“Look, and it can’t be seen. Listen, and it can’t be heard. Reach, and it can’t be grasped.” –Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell Translation
Here’s the definition of a heat check as told by writer Shea Serrano:
A heat check is (mostly) a basketball term. It’s used to reference a shot attempt, specifically a difficult one attempted after a handful of easier, wiser shots have been made. Think of this: you make a layup, then you make a wide-open midrange jumper, then you make a wide-open 3-pointer. That’s great. Those are smart shots. You’re feeling very good about yourself and all the decisions you’ve made in life that have led you to that point, so the next time down court you receive the ball and then chuck up a 29-foot fadeaway. That’s the heat check. You are literally checking to see if you are figuratively hot. If you make it, you shoot again. If that goes in, then you do it again. And again. And again. Until you miss. Each make becomes exponentially more exciting and intriguing and more of an accelerant.
Nine times out of ten when you watch an NBA game and the announcer exclaims “Heat Check!”, the player misses. Whatever flow state they were in prior to the heat check is now gone.
No one knows how or why we get “into the zone.” If we did, we’d all be in the NBA or winning Pulitzer Prizes or Academy Awards.
But the surest way to get out of the zone is to start noticing that you’re in it. To lose humility for the mystery. To start feeling like you can do no wrong. A stand up comic will tell you that the minute they think the audience is in the palm of their hands and that the next joke will really slay, that’s when they hear…crickets.
Instead, when you’re in flow, just keep doing what you were doing. Stay focused on the task at hand. Remain fully present to the other person. And let the game come to you.
P.S. – The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a brilliant book called “Flow.” Among other things, he studied flow states across many different jobs. Short order cooks experience some of the highest measures. Go figure.