The Zone

“If you are not sure, don’t act.” 

After an extraordinary performance, competitors often report they felt “out of their body,” or superhuman. Time slowed down or even seemed to stop. Visual acuity and motor skills combined with laser-like precision. They were in the zone.

A paradox of the zone experience is a complete absence of cause and effect. The familiar feeling of “someone doing something” is eclipsed by effortless, perfection-in-action.

Only after you “come back” from the zone are you able to recognize that it happened at all. Something was happening, but “I” wasn’t doing it. A state of “impersonal witnessing” was commanding the action. The actor and the action had become one.

Because it was a beautiful, incredible experience, everyone asks: how can I make it happen again? Which is the wrong question. A good question is: What allowed the zone to occur? The absence of any form of desire, prior to or during the activity, is the answer.

At this point it might sound as if there is no chance of entering the zone initially, or again. But it isn’t hopeless. 

Toddlers live in the zone.

The zone may absorb you if you eliminate what prevents it.

Although we cannot will the zone to occur, it may overtake us when the conditions are favorable for it to occur.

Creating favorable conditions requires learning what not to do.

When practicing gun handling skills at home, training at the range, or before shooting a stage in a match, what are you trying to do? Are you trying for a smooth draw, not drop too many points, call your shots, shoot all A hits on the targets, or not shoot yourself or the range officer? Those states all reveal desire.

Take the draw, for example. You must draw to a perfect sight alignment on the target, every time. What are the most efficient and consistent movements required? Each movement must be studied and analyzed until you know the draw cannot be improved. A master can draw to a perfect sight alignment on the center of the target, with his eyes closed, with boring regularity. 

A similar approach must occur for every component of shooting. For single shots on steel targets, two shots on paper targets, transitions from target to target, movement from position to position, and so on.

On calling the shot: You must know where each shot will hit the target at the instant the shot fired. As a shooter, that is the most important job you must always do. (And I heard Robbie Leatham say that to one of his students, so it must be true.) 

Removing desire takes years of thorough training. And not just in local competitions. What doubts lurk at the national championships but not at your home club?

In the end, the effort required to end desire is worth it.

And it’s not just for competitors, this experience awaits everyone. Whether you are sweeping the floor, preparing a meal, or just quietly sitting, the zone may absorb you if you are fully present.

Most who have returned from the zone will agree that it occurred when least expected. Least expected is key. There were no expectations because you were not trying anything. That’s when the magic happens.