5 Ways to Get In “The Zone” (Proven by Science)

Each of his short passes shredded the Seattle defense like thousands of small paper cuts. His eyes scanned the field, going through the variety of throwing options and making the perfect decision each time.

In his gut, he knew what to do.

With the game on the line and 2:02 left in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 49 Tom Brady found Julien Edelman in the end zone for the game winning touchdown. It was the nail in the coffin for the Seattle Seahawks and Brady was the hero (again).

What was most remarkable was Brady’s calm demeanor and confidence in the 4th quarter (especially after throwing two bad interceptions earlier). He’d done the impossible: pick apart the NFL’s best passing defense, in the biggest game and when it mattered most. 

He was in the zone. 

 

The zone is just a brainwave state

It’s important to know that “The Zone” is not a quasi-mythological state, but well researched brain wave state.

Research conducted by the Biocybernaut Institute shows that peak performers from Brady to Mark Cuban know how to generate peak performance when they need to. They understand how to calm their nervous system before big moments and can get generate performance boosting brain waves (almost at will).

Today’s post is about how top performers can use well researched techniques to produce more Alpha brainwaves and get in the zone. 

 

WHAT IS ALPHA?

Throughout the day your brain is going through various states (Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta) and depending on your activity you could be in any one. 

For example when you are sleeping, you are in a Delta state. In moments of stress, anxiety, fear (this is where most people spend their days) you are in a Beta state. [4]

Now imagine a time when you had explosive creativity, peak performance, were learning like a sponge and had laser like focus. You were so focused on the task at hand that every other worry or concern was forgotten.

Take 10 seconds to remember a time when you were in a state of peak performance.

Got it?

What researchers have found is that during this time, you were in an Alpha brainwave state. For many people this can happen during work, a creative project, sporting event or entrepreneurial endeavor, which required intense focus and creativity.  [4]

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Alpha Brainwaves

Alpha waves were first measured in 1924, by the very eccentric and troubled German neurologist Hans Berger. He conducted this shocking experiment, by inserting silver wires under his patients scalp (ouch), one at the front of the head and one at the back. [1] After attaching silver foil electrodes to a double coil Siemens recording galvanometer he recorded the first electrical oscillations occurring on the human brain.

Berger called them Alpha waves, hence named after the first letter in the Greek alphabet.[2]

This is where your brain generates the electrical frequency known as Alpha waves. Image from Wikipedia. 

This is where your brain generates the electrical frequency known as Alpha waves. Image from Wikipedia. 

Alpha brainwaves  are produced by the Thalamus, which creates electrical frequencies around ~10 hertz. They can be measured on brain or scalp using an EEG machine

Top performers and creative types produce more intense bursts of Alpha waves than average people (important point) and with daily practice, you can to. 

 

A Quick Benefits overview of Alpha Brain Wave (to get into the zone) [3]:

  • Relaxed and effortless alertness

  • Less anxiety and less nervousness

  • More creativity

  • Increased attention and focus

  • Amplified memory Input and Output

  • Information comes in unfiltered

  • Skill Acquisition Increases

 

 

The 5 Best Ways to Get In “The Zone” (In Order)

 

1. Biofeedback based Meditation

Have you ever wondered if you are actually making progress with your meditation practice? Most people don’t have a clue if what they are doing is working and they usually quit after getting frustrated and seeing no results.

Biofeedback using the EmWave is a great way to track your progress and teach yourself how to achieve deep states of Alpha brainwaves.  The Heartmath Institute has been studying the heart-brain connection for decades and they understand it better than anyone.

An example of a great HRV training session.

An example of a great HRV training session.

It is a cheap and affordable way to hack your biology and improve your ability to learn new skills and get in the zone.

Here’s why biofeedback works:

  • It teaches you how to control your ANS (autonomic nervous system), taking you out of a Beta brainwave state and into an Alpha. 
  • When you have control over your ANS you can decide when you need a burst of Alpha brainwaves and you’ll understand the process of how to get there. This means before you need to go into a big meeting, sports competition or have to learn new skills use this technology to put you into state.

When should I use it? Before starting your day and before any major sporting event, meeting or interview. 

Where do I start? First read this article on the Maltz-Schwarzenegger Technique and then read this article on Biofeedback using the Emwave.

 

2. Caffeine + L-Threonine

Surprise coffee drinkers! There is something way better than caffeine alone. L-theanine is an amino acid, first found in green tea and can negate many of the side effects of excessive caffeine consumption (while enhancing the positives).

Why using L-Theanine + caffeine works:

  • Improved focus and attention, motivation, and mood. [5]

  • Improved alpha wave levels (sign of a brain ready for learning). [6]

  • Reduced heart-rate, blood pressure, and anxiety/nervousness (sign of nervous system control).

  • Enhanced short-term memory retention.

  • No overstimulation from too much caffeine.

When should I use it? In the AM or early afternoon. Do not take after 3 pm. 

Where do I start? For those who consume caffeine regularly (hand raised), a dosage of 100mg caffeine and 200mg L-theanine is best. Please note that the 1:2 ratio works best and is what is referenced in the studies.

