You can’t summon the card you need just by saying “one time,” and by the same token, you can’t will yourself into the zone by using some mental trigger word. Instead, the zone is something you’re trying to cook up by mixing in the right ingredients. Now that you know the outcome you’re aiming for—an ideal level of energy and a mind clear enough to continu- ally access Intangible Competence—the question becomes how to make it happen. Here’s how you can begin tackling that challenge:

• Create a zone profile
• Get into a zone routine
• Start with a zone warm-up
• Finish with a zone cool-down • Make routine adjustments

Zone Profile

To begin getting into the zone consistently, rather than randomly, start by identifying the specific features that define your experience of the zone. Gaining an understanding of what being in the zone means specifically for you sets the target that all your efforts will be centered around. Poker players are often quick to assume they know when they’re playing well

and when they’re not. They give up a lot of mental game edge by failing to recognize the subtle differences in their levels of performance. The best way to capture and analyze these differences is by creating a zone profile.

This profile is not something you complete once and never refer to again. It becomes a living document that first serves as a baseline, and then becomes a tool that tracks and measures progress. The zone profile can be so eye-opening for some players that just by completing it, they improve their chances of playing in the zone.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What is it like to play in the zone?
  • How is the quality of your focus?
  • What is your decision-making process like?
  • What is your energy level? Do you feel calm, fired up, or some- where in between?
  • What contributes to an ideal level of energy for you?
  • Does your sense of time speed up or slow down?
  • In what percentage of your sessions or tournaments are you able to reach the zone? How long does it typically last?
  • What is different about your warm-up, sleep, or level of physical activity on days when you are able to play in the zone?
  • Are you more likely to get in the zone when playing at higher stakes or at lower stakes?
  • What causes you to fall out of the zone?
  • What is the first sign that indicates you’re no longer in the zone?
  • Do you raise your game when playing in certain events or against certain players? After studying your experience in the zone, create a document and name it “Zone Profile.” Put the date on it and write out the answers to the questions on the previous page, either as a list or in paragraph form. Work on it for several weeks, or until you feel confident that you’ve cre- ated a solid description of the zone and the factors connected to it. Try and gather the best information you can find, but don’t get obsessed with thinking your description has to be perfect from the start.

Here are some tips to help you complete your zone profile:

  • When you first begin to describe what the zone is like for you, it’s often easier to start by defining what it is not.
  • When considering the questions listed on the previous page, play- ers often base their answers on instances where they played at a high level, but weren’t necessarily in the zone. Do your best to distinguish the difference between playing at a high level and playing in the zone. This will make it easier for you to recognize the first sign that you’ve fallen out of the zone, which will make getting back there easier as well.
  • As with any assessment, accuracy is more important than speed. Your ability to get into the zone consistently depends entirely on the quality of the information you’re using. Gathering high-quality information could take up to a month, or even longer if you play infrequently. Taking more time to get it right the first time doesn’t mean you’re delaying the process. In fact, you’ll more likely be saving time by avoiding the delays that come when you have to repeatedly correct mistakes and inaccuracies. Be sure to update your zone profile after each time you play in the zone. It is important that you take notes about the new instance before review- ing your existing profile, so that you won’t be influenced by previous descriptions. When adding new notes, you may find that many of the characteristics you wrote about in the original zone profile show up repeatedly. This confirms that your initial assessment was correct. On the other hand, if you notice new characteristics each time you take notes, you’re still in the process of defining your experience.

Keeping your profile up to date is also important for the following reasons:

  1. A well-defined target is easier to hit.
  2. You can see the evolution of certain qualities of the zone, e.g., improved tactical knowledge, increased focus, the slowing down of time, and a sharper and clearer mind.
  3. Faster recognition of when you are slipping out of the zone means you can get back into it more easily.

With a lot of attention being given to playing in the zone, you may immedi- ately see an increase in the frequency that you get there. Increased focus often provides an instant boost in the quality of your mental game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you truly have it mastered. Stay focused on build- ing a longer track record that really proves you can get there consistently.

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