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In the zone

You might feel at your best while riding a bike, climbing a mountain — or even relaxing in the shower. But you can feel that way at work, too.

· Leadership,Coaching,Calm

When someone somewhat reluctantly makes their way to my coaching couch, I find it’s best to start by focusing on the positive rather than the negative.
Paul — a product manager for a large pharmaceutical company — was one such reluctant coachee. A highly qualified young guy and a technical expert in his field, Paul’s role was to work with his company’s sales reps to help them sell these highly technical products. But his manager was concerned he wasn’t engaging his workmates and listening to them during this process, instead taking a defensive and somewhat aloof attitude to passing on his knowledge.
Plunging into all that negativity straight away, though, was only going to raise Paul’s defences higher. So instead I began by asking him to describe when he felt at his best. You know the feeling — the one where your thoughts are clear, you’re in your element and working at your optimum. Some people call it being ‘in the zone’, and get it when they’re running, biking or maybe climbing a mountain.
The place where Paul felt in the zone, however, was a little different.
“In the shower,” he told me. This response didn’t really surprise me. Many people say they do their best thinking in the shower, but by the time they get into the car to go to work their thinking degenerates into feelings of self doubt and anxiety. Paul would start his day this way, and while driving to work was already worrying about why his colleagues responded negatively to him and didn’t seem to listen. That set the tone for the whole day.
So in our early sessions we explored why Paul could attain that peaceful and clear state of mind in the shower, but then lose it as soon as he stepped out.
Initially, he pointed the finger at his work environment and his dealings with rude or difficult people. But as we talked I introduced, as I always do, the principle of thought. That natural, secure state of mind that Paul experienced in the shower, I explained, is ours all the time, but we take ourselves out of it by attaching ourselves to worried or situational thinking. "Its a 100% inside out job not an outside in one" I explained to him.
Once Paul clicked to the idea he might be able to have that ‘shower state of mind’ more often he was no longer a reluctant coachee. He really wanted to understand what was taking him out of his zone and his ‘a-ha!’ moment soon came. He realised it was his thinking about the situation, not the situation itself that was taking him out of it. He was creating his experience through his worried state of mind.
Then the insights started rolling in. By seeing his thoughts about his circumstances as a product of the ebb and flow of his state of mind, he was able to be calmer and more present, listen and not take things so personally. And by allowing his natural secure state of mind emerge he could now notice when he was in the zone and when he was not.
He saw he hadn’t had good relationships with people; that rather than spending time talking with his colleagues he had been simply telling them what he thought they should know. So he started meeting one on one with the reps he worked with, making sure he listened carefully to what they wanted to know from him rather than simply imparting his knowledge and what he thought they should hear.
During presentations, rather than ploughing through 50 slides and giving no opportunity for questions, he began these sessions by asking his colleagues what information they would find useful before proceeding with the relevant material.
Paul was a smart guy and had always been recognised for his qualifications. But he could now see being smart wasn’t all that was required in this job. What was also really important was his ability to communicate and build relationships -to understand before being understood. While it still wasn’t always plain sailing and some days his thinking got the better of him; but by having faith that this thinking would pass he was able to improve his relationships, relax and be happier in his work.
There’s nothing stopping you feeling focused and clear-headed whether at home or at work — other than your own thinking in the moment, remember if you leave the thoughts alone your natural "in the zone" state of mind will emerge.