In the zone
Everyone wants to be in a flow state at all times when they're in practice or competition. To be blunt, that's not possible. You can't always be in a flow state. It's an extremely taxing and difficult to constantly maintain every time you load in. On top of that, flow isn't a binary system where you're either in it or you're not. Think of it more like a scale or spectrum. The higher on the spectrum we are in a moment, the more dialed in and focused we are; the lower, the more removed and distracted we may be.
In fact, when it comes to achieving flow, I'd go as far as to say that our goal shouldn't be to hit flow zone, but rather our goal should be to maximize where we are on that spectrum based on our mental, physical, and emotional capacity that day. The reason we aim to "maximize the spectrum" rather than "achieve flow" is because it's unrealistic to always get into a flow state, but we can always shoot for the maximum potential of that day based on our conditions that day. Despite our desire to always be firing at 100%, somedays we are simply at only 60% capacity. As such, we should aim to influence where on that spectrum we can get to that day to maximize our 60%.
With that being said, there's a bunch of different tools and strategies we can use to maximize potential each day. And on that note, let's take a look at one of these strategies: in-game performance zones.
There are three primary mental zones when you're in-game (zone 1, 2, and 3). These zones are differentiated largely by the amount of mental effort and energy you're using in that moment. Think of it kind of similar to interval training. A moment of intense, all-out effort followed by a moment of light effort. If you're dialed in at 100% the entire game, your emotions and focus will start to get strained and open you up for fatigue and breakdown. However, if we fluctuate between high and low intensity throughout, we can better maintain optimal levels of emotion and focus. Let's take a look at the purpose/focus of each zone.
ZONE 1: Let's call this zone the "rest zone". This is when you're not needing to consume as much information, make fast decisions, focus intensely, or track objects. Think of situations like when you're walking back to lane, on a death timer, between rounds, etc. In essence, this is when you just simply don't need to be thinking too hard, which makes it the ideal rest and recovery time. While in this zone, you want to focus on resetting the mental, recovering from the negative emotions, and getting focused on the next play while leaving the previous play in the past.
ZONE 2: The intermediate zone. Here, we are relatively engaged and thoughtful of what's happening. This might be when you're in lane and csing, setting up the round, planning a rotation. We aren't at rest, but we're also not full throttle "LETS GOOOOO" stage either. This is likely the stage you'll spend majority of your time in. But, if you let either zone 1 or zone 3 creep into when you should be in zone 2, you're looking at two different outcomes: 1) under focused and missing important information, or 2) over aroused and stimulated, leading to prolonged heightened emotions that burn you out quicker leading to tilt.
ZONE 3: the "LETS GOOOO" zone. Think of this zone as the time you're entering a gun fight, team fight, getting third partied, or ganked. This is when all systems are on fire and you're dialed into your maximum. As you can imagine, when you're fully tuned in, you're using a lot more of your resources to stay focused. This zone helps you perform hard and fast, and results in some massive clutch plays. However, if you're in this zone too long, you might find you're bringing some of those intense emotions in a situation that is very mild. You can see things like flame and anger creeping into regular, non-intensive play.
Tying all these concepts together, you can see how you start to maximize your probability of positively influencing where you are on the flow spectrum. If you're correctly swapping from zone to zone at the right points in the game, you're entering the optimal arousal states at the appropriate times without placing too much strain on your mental load for prolonged periods of time. If you stay in a zone 3 state for the entirety of a scrim or competition, you may over-tax your maximum cognitive load threshold and fatigue out, which results in an emotional or mental breakdown mid-match. If you're stuck in zone 1 the entire match, you won't reach an arousal state that allows you to perform and focus at a peak level.
As a final note, I don't want you to think of zone 1-3 as a sequence. You don't have to gear up from 1 to 2 to 3 and back down from 3 to 2 to 1. You could be swapping from 1 ->3 -> 2 -> 3 -> 1. The idea is that you're in the right zone at the right time, and that could be in any order.
With all this in mind, get out there and optimize your gameplay!