Practice being “in the zone”

“Stress is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there’.”– Eckhart Tolle

“Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organisation, preparation, and action.” – David Kekich

Goals are vital part of life, both personal and professional. Goals are different for different people and so is stress in achieving them. To a mountaineer, stress is the challenge of pushing physical resources to the limit of striving to achieve a demanding goal. To a student, it is the challenge to perform well in examination and to executives it is to withstand the competition and ambition of climbing up the ladder. To others it may be addressing different situations from managing work, to family and children.

Because everyone is driven by their goals, stress becomes a major and inevitable problem for many. Being exposed to stress over longer periods of time and without the necessary coping mechanisms can result in burnout and a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. This further leads to feeling tired all the time, failure to meet the deadlines, inability to stick to your goals and experiences of phantom aches and pains. Your personal productivity can be affected if this stress is poorly managed.

Stress & goal-striving

Stress is the inability to cope with a real or imagined threat to your mental, physical and emotional well-being which results in a series of psychological responses and manifests into health issues. Stress occurs when one is driven by compulsion to achieve what you are expected to or want to achieve. In striving for your goals you compete with yourself or with others to compensate for what you believe is lacking. At some point, we become caricatures of who we think we should be as our lifestyles become more external and we are driven by others rather than by our judgement of what we truly need.

Stress and work pressure becomes inevitable and solution lies in active management of stress.

Stress-management & Being “in the zone”

It is important to realise that everything is not just about goal-striving. Doing your tasks in a good state of mind and with good health is more important. This can be achieved by being “ in the zone” with your tasks. In many aspects, managing your tasks to attain your goals is more concerned with fundamental issues of doing meaningful work, mindful living and psychological well-being. Being “in the zone” with your goals helps you organise, do outcome thinking, provides clarity, and thereby reduces stress.

Being “ in the zone”

If you are ‘in the zone’ with your goal, you get intrinsically motivated and perform your tasks without being stressed about an external reward. Those who all in zone experience less stress as they are clear about what to pay attention to and have a complete picture of their commitments.

Checking whether you are being ‘in the zone’ is a simple and systematic process and the process involves comprehended check of your present direction with reference to what you truly want. Willingness to introspect lets you rediscover yourself. This can help you in making choices which are in alignment with your goals. This can help you distinguish between those things that dissipate your energies and those that add up to help you build the life you want.

Take little time to ask yourself following:

What to achieve?

Majority of times, stress is caused by the following situations:

• You know what you want, and you don’t know how to get it; and/or

• You don’t know what you want.

Most of the times, we create and identify with things that aren’t yet real on all the levels we experience; and when we do, we recognise how to restructure our current efforts to that particular outcome. Once you know what to achieve, you begin to be ‘in the zone’ and will more or less do your task automatically. If you trust that something you will more or less do automatically will provide direction and reduces stress. Having clear goals help you make better decisions about what to pay attention to.

What’s your next line of action?

Plan your work. Creating a cause-&-effect link in your mind about your next action will result in clarity, productivity and empowerment. You can really define the right action when you know the outcome you are after. When you organise and make plans ahead of time and decide what actions will be carried out in which context, you will be able to bring your attention to the appropriate things at the right time. Identifying those things that need focused attention and planning your next action keeps your mind relaxed and in the zone.

Are you in flow ?

Flow is the state of optimal performance and engaging your attention in what you are doing. Focused attention intrinsically motivates you. It is necessary that your skills match the challenge at hand. If the challenge exceeds your requisite skill level, you will experience anxiety and if your skills exceed the challenge, you likely feel bored and your flow gets affected. Flow is the complete concentration on the given task. When you have clear goals in sight with the right skill set and concentration, your action merges with your awareness and will allow you to engage more fully in the task at hand and ensures forward engagement in your plan.

How to be “ in the zone”

• Focus on what is important. Break down your complex goals into smaller and manageable ones. Once you achieve the little, you can set your eyes on the whole. Always commit to realistic goals.

• Do not expect fast results and easy outcomes. This makes you stressed and irritable. Take a break if you feel like you are on the verge of losing your calm.

• Discipline yourself not to put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Accumulation of undone jobs take up room in the mind and limits your clarity and focus.

• Don’t compare. Remember to calibrate your goals based on your own skill set, intellect and aptitude.

• Do not look for external validation as it can cause discontentment. Your performance depends on your skill set and efficiency.

• Be organised and review your direction of what you are doing and check whether what you are achieving is what you truly want.

• Monitor your mental and emotional state through self-observation and meditation.

Conclusion

Little time spent on getting to know your authentic self and bringing yourself ‘in the zone’ with what you want to achieve helps you lessen your emotional baggage of fears, anxieties and limitations. Make a list of possible sources of stress and attend to the issues that are a source of stress at the current time and work towards managing it.

“Doing something that is productive is a great way to alleviate emotional stress. Get your mind doing something that is productive.”

– Ziggy Marley

Participate in the process of listening

To actively engage yourself in listening is different from simply hearing.

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know, but if you listen, you may learn something new.”

