Being In the Zone

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“In the Zone” or “Flow” is a state I enjoy. Or thought I did until I read that to get into ‘Flow’ I ‘should’ set a goal. Maybe what I thought was “Being in the Zone” or in a state of “Flow” wasn’t really what I thought. To me being in the zone is a pleasant state of being totally absorbed in what I am doing, to the point that I lose all track of time. I always thought of being in the zone as something that occurs spontaneously. If I set a goal that isn’t flow, to me that is focus. Nothing wrong with focus, but it isn’t the same as “Being in the Zone”. Obviously, I need to do more reading and gain a better understanding.

A bit of history. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the psychologist who identified the ‘state of flow’ or ‘in the zone’. Csikszentmihalyi outlined his theory as follows

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“a state of flow—a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation.  It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter”

This is a state that I enjoy.

As I searched the terms “flow” and “zone” I was surprised to find works suggesting that to get into a state of ‘flow’ setting a goal was the place to start. I don’t think I have ever gotten into the zone when I have set a goal. I can certainly be entirely focused when I set a goal, but being focused is different from ‘in the zone’ as far as I am concerned.

Csikszentmihalyi suggests that we get into the zone or state of flow by being completely absorbed in an activity just for the sake of enjoying the activity. You lose all track of time – oh what a glorious state. The hours have flown by as you have been completely engrossed in what you were doing. If you set a goal, the state doesn’t occur spontaneously, and I have always associated that spontaneity with being in the zone.

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There are things we can do, or that are needed, to facilitate this state. Ensuring you are not interrupted is the prime one for me. Afterall, as soon as you are interrupted the state is broken. Enabling a state of flow requires loss of oneself into an activity. Have you ever gotten so absorbed in reading a book at bedtime that the next thing you know you only have a few hours until you must get up to start a new day? This has happened to me numerous times. Gardening is another activity which takes me to that other place – the zone – time doesn’t apply when I get playing in the dirt.

What things make you lose track of time? How often does this happen? Would you like it to happen more often? I would love to get into this state more often. I love losing myself in my activities. Though Csikszentmihalyi does recommend ‘clarity of goals’ I only agree with this in a very general sense. The goal is often simply to read, plant, weed, or work in the garden, bake or cook, or sew or knit, etc. But if I was doing a SMART goal I would have to be Specific (is gardening specific enough), Measurable (I don’t tend to decide how many seeds I will plant, or weeds I will pull), being in the zone doesn’t require me to think about whether I am able to Achieve what I am doing because what I am doing is what is I plan to achieve. I don’t need to think about whether it is Realistic – it just is. If I get in the zone while reading, there is no sense of Time (being in flow a sense of time is gone). So, I just can’t link goals and being in the zone.

I find being in the zone happens spontaneously. However, there are a few things that we can do to help us get into the zone if we don’t want to wait for spontaneity: 1. Clear your mind. Don’t be thinking about other things, be focused on the task at hand – mindfulness. 2. No interruptions – turn off your cell phone, ask others to leave you alone for a while and to just let you be. Prepare snacks and have them with you, have something to drink handy, and go to the bathroom. If you are outside put on your sunscreen and insect repellent ahead of time. 3. Prepare your brain with a few deep breaths to help you relax and let go of the clutter in your brain and put the squirrels back in their cage.

Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, called ‘being in the zone’,

“doing without doing” or “trying without trying”

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Being in the zone has been likened to a “runners high”. That is the experience I associate with zone and flow. It is an ethereal experience at times, like being on a different plane of existence. I find the experience other worldly. I think I will try some of the above suggestions for getting ‘into a state of flow’ because it is a state I enjoy. I think a few minutes of meditation before starting some projects would be enough for me to wind up in a state of flow. I’m not sure about the meditation or the earlier suggestions so I will be doing a little experimentation over the next while to see if I can get “in the zone” more often.