Following a routine flips a switch in your brain to quickly get you “in the zone”.
Sportspeople have their pre-match routine (whether they know it or not) as do soldiers, pilots, firemen, etc. Anyone who does focused work at a high level has a routine that gets their mind and body ready to perform.
The pre-flight checklist that every pilot goes through isn’t just about making sure the plane is going to fly. It also gets the pilot in the zone to handle an incredibly complex piece of technology with ease.
Think about the routine a doctor goes through right before surgery. “Scrubbing in” is an exact sequence to clean their hands, get their surgical gown on, double gloves, etc. It also puts them into the zone of saving people’s lives where a milimeter can mean the difference between life and death.
Observe any elite performer and you’ll find a routine just before they get into the zone. It puts them in the zone because their mind sees the sequence (routine) and has made the connection between the sequence and the level of performance.
It’s one of the keys to consistently getting maximum results out of all the training they do.
Think of when you get to work. Don’t you have a routine you go through to “get ready to face the day ahead”? What happens when you get bombarded as you walk in the door and don’t have time to settle? How does your day go from there?
Routines have a lot of correlation across different disciplines, but I will use soccer as an example here.
So, the mind sees:
- Retie the laces on our left boot
- then right
- check our shin pads are in place
- take a deep breath
- jump with knees to the chest
- stand very still, taking another deep breath
- run onto the soccer field, right foot first
- turn off every thought process not related to playing this game of soccer
- play a great game of soccer
The sequence, that exact sequence is like the security code that unlocks the door in our brain that leads to full focus on that game of soccer. It leads to the maximization of your potential as a soccer player.
Now that is my routine. Yours will be entirely different. But you WILL have a routine.
The funny thing about this is that you will have a routine for games where you play well and another for when you play poorly.
The “good” and “bad” routines happen by simple association – you did a particular sequence and had a poor game each time so your brain thinks “ok, when I see that sequence, they will play a bad game”.
Of course, the performance part of your brain doesn’t actually understand the concept of “good game” and “bad game”. It just sees you play in a particular way and another part of your brain assesses whether it was good or bad.
Take control of your own brain.
Note down the sequence you usually go through and whether you normally have a good, bad or average game. After you have a particularly good game or a bad game, try to go back in your mind to the moments before the game.
Notice the exact steps you took. Notice any smells, sounds, music, things people said to you, things you said to yourself. They are all important. Try to notice everything.
Write out that exact sequence like a story. From now on, go back and visualize that sequence and the highlights of the game, associating the sequence with your performance.
After you’ve associated having a good game with an exact sequence (remember it’s a step by step routine), just repeat that sequence before every game and watch your overall performance skyrocket.
The more times you visualize the sequence outside of the lead up to the game, the more automatic it will be when it’s game time. Automatic is good. The ideal is to get to a stage where you consciously take the first step, then the rest follows without thinking about it.
This whole idea of routines applies to every aspect of your life. Not just sport. Anything you do regularly.
Can you apply it to your day? There’s some truth to the saying “got out of the wrong side of bed”. Think about that for a second… That old saying perfectly reinforces what I’ve been saying.
Could you apply it to your work day? To leaving work behind? Getting a good night’s sleep? Play time?
Where can you implement a routine to quickly get into a state of maximum performance?