– Dalai Lama

Conversations are fundamental aspects of our everyday lives and work environments. Most of us engage in different conversations with friends, co-workers and family members. But most of the time we fail to give them our complete attention and thereby fail to listen to what other person is saying. Just hearing the other person and being fully present in the moment are not the same. Hearing is a physical, natural and passive process as compared to listening which is mental, active, and learned process.

People are often selective listeners. They focus on few key words and ignore most of the other communication. They get distracted by external factors like noises or random sounds, and internal factors like self-talk or thoughts or emotions. By passively absorbing, you cannot remember the context of what someone is sharing. The more vocal you are at meetings, at public functions or even social gatherings, the greater your perceived value as a keen-minded person and same holds true with listening. In expressing yourself verbally, you perforce have to take an “either or” position. In our zeal to be seen as being either “pro” or “anti” something, we often lose the sight of the larger picture. This larger picture can be seen only by engaging yourself in active listening.

Active listening is important to collaborate, to increase productivity and to fuel your creative thinking. It focuses on understanding the speaker beyond his/ her words and takes into account the feelings, emotions and beliefs underlying the speech. Active listening creates a safe, comfortable atmosphere to discuss and exchange thoughts and ideas.

What is Active listening?

It is a way of being attentive, fully present in the moment, concentrating, engaging in the conversation and absorbing what the other person is saying to you. The emphasis is on listening and involves being attentive and respectful to the speaker. This allows understanding, and builds rapport and trust with the person in conversation. It paves way for learning by expanding the conversation and provides a wider perspective of looking at things rather than in a limited context.

Most of the times we don’t actively listen to the information and ideas being shared by others as we are too eager to share our personal ideas. By actively engaging in listening to what is being shared helps you to know and acknowledge work-related or personal issues of other people.

When you fail at listening you are sending out an armada of negative messages. You are saying:

• I don’t care about you.

• I don’t understand you.

• You are wrong.

• You are wasting time.

Active listening is an important skill that needs to be developed and can be honed into a habit with practice. Here are certain ways to develop the habit.

Respond, Don’t react.

Do not give instinctive responses without proper understanding. Listen to the content of the speech by focusing on the specific words that are being used. Understand the context. Share feedback by responding to what is being shared.

Wait, Don’t interrupt.

Do not break the speaker’s flow no matter how important and relevant your input is. Wait until you are sure the person has completed what he or she had to say and then offer your inputs. Exercise patience, short periods of pause should be expected.

Encourage, Don’t ask close-ended questions.

Encourage the speaker with open-ended questions that begin with why, who, what, where, and how. Open-ended questions enable more descriptive answers and show that you are taking keen interest. Ask questions to understand things better and not in a bid to demonstrate your intelligence or superiority.

Focus, Don’t distract.

Distracting thoughts can pose a serious barrier to active listening. Become aware of your self-talk. Thoughts like ‘I think this person is just wasting my time’ can distract your active listening. Convert such self-talk into positive statements such as “There’s always something to learn from others.” Focusing on what is being said makes you a better listener.

Provide affirmations, Don’t be defensive.

Include words such as ‘sure’ or “that’s interesting.” Don’t let your emotions get in the way. Adopt a pragmatic approach as a listener. Instead of offering a counter argument, try to understand the other speakers’s point of view and try to see things from their perspective. Paraphrasing can eliminate misunderstandings and increases empathy and rapport. Paraphrased statements begin with “Are you saying that…” or “ What I understand is…”

How does Active listening help?

Learning how to be an active listener is very beneficial. In a professional context, active listening can help shape you into a better leader and co-worker. In a personal context, when you give your attention to people expressing thoughts and sharing their experiences, your ability to understand improves your perceived value.

Here are few ways in which being an active listener can help you overcome obstacles.

Provides optimal solutions.

Workplaces are often fuelled by stress and pressure that requires you to handle multiple situations and people. This can be often demanding and you have to make sure that all the tasks are tackled and addressed. Being an active listener —whether by asking questions or summarising to ensure clear and better understanding — helps you to quickly assess the problems and subsequently helps you arrive with accurate and optimal solutions and can resolve them in a timely manner. Without active listening, you would find gaps in your knowledge and you may not be able to offer a solution.

Provides fresh points of view.

Active listening makes you better focused at the new ideas presented at your work place or in your daily life. Active listening improves your ability to analyse and recognise the difference between facts and opinions. You can uncover the assumptions and be open to new ideas and relate to old ones. You will be better equipped to take useful notes and fresh points of view. This can further bring positive outcomes.

Builds trust and collaboration.

Encouraging your coworkers to freely reach out with their concerns makes you supportive person at work place. Knowing and acknowledging work-related or personal issues that they are dealing with will make you feel valued. Active listening forms the basis for lasting relationships and building trust whether between partners or workplace or parents and children and friends.

Children and adults who have been actively listened to are more emotionally mature, more open to sharing their experiences, less defensive and more cooperative.

Finally, Active listening strengthens interpersonal relationships and breaks down barriers. Always maintain eye contact and avoid distractions by muting cell phones and moving away from other electronic devices when you engage yourself in conversations with others.

Practicing active listening will help you become a better student, more efficient in your job, develop patience and send positive messages.

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”

Zeno of Citium