In racing, the goal is to get to the place desired by all. We call it "Victory Lane" or the "Winner's Circle." While every driver is heading in that general direction, there are some who know a shortcut. They get to the Winner's Circle by first getting "into the zone."
You have certainly heard the phrase "in the zone" connected to sporting events. When an athlete has a stellar performance, someone may point it out. But, does "the zone" exist or is it a product of an active imagination?
"I used to say, 'What the heck does that mean?' and wondered if anyone had measured this," says Dr. Jerry Stetz. The Ohio chiropractor has started a program called "The Mental Edge" that deals with a driver's mental state in preparation for competition.
"When I was in dental school at Case Western Reserve, we would cut up cadavers because, in order to be dentists, you have to know head and neck anatomy. I became aware that connections of the muscles of your neck run longitudinally, and there's some muscle fibers that come off perpendicularly that attach to the brain stem," he relates.
Armed with his head and neck knowledge, Stetz probed the concept of the zone further and found medical sources to be in rare agreement about what constituted being in the zone.
A Question of Balance
Basically, the zone is a balanced brain function. "People talk about brain waves and ideal brain waves being alpha frequency if you're going to be in the zone," says Stetz. "The brain has a left hemisphere and a right hemisphere, and when you're stressed, there's a reduction in measurable activity in your sub-dominant hemisphere. We all have a dominant hemisphere and a sub-dominant one; most of the population, the right handed, have a dominant left hemisphere. When people are stressed, they lose brain activity in their sub-dominant hemisphere and that's not a good thing. The function of those two hemispheres is not identical. If you lose function in one of them, you're losing some of your ability to perform things."
While it was known that getting in the zone was a simple case of balance, there needed to be a method to accomplish that result. "We want to take people and, on cue, put them in the zone," continues Stetz. "There's a hands-on physical procedure that I do that's based on that connection I saw in dental school. It's like pushing a button: You have to know where the button is and how to push it. It's like pushing the reboot button on your computer. That's what I'm doing to the athlete."
Before the physical portion can be enacted, the athlete must be in a proper mental state. Stetz works as part of a team with Deb Boles providing assistance in the process. Boles provides the emotional stress diffusion, which affects not only the task at hand, but the way the subject looks at himself and his life.
"The driver needs to be focused and put the other stuff out of his mind," says Boles. "I think a good driver can deal with distraction and not get knocked out of the zone. What we've discovered is that the longer we work with someone, the more we work with them, the easier they get into the zone and the longer they stay in the zone. Maybe things affected him in the beginning of the season. Then, it's not so much by mid-season and maybe not at all at season's end.
"With my part of the emotional stress, any person can have an issue with anything," she continues. "Take roller coasters as an example: You may love them, but I'm scared to death of them. We would get the same physical sensation, but you would love it and I would think I'm going to die. They're the same physical feelings, but the difference is in how they're perceived. It's my job to assist them into perceiving it differently so they can stay focused on where they need to go and what they need to do."