HAVE YOU HEARD OF PEAK STATES? IF NOT, YOU HAVE PROBABLY HEARD OF ‘IN THE ZONE’?
In the world of performance psychology, experts are aware that optimal performance is associated with an altered state of consciousness often referred to as the zone. The zone is a term used for several peak states, namely, peak performance, peak experience, flow states, and clutch states. When someone experiences a peak state, they become so absorbed by the moment and task at hand they lose their awareness of self. In this state of mind, the brain is not in its usual wakeful condition because it has entered the realm of the unconscious. In this altered state of mind, athletes perceive their ‘will’ to be in control of their performance. In other words, what they want to happen, does happen. This creates feelings of confidence and happiness and being in control. Time distortions such as tachypsychia often emerge from the experience. Athletes in a peak state may also experience spiritual transcendence and a state of well-being.
The interesting fact, that peak states correlate with physical health, and mental wellbeing suggests the current mental health crisis created by the government's restrictions as a reaction to COVID may be reversed if people had peak state experiences in their daily lives.
Peak states have been explored and documented by numerous researchers. There is now a consensus that peak states occur when we get involved in activities and goals that are challenging. The challenge can be mental, physical or both. Long-distance runners, for example, often experience a peak state called the “Runners High” or flow as a result of challenging their physical boundaries. Peak states become more intense when your mental or physical skills are pushed to their absolute limit. When the run has more meaning such as winning a gold medal, peak states become even more magnified. Listen to Tiger Woods share his insights of being in peak states.
Any activity that is challenging and stretches our body or mind is absorbing. Absorption is the main characteristic of any peak state. Being absorbed at the moment gives us access to the unconscious mind, which is the source of all peak transcending states and experiences. The benefits of being in this state of mind are far-reaching. Indeed, people who experience peak states regularly are mentally more, healthy, because they experience positive emotions and positive energy. This occurs because their minds are focused on the present. Negative thoughts about past experiences and/or the future are eliminated in this realm of the unconscious.
Additionally, in this realm, the limits of time and space are transcended, enabling you to initiate creative acts and respond to sensory information with superfast thinking known as parallel processing. This enables you to think faster, adapt faster, and make better decisions, which corresponds to higher levels of performance and transcending spiritual like experiences.
In sum, our research suggests high performance and sustainable mental health is dependent upon participating in meaningful activities and goals that challenge us and stretch our body and minds, every day. Creative activities such as sport, music, art, or the performing arts are powerful mitigators of peak states and should be part of a daily ritual.