Stay in your achievement zone | Sunday Observer

Stay in your achievement zone

29 May, 2022

The reward of a thing well done is to have done it. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

When a knock sounded on his office door, Peter looked up, startled and noticed that it was dark outside. He hadn’t even had lunch. His boss opened the door and put his head inside. “Aren’t you going home? They are about to close the office.”

For a moment, Peter was surprised. Then his mind shifted gears. He was expected at a birthday party at home, but he had not thought about it. Since morning he had been working on a project report. As the ideas and words came smoothly, everything else had escaped him.

“I was getting so much interested in my work that I did not feel the passing of time. For me, every sentence, every concept felt just right. I was completely absorbed in my work,” he said.


Was Peter a workaholic? No. He was in his achievement zone. The term is often used by athletes to describe being so zeroed in on a task that they are oblivious to distractions. Absorbed in his project report, Peter was able to ignore jangling telephones, hunger pangs, and even the march of time. Peter had turned out top quality work and had done so in less time that it would have taken by many equally talented competitors.

The unusual ability to devote unswerving attention to a given task can produce success in any field. I remember an incident, an eye patient related to me. He had gone for a cataract operation at a private hospital. After the preliminaries, he was wheeled into the operation theatre.

While performing the cataract operation the surgeon was having a non-stop conversation with a young nurse who was assisting him. A few days after the operation, the patient complained of eye pain. Then he consulted another eye surgeon. He examined the patient carefully and said the surgeon had messed up the operation. The patient had to undergo another operation simply because the surgeon had not been in the achievement zone when he performed the cataract operation.

Young men and women follow various courses and sit examinations. However, all of them are unlikely to succeed. Those who had been in their achievement zones during their studies are sure to pass the examination. Others fail the examination and give up hope.

At the 1992 U.S. Olympic trials Dan O’Brien began by setting such a record pace in the events that a place on the team seemed certain. Then he stumbled in the pole vault. Later he admitted that he could not get his head together. Despite his abilities, O’Brien’s mental lapse dashed his Olympic hopes.

You may have met many such people who had failed in their attempts to succeed simply because they could not get their brains going. I have seen candidates looking at the question papers with a blank look. They do not know how to answer the questions. Those who had stayed in their achievement zones did not find it difficult to answer any questions.

Proven method

The question arises whether there are any proven methods to maintain your achievement zone. Psychologists and neurologists have studied what happens to the brain when you try to be in your achievement zone. They have recommended certain methods that will help you to maintain your achievement zone.

Psychology Prof. Michael Posner studied the activity in the brains of people who try to do something important. When you try to do something important with enthusiasm, there will be an increased blood flow to the brain. When you finish the job successfully, brain blood flow and electrical discharges will decrease. According to him, the more you practise concentration there will be more brain activity.

The main obstacles to concentration are noise and interference. When you concentrate you will learn the art of blocking out all the extraneous noise and interference. Although you cannot do it in a day or two, you will be able to do so with constant practice.

There was a village boy who lived next to a noisy factory. On many occasions he felt like leaving the house and going elsewhere to do his studies. However, on a friend’s advice he practised the art of blocking out outside noise and concentrated on his studies.

Some people do not like rituals. However, if you want to learn the art of concentration you have to practise it as a ritual. When you sit down to do a particular job, you should be able to do it without getting disturbed by noise and interference. I spent the major part of my working life in newspaper offices which were extremely noisy places.

However, I saw how journalists concentrated on their work amidst the noise and interference. There was an editor who used to shout at others. By the time he was ready to write the editorial he was in his achievement zone. Some of his editorials were masterpieces!

Habitual behaviour

If you are interested in habitual behaviour, read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience.” He says, “Habitual behaviour makes it easier for them to devote their undivided attention to the challenge ahead. The ritual activity recalibrates the mind.”

The good news is that a ritual can be created for any kind of activity. If you are getting distracted by certain items kept on your table, remove them before handling an important task.

It is a well-known fact that we use only a tiny part of our potential. Very often our tasks are routine and tedious. When you do a routine job, your brain operates on idle. As a result, you are likely to make mistakes.

When you concentrate on a difficult task, there will be a perfect state of flow or zoning. Therefore, the way to get a routine job done easily is to handle it as a difficult one. When you do so, you will be using your potential. The increased challenge will push you into your achievement zone.

One day a client asked me to suggest a catchy brand name for ladies’ handbags, but I could not think of a name. Then I asked who was handling it. He gave the name of a woman starting with ‘S.’ I accepted the challenge and produced a brand name which was accepted. Nobody can think of names starting from A to Z. Therefore, it was necessary to limit my focus.

Creative writers

Most creative writers get stuck for words or ideas at times. On such occasions they do some ‘self-talk.’ Verbalising keeps your mind on the job, reinforces the steps you are taking, and reminds you of what needs to be done. Self-talk will take your mind off distracting elements.

You may have seen devotees walking barefoot on red-hot coal at Kataragama. While they do so, they chant certain phrases praising God Skandha.

A similar phenomenon has been scientifically studied by Ron Pekala of the Mid-Atlantic Educational Institute in Pennsylvania. He studied 27 people who had walked barefoot on a glowing fire bed heated to more than 650 degrees Celsius. Those who repeated a phrase such as “Cool moss” emerged without burns. Those who were distracted ended up with blistered feet.

Some people have the habit of focusing on the future rather than the present. This can cripple any creative activity. If you are writing an article for a magazine or a newspaper, do not think about whether it will be published or not. Pay attention to what you are doing right now and forget tomorrow. When I started writing to newspapers in the 1950s I was not worried whether they would be published or not. I simply wanted to finish my job as best as I could.

Winning awards

Some authors write novels in order to win an award. When their focus is on the award, they may not produce a quality story. Therefore, always follow a tennis player who always thinks about making a good shot, not about winning the match. As sports psychologist John E. Anderson says, “One good shot followed by another good shot will win the match.”

“We are human beings, not robots. When we keep on doing something, we get tired. When you are tired, you find it difficult to concentrate. Therefore, when you feel tired, take a break.

“According to psychologists, when stress threatens your concentration, take a deep breath and picture yourself in a pleasant environment. When I am stressed I open the window and look at the Bolgoda River flowing by. For a moment, I look at the fishermen in their boats and a couple of fast-moving boats carrying tourists.”

Even when you study, you need short breaks. They can actually help you to get a job done faster. Relaxation is necessary but you have to go back to the job. When you finish a job successfully, do not plunge into the next task immediately. Take a break again and give yourself a chance to rejuvenate.

Stay in your achievement zone and reap the benefits.

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