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PowerUP: Can a Little Meditation Zen Help You Find The Zone?

Inner peace and the combat of the ranked climb seem totally at odds - but passing through the Iris may help you find victory on the other side.

Welcome back to PowerUP: your source for every tip, trick, news piece, edge, and expert I can find to give you a spotter in your grind to the top. It can be a rough world out there in the new competitive gaming scene, so...

...let's take a break, shall we? Just a short one. Let's all pause a moment, take a deep breath, and just be for a minute. 

Feel better yet? Good.

Now exhale. Relax. Find your center. Maybe rattle off a few OMs if you're really into it. 

We're about to explore meditation - and whether or not reaching for Zen can help you achieve the competitive Zone. 

Now, before we get started I'm going to lay a few things on the table: 

  1. There are actually many forms of meditation across multiple religions and practices, all with varying forms and methods.
  2. It is almost universally a cultivated practice -- that is, five untrained minutes in a lotus position probably isn't going to do much for you except strain your knees.
  3. This is what I've found for you, loyal readers of PowerUP. I do not personally practice meditation. If you've been traveling the path to self-awareness and find anything I say here to be off the mark, feel free to let me know in the comments. 
"So, what? You don't even meditate, but you're going to tell us all the reasons it will totally take us from Bronze to Challenger? Yeah, okay." 

Not...quite. As a competitive gamer for very nearly my entire life, I am a firm believer in (and have had plenty of experiences with) "The Zone". If you're unaware of what that is, despite plenty of players in video games, sports, and the countless other "games" life can throw at us talking about it, I'll break it down.

"The Zone" isn't a place. It's a state. Whoever's there, in simplest terms, is functioning much better than their average -- they are at their absolute peak in terms of performance. They're not analyzing themselves to death, they're not overthinking, they're just doing based on some mesh of practice and intuition, and usually playing way above their weight class. Their concentration isn't on themselves -- it's on what they're doing.

If you've gamed or done anything challenging, you very well might have had your own experiences with the Zone. You know -- the 5v1 fights, breaking through the whole enemy team for a goal, tearing through tens or twenties of pages of a grad school paper in a single night and having it come out flawlessly. Everything you do while you're in it just seems to turn out gold.

It's a good place to be. But you might need help getting there.  

So what's the power up? 

Focus, letting go of self-consciousness, mindfulness of action...these are all components of reaching The Zone. 

They are also components (to varying degrees) of many forms of meditation. 

So if you're already proficient at "getting there" sometimes via the game you play, good. You can probably stop here, if you wanted. You have a plan that works, and would do well to focus on improving and refining that process moreso than splitting off in a totally new direction -- though it can't hurt to try. It might be hard, or strange at first, but adversity is an opportunity for change. 

If you're not familiar with anything I've talked about on a personal level, keep reading. We might have found a way to get you there -- though as anything related more to the mental game than the physical can go, your mileage may vary. 

While being one with the universe isn't necessarily the top priority in our fight for gaming glory, being able to constantly focus on the task at hand is a pretty strong weapon in a competitive gamer's arsenal.

Luckily for those trying to take the less aggressive path to experiencing tranquility, meditation doesn't necessarily mean sitting around for hours recognizing then letting go of thoughts. It can, but it can also be focusing on and giving your full attention to the things we do every day. 

Raking sand, an almost equally widespread image of a form of meditation as seated chanting is a pretty good example here. Trying to let go of distractions and give everything you have to what you're doing is a pretty good practice to have in general -- but especially in a field where a large part of our performance is cognitive.

Absolutely there are things in the physical sphere than can up our grind to the top -- reflexes and response time, aim, muscle memory, and so on. But most of the time, our game will benefit exponentially more by us actually focusing on it (rather than "autopiloting" or "zoning out" and just clicking) than the .20 MS upgrade you'll get after hours practicing with an Aim trainer.

See, just "jamming games" isn't practice. It's jamming games.

If you're just logging on, picking a character, and clicking away, you're probably not going to be much better off than you were before you started. There's no real intent to improve there -- no mental commitment to learning and getting better.

In order to actually improve with practice, you need to have a goal in mind and then focus almost exclusively on that -- whether it's landing Roadhog hooks or Lux Ults, tracking the firing pattern of an AK in CS:GO, or learning proper timing in SMITE, you have to be totally aware of, and dedicated to, what you're trying to improve. 

This is where cultivating meditation as a practice can pay off more than any kill-streak gold. While the actual practice may or may not help your personal growth (again, your mileage may vary), a lot of the skillset (and patience) transfers pretty well to practicing and improving your game. 

Think of it like the car washing training from Karate Kid -- Daniel-san was washing cars rather than fighting or sparring, but when the game was on, the same motions were invaluable. While being one with the universe isn't necessarily the top priority in our fight for gaming glory, being able to constantly focus on the task at hand (and recognize/handle any negative feelings that crop up) are pretty strong weapons in a competitive gamers arsenal.

So to those competitive combatants among us who only know how to consider victory, and believe defeat is an impossibility, go ahead and try a little mindful meditation -- overconfidence is a flimsy shield, after all. 

And to those among us who could use a different, quieter way than the battleforging most of us endure on our way to the top...Open your mind. Walk in harmony -- and let the rest of us know all about it when you get back in the comments below. 

At the end of either road you take, hopefully I'll see you in The Zone someday. But until then? Let's go play some games. 

Mindfully. 

Published Sep. 20th 2016

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