The Ups and Downs of being “In The Zone”

Today I spent two hours writing, achieved almost twice the number of words I planned to, and the time went by so quickly, I was nearly late for an appointment. 

I got “In The Zone”.

The psychiatrists call this ‘flow’ – I like “In The Zone” better, it sounds much more exciting and science-fiction-y. But they call it ‘flow’ to go along with other f-words – no, not that one. I mean the ‘fight or flight’ responses that we all have. There is another response – freeze – which in writer’s terms, is writer’s block, or when the muse refuses to emerge. We don’t like to talk about freeze around here.

We pretty much all know what the ‘fight or flight’ responses are – the primitive part of our brains are wired to alert us if there is an external danger, like a hungry sabre-toothed tiger waiting for us. They then feed us quick information to work out if we are going to fight – stand our ground and sucker punch that ugly sabre until he meows for mercy – or flee – run away screaming like a little girl, with the sabre-tooth chuckling quietly to himself at the stupid human’s belief that he can outrun a sabre for goodness sake, just before he picks himself up, lazily jogs to where the stupid human is running and screaming, and hey presto! Lunch is served.

In this day and age, our sabre-toothed tigers are a little less likely to go for the jugular. Our stresses are not quite that up front and personal. But they still create that same fight or flight instinct in us.

But, when we are not clubbing poor innocent tigers to death, or being eaten by them, we have the opportunity to get into the state known as ‘flow’. We can get “In The Zone”. (I never get tired of saying that!)

What is getting “In The Zone”?

There are actually six components to getting “In The Zone”, which don’t necessarily appear at the same time, but without all six, there is no zone – 

  1. A focus of concentration on the present moment
  2. A merging of action and awareness
  3. A loss of self-consciousness
  4. A sense of personal control over the situation
  5. The distortion of your subjective experience of time
  6. Experiencing the activity is intrinsically rewarding

Some of the above seem a bit psycho-airy-fairy (that’s the technical term you know) but really, you get “In The Zone” without really knowing it, and all six of those things happen all by themselves.

Is it always good to be “In The Zone”?

The scientist responsible for flow theory,  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, thinks flow is the “optimal experience”. 

But based on my experience today, I would have to say No, it is not always good to be “In The Zone”. I nearly missed an important appointment. I think ‘flow’ is a highly internal state, and your connection with the rest of the world is broken while you are there. And sometimes, you need to be connected to the world.

Even Mihaly himself said, “The flow experience, like everything else, is not “good” in an absolute sense. It is good only in that it has the potential to make life more rich, intense, and meaningful; it is good because it increases the strengths and complexity of the self. But whether the consequence of any particular instance of flow is good in a larger sense needs to be discussed and evaluated in terms of more inclusive social criteria.”

Don’t misunderstand me – being “In The Zone” is freakin’ awesome. But there is a time and place for it to occur. Which leads on to the next question:

Can you put yourself “In The Zone”?

It is apparently possible, with a mix of goal setting, mindfulness and finding stillness. There’s an interesting and not too mumbo-jumbo-y article on it at this link.

For me, I think I have too much always going on in my head to be able to put myself there. I’ve tried mindfulness techniques – but they don’t work for me.

I’d be really interested to hear if you have had success putting yourself “In The Zone”

But for now, I’m just going to be happy that today, I accomplished more than I wanted, didn’t miss my appointment, and had the satisfaction of finding myself

“In The Zone”.


Happy reading!




The Ups and Downs of being “In The Zone”
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