Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | Being in “the zone”

Most of the time I really don’t like using English words in ways that do not exactly match their definitions in Webster’s. Unfortunately, I don’t know the correct English word (if there is one) for the condition that we get into on those rare occasions when everything we try works exactly as we planned. So I use the popular “in the zone” for that condition.

Is a baseball pitcher in the zone when he strikes out 18 batters in a “perfect” game (no hits, no walks and no base runners for any reason)?

Are basketball players in the zone when they score 3 points on 5 consecutive shots?

It seems to me that in any endeavor there is a way to describe “being in the zone”. It is not just in athletics that “the zone” is possible. It is any time our brain and/or body performs exactly as we intended.

Being a person who will attempt what seems impossible, and having done that for many years, I have been there on more than one occasion and in more than one type of endeavor. At the outset of this let me make it clear that I have failed many times and even given up more than once; so I am not presenting myself as some sort of superman with superpowers.

My purpose here is to testify for perseverance.

I was eight years old the first summer I attended Camp Kingsley on Crescent Lake in Maine. That was 1944. We were at war and it was not at all clear yet who would win that war. I believed that I would probably be called on to participate in that war if it lasted until the early 50s. Back home in North Carolina most of our neighbors were Army and AAF families. My playmates were the sons of Officers so my mind was very military oriented. My Uncles were serving, JB as an OSS agent and Tom as a fighter pilot on an aircraft carrier. My job, as I saw it, was to be ready to serve; to become an expert shot at the camp rifle range.

My summer consisted of fishing and shooting. Many of the older campers ridiculed my ambition to become an expert. I could barely lift the rifle, they scoffed. I stayed with it, and by the end of summer I was a Marksman First Class. A year later I got in the zone and qualified as Expert Rifleman.

I have been back in the zone many times with a rifle. Not always, mind you. We don’t stay in “the zone” but we need to be prepared when opportunity comes along.

I am sure that you have heard the saying that “luck favors the well prepared”. I have made some nearly impossible “lucky” shots, offhand and with open iron sights. I have also missed a lot of fairly easy shots. It’s all about getting in the zone.

So how does one get in the zone? It is when preparation and opportunity meet and mesh. If either is missing, you achieve no spectacular success.

So shooting is when I am most often in the zone, but it happens in intellectual efforts, too. Did you ever write a perfect score on an exam that you had been really worried about? That really takes preparation. . .plus getting in the zone.

I think the ability to get in the zone requires more than thorough preparation. I think it requires a level of self confidence as well. As evidence to support this point I offer Tiger Woods. For years he dominated the world of golf as no one has in decades, yet a personal catastrophe completely unrelated to his golfing skills snatched him out of the zone and hasn’t let him back in (yet). It seems that his belief in himself and his skills has faded. That offers a third component: confidence, to have your confidence survive if you fail.

So, I think that I have identified three ingredients to getting in the zone: preparation, opportunity and confidence. There must be more. If there wasn’t there would be some folks who would stay in the zone at every opportunity.

Tiger came pretty close for a long time, but even then he didn’t win every tournament by a huge margin or even win every tournament. I suppose that it could be argued that some other golfer got in the zone once in a while, but his contemporaries argue that when Tiger was in the zone the others competed for second place. Those guys were not duffers; they were (are?) the best golfers in the world . . .dozens of them!

Now Tiger plays in the middle of the pack, still a great golfer, but not in the zone.

(JB Cornwell writes from “The Hideout” in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the iboats.com Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.)

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