For non-coffee drinkers and those who want a ready made solution: Natural Stacks Smart Caffeine or drink a few cups of green tea to avoid the 2-3 PM crash.

 

3. Classical Baroque Music

Classical Baroque anchors learning and memory. Just about every study done on classical music and learning shows that it’s effective for enhanced learning and getting you in the zone. This is because music at 50-80 BPM creates Alpha brain waves which create an atmosphere of relaxed focus.

Classical music in general has been used to:

  • Improve cognitive performance

  • boost IQ score results (temporarily)

  • Lower stress and anxiety

When should I use it? When doing any reading, writing or when extra focus is needed.

Where do I start? Bach, Mozart and Handel are great places. Also the Italian Pianist Ludovico Einaudi is wonderful.

 

4. The Nootropic Piracetam

Piracetam is derived from the amino Acid GABA and was first synthesized in 1964 by scientists at the Belgian pharmaceutical company UCB. Since then it has held up to scrutiny and proven its place among the best Nootropics available on the market.

The Benefits of Piracetam[8]:

  • Increased Alpha Wave Activity: Researchers showed that Piracetam increases Alpha wave activity in the brain. [7]

  • Memory: This may be the best Piracetam benefit you experience. It’s caused by increased Acetylcholine and Glutamate receptor efficiency. 

  • Cellular Protection: Piracetam has been shown to alter the physical properties of the plasma membrane by increasing its fluidity and by protecting the cell against hypoxia.

  • Sensory Perception: Enhanced Acetylcholine efficiency is linked to sensory perception like sight, smell and touch. Colors may become more vibrant. 

  • Effective in reducing dementia, vertigo and stroke symptoms

 

When should I use it? In the AM prior to starting your day with a high fat + high protein breakfast. 

Where to start? Check out Peak Nootropics for dosing and high quality Piracetam. (AFF LINK)
 

 

5. Binaural Beats

Like classical Baroque music, binaural beats work in a similar way. Research shows binaural beats induce relaxation, meditation, creativity and other desirable brainwave states.

Here’s how they work:

While wearing stereo headphones, a tone at a frequency of 315 Hz is played in your left ear. In your right a tone of 325 Hz is played. The resulting frequency is 10 Hz.  Your brain synchronizes to the frequency of these tones and generates a its own frequency around 10 hz. 

When should I use it? When doing any reading, writing or when extra focus is needed.

Where to Start? I use Holosync which is expensive, but also my favorite among the many binaural beats programs. For starters check out YouTube and find some of the popular binaural beats programs available for free. If you like it, then invest in a better quality program (such as Holosync).

 

 

MY EXPERIMENTS AND RESULTS:

After 3 years of experimenting I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on what works for me and what doesn’t. Below are a few examples where using Alpha Brainwave states has directly improved my ability to learn, think, sleep and create consistent positive daily habits.

 

Conclusion

Like any muscle in your body, training your brain requires the same level of dedication and focus in order to see results. In the same way, you can’t bench 405 lbs the first time you get under the bar; you can’t expect your brain to just jump into peak performance. Start with just ONE of the methods listed above and see if it works for you. Simple methods such as using classical baroque when you need extra focus can be implemented right now.

It takes time, effort and energy in order to get yourself into the state where you can be a Tom Brady level clutch performer.  However, using the 5 techniques stated above you can generate more alpha waves and win your personal Super Bowl. 

 

Sources:

[1] Hans Berger. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Berger

[2] Haas, L. (n.d.). Hans Berger (1873–1941), Richard Caton (1842–1926), and electroencephalography. Retrieved April 28, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1738204/?tool=pmcentrez

[3] Toward using alpha and theta brain waves to quantify programmer expertise. (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25571208

[4] Alpha Brain Waves. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2015, from http://www.biocybernaut.com/alpha-brain-waves/

[5] L-theanine and caffeine in combination affect human cognition as evidenced by oscillatory alpha-band activity and attention task performance. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18641209

[6] Psychological effects of dietary components of tea: caffeine and L-theanine. Retrieved April 28, 2015, from  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18254874

[7] Effects of nootropics on the EEG in conscious rats and their modification by glutamatergic inhibitors. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21414388

[8] Effects of nootropics on the EEG in conscious rats and their modification by glutamatergic inhibitors. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16459490

[9] Martindale, C. & Greenough, J., The Differential Effect of Increased Arousal on Creative and Intellectual Performance, The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 123, 329-335 (1973).

[10] Martindale, C. & Armstrong, J., The Relationship of Creativity to Cortical Activation and its Operant Control, The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 124, 311-320 (1974).

[11] Martindale, C., What Makes Creative People Different, Psychology Today, 44-50, July (1975). 

 

BioFeedback For Beginners

About Ben Austin

My friends call me the illegitimate love child of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Nye. I’m a bodybuilding-yogi-science loving-foodie bringing an engineering approach to lifestyle design. Join me as I analyze the systems that go into optimal mental and physical performance and explore the stories and tactics of people who set the standard for the rest of us.
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