it takes a transformation in consciousness to make that wish come true. It takes a transformation in consciousness to make the potential of performance in the zone become the reality of an autotelic performance experience in which your Authentic Self is playing the game in the flowing present dimension.


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