Getting Into "The Zone"

May 8, 2018 Author: Shrujal Joshi

As a “Corporate Athlete” have you ever delivered an important presentation and felt either overly anxious or like you had little to no energy? The way we perform is often predicated by the amount of physiological and emotional arousal we have for the task at hand. Think about performance from an athletic perspective and the emotions necessary to perform physically. Now apply that same thought process to your work environment. Whether at work or on the field, we can begin to see the relationship between the quality of our performances and our emotional arousal levels using the Individual Zone of Optimal functioning model.

Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning Model,2,3 Yuri Hanin IZOF

This model, based of psychologist Yuri Hanin’s work,2 depicts a zone of optimal functioning that occurs at a particular level of emotional arousal. However, the optimal level of emotional arousal varies by individual and task.1 In any case, the model postulates that as our emotional arousal builds, the quality of our performance also builds but at a diminishing rate. The point at which performance is maximized is said to be the zone of optimal functioning.1 However, as our emotional arousal continues to build, it eventually works against us and decreases the quality of our performance.1 As such, the right side of the curve starts to trend downwards, indicating that our performance begins to suffer if the level of emotional arousal is too high for the task at hand.

As mentioned before, the required level of arousal varies by task. For example, does reading a book require the same amount of arousal or interest to run a meeting or work out? Chances are that for most “Corporate Athletes” the levels are not the same. However, it is important to consider specific tasks and how much emotional arousal is necessary to perform at our optimal level.2,3 To do so, think about the task at hand and ask yourself: What emotions, and at what level, are necessary for me to perform my best? The emotions that come to mind are called your Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) indicators. These indicators are reflected both in our physiology as well as our state of mind. When we perform our best, we are calm, relaxed, a little anxious, and focused on the task at hand; our bodies are not tense, our heart rate is normal, and we are not dwelling on anything.2,3

To find your IZOF indicators for a specific task, think of an upcoming performance you have this week. Reflect on a time when you performed that task or a similar task at your best. What emotions did you have prior to and during the performance? What was your energy level? What were you mentally focused on?

Also notice times when you experienced both too little arousal and too much arousal. With too little emotional arousal our bodies are not properly activated for the task at hand; meaning blood flow is restricted, cognitive responses are slower, and movements are slow and oftentimes without direct effort.2,3 Contrastingly, too much emotional arousal overly excites our bodies, meaning that our hearts are racing, and we feel panicky and overwhelmed.2,3

Self-awareness is the key component to using this model to your advantage, especially when we see ourselves falling out of our “zone.” Therefore, it is important to understand the individual component of the IZOF.2,3 What is considered IZOF indicators for one person may not work for another person—especially, when it comes to the same tasks.2,3 Some people may require a higher or lower level of emotional arousal to perform optimally.2,3 As such, it is important to regulate our minds and bodies to develop a keen sense of self-awareness and stay in our IZOF.

For your next big meeting, presentation, or client engagement, there are several methods to help you get into your zone. If you are feeling anxious or unmotivated, deep-breathing exercises, productive self-talk, and task visualizations are all methods that help you focus on your emotions and control them into your zone. Once there, notice your performance and look for areas of improvement for your next big task.

For more information on how IZOF can impact your performance, please reach out to HigherEchelon.


1) Kamata, A., Tenenbaum, G. & Hanin, Y. (2002). Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF): A Probabilistic Estimation. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. 24. 189-208. 10.1123/jsep.24.2.189.

2) Hanin, Y. L. (1997). Emotions and athletic performance: Individual zones of optimal functioning model. European Yearbook of Sport Psychology, 1, 29-72.

3) Hanin, Y. L. (2000). Emotions in sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.