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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Managing Stress and Improving Performance by Getting Into 'The Zone'

We live in a hectic world that is becoming more and more hectic all the time. We have more and more problems and opportunities that demand our attention. Our minds are more and more at work. The result is that from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep our minds are fully engaged and our eyes are “turned to focus on the inside.” Because of medical advances we live longer, but it feels as though our lives are shorter.


As our brains are fully engaged—analysing the past, understanding why we have problems, and building scenarios for how to solve problems or exploit opportunities in the future—our eyes turn inwards and we miss seeing the flowers in front of us. We wake up and the next thing we know we are having supper and are ready to retire. Where did the day go? Between our ears; we were busy inside our heads and did not notice the smile of the baby, the blooming of the roses, or how the wind was caressing our faces.

We live physically longer but experience life as being very short. Where did it go? Solving problems. Rushing from one agenda item to the next without a break in between.

All the days start looking the same: get up, run run run, and go to sleep…assuming that you succeed in falling asleep. As this experience repeats itself, eventually you won’t even know what day of the week it is. And soon, unless you look for it, you will not know which calendar year it is. It is not inconceivable that the day will come that we will graduate from school, go to work, and the next thing we will be aware of is that we are gasping for air because we are dying.

Where did life go? Between our ears, with our eyes turned inward. We will have no memory of our children crawling, our loved ones crying, or our garden blooming. We saw these things but did not register them. Our eyes were turned in, watching us deal with the past or future and missing the present.

Many well-meaning people tell us to stop the rush of life and smell the flowers. It is a great recommendation, but how do we go about doing it? Is it as simple as literally canceling a meeting and going for a walk in the garden?

No! We can cancel many meetings, walk in many gardens, and even smell the flowers…and still have no memory of it unless….

In order to smell the flowers we need to see them first, to be aware of their existence and beauty, and for that we need to turn our eyes outward. That will happen when we stop the brain from totally monopolising our awareness.

We need to slow our minds. We need to control our minds rather than be controlled by them.

We need to move from the brain to the heart.

This last point needs explaining: The brain has left and right sides to it. The sides argue with each other. The right side is very liberal, creative, risk taking. The left side is detail-oriented, risk-averse, conservative. They can spend days, years, arguing with each other about what to do and leaving you bewildered. You will act because you have to, but you will be acting full of doubts and thus pregnant with anxiety and worry.

When you listen to your heart it is like being in love. There is no answer to the question “why?” When you make a decision “with all your heart,” there is no doubt, no anxiety, no worry. You feel at peace with your decision.

Granted you should start thinking with your brain; do your due diligence on the subject. But end your internal debate with your heart. To make a final decision let your heart speak.

How will that happen?

Only when you tell your brain that enough is enough and it should “shut up” so your heart can get a chance to have its voice heard. To be freed from the brain master that enslaves you, you need to be “above it,” not let it overcome you and thus drive you. The same is true with emotions. It is okay to have them but they must be under control. And the same applies to your body and its urges.

Who is the boss? You, and “you” is neither the mind, nor the body, nor your emotions. It is above them all. It is your spirit, and the spirit dwells in your heart, while your mind is in your brain and your emotions in your liver.

When we finalise decisions based on what our hearts tell us, we will feel complete. And when that happens our lives, instead of being filled with doubts, will be filled with love. It will be less stressful and more enjoyable. It will feel as though we live longer, with more memories and fewer disappointments.

How can we slow our minds and get all of the above benefits?

Researchers with the Institute of HeartMath (http://www.heartmath.org/) have observed in scientifically controlled studies that we can greatly reduce stress levels and improve our health through intentional emotional management and practicing the simple principles and methods of heart-based living. HeartMath has spent many years developing the tools, techniques and technology to help you practice using your mind to sort out your heart’s intuitive feelings and wisdom from the mind’s noise and auto responses to life’s challenges. Heart-based living helps you learn to live in the now, bringing more of your real self into each moment. Becoming more of who you really are releases inner security, allowing you to relate to life with increased hope and confidence. Increased fulfillment is the result of this process.

One of IHM’s key areas of research has been "heart-rhythm coherence," described in simple terms as smooth, balanced heart-rhythm patterns, which can be measured and viewed by various types of monitors.

Stress, anger, fear, compulsive behaviours and other negative states all are signs of incoherent heart-rhythm patterns and are represented on heart-rhythm monitors by jagged, irregular waves. Fatigue is common among people with such symptoms. Sickness and disease, including numerous heart problems, diabetes, overweight and obesity among other ailments are more likely among people with incoherent heart-rhythms.

In contrast, when you have a coherent heart you are at your best. Stress chemical pathways reverse, paving the way for increased synchronisation between the heart and brain, and in this synchronised state, which athletes call being "in the zone," you can achieve optimal mental clarity, cognitive performance and perception. Energy levels, sleeping patterns, relationships and so much more, including your mental, physical and emotional health, all improve.

Managing Golf's Emotions describes how golfers benefit from the techniques developed by IHM.