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Finding Your "Zone" For Peak Performance

Mindset Made Simple Tip #188 - Listen or watch HERE!

It was an emotional weekend for our family.  My cousin David has been in the ICU at the Cleveland Clinic for 30 days on the heart transplant list.  As of yesterday, he has a new heart.  What a blessing!

As we visited with David before his transplant, I found myself on a rollercoaster of emotions.  I can only imagine that he was on every ride at Cedar Point x 10!  There was excitement when thinking about the new lease on life this heart would provide.  On the other side of that was the fear that he may not survive the surgery.  There are no guarantees everything will work.

Add to that the fact that as my family rejoiced, another family was grieving the loss of a loved one. 


The excitement of a new heart will soon turn into the discomfort of rehab.  To get his new lease on life, David will be challenged both mentally and physically.  And it will be hard, emotional work!

Last week we talked about the effects of emotion on performance.  The supportive emotion in the room, before David went to surgery, was certainly a positive as he prepared his mind for what was to come.  My aunt said he rang the “transplant bell” with such vigor, that everyone on the floor knew a heart was about to beat again – crazy if you think about it, isn’t it?

In the days to come, David is going to need to find his zone, the place where he works best, the zone that allows him to make strides despite the pain, obstacles, monotony, etc.   

Dr, Yuri Hanin, Yuri, Professor and Senior Researcher at the Research Institute for Olympic Sports in Finland proposed in studies in 1997 and 2000 that everyone manages anxiety differently and, thus, finds their “zone” based on different mental and physical states.  Some of us are more likely to succeed when anxiety is high.  Others succeed when anxiety is low.  

Everyone has what he calls an Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF).  Figuring out how to get there is the key to repeating behaviors that lead us toward our intended results and avoiding those that don’t!

Hanin does not describe the emotional states related to high or low anxiety as good or bad.  Rather, he finds, as does Dr. Tim Gallwey in Inner Game of Tennis, as we mentioned in Tip #186 that labeling states and outcomes as helpful or unhelpful is more productive. 

How do we find our IZOF?  It takes some reverse engineering!

The soccer club I work with is preparing for a big ECNL showcase in Florida this weekend.  In preparation, we talked about how every player can do what they can, with what they have and show up to compete at their best.  To do this, we took some time to reconstruct their emotional and physical states before their best performances and their worst performances. 

I gave them a list of adjectives taken from a worksheet I use in one of my classes at UA found in Coaching Better Every Season (Gilbert, 2019).  The list includes words like Focused, Fighting spirit, Nervous, Pleased, Confident, Worried, Resentful, Motivated, Purposeful, Sluggish, Powerful, Powerless, Effective, Outgoing, Complacent, Anxious, Tense, Relaxed, Discouraged, Overloaded, Attentive, Communicative, Uncommunicative, Connected, Tired, Energetic, Irritated, Doubtful and more.  

I asked them to circle the adjectives that described them before a positive performance and cross out those that described them before a negative performance.

Hanin was right in his findings that each athlete differs.  Some viewed being communicative as facilitative.  Some viewed being uncommunicative as helpful.  Some viewed nervousness as helpful and some as unhelpful. 

Like so many things in life, our perspective and prior experience determine how we respond to the way we feel.

One thing I would like to add before we talk more about athletes reconstructing their best and worst to find ways to enter their IZOF more often is that how we view nervousness makes a huge difference in how we manage it. 

Have you ever explained to those you lead what is happening when we get that nervous feeling, or butterflies, in our stomachs? 

This explanation is so important on how we view these feelings and if we can use them as something that sets us up for the challenge ahead or makes us fear it!

When your stomach starts to turn, THIS IS GOOD!  Our body is getting ready to go!  It is preparing us to compete… present…or face whatever challenge is ahead by releasing adrenaline, increasing our heart rate and heightening our arousal. 

We may need to use our breathwork and routines to keep this in check, but our bodies are getting fired up to play.

The other thing that is going on is that the blood vessels in our abdomen are constricting and tightening our digestive muscles which are not needed as we face challenges.  No more rest and digest.  It’s fight or flight time.  The blood is reduced to our stomach and sent to the muscles we need to move. 

The more blood flows to our big muscles, the better we move!  GOOD!

So, let’s welcome those butterflies.  They help us do what we have planned to do with power and focus…if we believe they are working for our good!

Back to finding our IZOF.  After we discussed that the adjectives selected mean different things to different athletes, we dove deeper into the list and chose our TOP THREE for optimal performance and our TOP THREE that lead to subpar performance. 

Now it’s back to Dr. Zeigler’s “by doing what” question!  What do we need to do to embody and/or enact the words that are correlated with optimal performance? 

These things could be anything from taking your pillow on the road to ensure you get better sleep to making a plan to talk with certain teammates before competition to ensure you are not getting too deep in your head.  It could be choosing certain pregame music for each potential mood that could show up or jumping rope before games where you feel a little sluggish or blasé (like one of my DI basketball players does before games where she feels a little less competitive). 

As we know, we cannot control what happens in a game.  However, we can control how we respond to whatever comes. What we can control is how we show up.  That takes an awareness of where we need to be to start at our best.  If we start at our best, we have a much better chance of continuing at our best when we get into situations over which we have influence but less control.

Understanding the emotional and physical states that influence our readiness and ability to be in our IZOF can help us prepare to perform at our peak.  And as they say, “the separation is in the preparation” and self-awareness is our superpower! 

How do you need to feel?  Notice, I did not say how do you feel?  How do you need to feel to be your best?  Then, what do you need to do to get there? 

Answer these questions and you are setting yourself up for success because like my cousin David, all of us have hard stuff on the horizon and if we are our best, we will be more comfortable, consistent and confident as we face whatever comes our way!

Manage the moments!



P.S. Want to help your team find their IZOF? Reach out today to schedule a three-session workshop and give them new tools to manage their prep and performance!  Shoot me a text at 234-206-0946 or an email at and get scheduled today!

Julie Jones

Mental Performance Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946 

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