Being in “The Zone”

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” ~ Chuang Tzu

I intentionally chose this photo. It is the one place, a single activity, in which I can find myself in “the zone.”  According to Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, being in the zone or in “flow” is a single-minded immersion and represents the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. It is when emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.

Many of us have been in the zone. And describing how it feels there is unique to each individual. Some people can get ‘there’ easily; they have conditioned themselves and know what it takes to experience a feeling of spontaneous joy while performing a task, although being in the zone is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity, not even oneself or one’s emotions.

Being in the zone is often associated with peak performance, commonly practiced by serious athletes, writers, and musicians. But it can align with gardening and painting just as easily. In this state of completely focused motivation, one can side step the chaos, the busyness, the rat race of everyday life. And simply be, accepting whatever you are doing.

People find themselves in the zone when in the presence of nature, meditating, or at willful solitude. We often think we need a structured vacation or a getaway to be able to focus on one task. Not so.

If the prospect of getting into the zone appeals to you, here are four steps that can help to pave the way:

  1. Choose a singular task. To get the most out of your mind you need to concentrate all your attention on exactly one thing and one thing only. It ought to be something that you are truly interested in, your most important task at the moment.
  2. It’s important to have energy. If you’re barely maintaining consciousness due to a late night of cocktails or a restless night of sleep, getting into the zone is going to be difficult.
  3. Find the right environment. Figure out the setting(s) that facilitate your flow, be it a crowded coffee shop or a quiet library, and work in them whenever possible. An uncrowded swimming pool works well. 🙂
  4. Emotions are key. Being in the zone requires finding the feelings that allow your subconscious to take over. Music can help activate these emotions. Find songs or artists that put you in the right mood and block out distractions.


75 thoughts on “Being in “The Zone”

  1. Hi Eric,

    ‘Being in the Zone’ is no doubt a new expression of what we are good at, of nurturing that potential, of plunging into it with full enthusiasm and energy, of lingering on to enjoy it and remain there for we would never like to get out of that Zone, if it is really ours.

    However, we may arrive at that Zone, with great struggle, after a long time, wasting our energies elsewhere…may be out of ignorance. Thanks for the tips! I have found the right environment and yes, the emotions have always followed me.

    • As shared above with Bruce, being in “the zone” as a descriptor, has been around for quite some time — perhaps more so in the U.S. The experience itself has been known to people for ages. 🙂 Glad you are familiar with what it takes to get your self into the zone, Balroop!

  2. I can say I have felt in the zone while climbing, perhaps because it takes complete focus or one falls off the rock. Still it requires inner peacefulness. I have heard in the zone referred to in running. I can honestly say even with a marathon under me belt I never felt that way while pounding the path.

    • Indeed, Sue, it’s common throughout the sporting world, especially with top tier, highly conditioned athletes. Yet it’s by no means exclusive to them. I’m smiling at your comment about pounding the path; the only thing I ever experience when running, is discomfort — mental and physical. 🙂

      • Eric we are kindred spirits on the running path. It just never feels easy to me. You would think after all of that training one could just get in the rhythm but not so for me. I appreciate you telling me of the same for you. Misery loves company and all that. 🙂

  3. Well said, Eric. I even find that cleaning my home is a meditative, “in the zone” kind of experience. It is not work. It is a time for listening. I find yoga to be the same. I continue to be amazed at what I learn about my life by observing what happens (or not) in my body. A zone of a slightly different kinds perhaps; a “zone” nevertheless…one of listening to what my body has to tell me about where I may still be afraid, or how I am out of balance. The zone is a powerful place to inhabit.

    • Well you and I certainly have two very different perspectives and experiences with house cleaning, Carrie. 🙂 Kidding aside, I ‘get’ how that task can find one in the zone. And agreed, being in the zone is a very powerful space. Appreciate your thoughts contribution here.

  4. I was a competitive swimmer, so grew up knowing how important it was to get in the zone. Successfully done it is a sweet place to be and a place where great things are achieved.

    • I knew my photo (and the post’s topic) would lure a swimmer out of our blogging community. I’ve inhaled so many chlorine fumes over the decades that I often use that gas as an excuse, sometimes, for my mental state. 🙂 Then we both know and appreciate being in the zone, Tric, at least from an aquatic view… with or without goggles.

  5. Getting “in the zone” I feel empowered , words flow freely and have deep meaning and encouragement. I was just there this morning! You are right about music. Music takes me to the “End Zone”!!! 🙂 Thanks for following my blog . It a great encouragement, as I am new at blogging. Maybe we’ll meet in the zone sometime.!

    • I like your reference to feeling empowered when in the zone. To each their own experience. I feel nothing. literally nothing when in the zone. And yes, music definitely helps to ‘set the stage.’ Thanks for creating time to stop by and share your thoughts. Welcome to the bloggosphere!

      • Teaching children and watching the light come on when in their little eyes darkness of a blank slate had stared back at me before, so put me in the zone of enthusiasm for sharing knowledge. Getting to retire at 50, I started a new career in Real Estate. In the 10 years I’ve been in Real Estate, not once did I experience that internal avidity I thought I was gone forever, until two weeks ago when I began writing again.Almost instantly, there I was surrounded by the zone and the realization of rediscovering my passion. Empowered by that zeal, words flow like a river…

  6. This post is great. The zone is something I wish I could get into more often when it comes to writing novels. I have experienced it only a little bit so far in life. But we often hear great athletes say it all the time. You broke it all down very simply. Great post!

    • Thanks for your read, Ben, and for sharing your personal experience with being in the zone… or lack therein. Given your acknowledgment, I’m wondering what you’re doing and where you are when you experience being in the zone, even if a little bit? That could well be a great launching state or trigger for more experimentation with getting there more often.

      • You’re welcome. I am usually writing–in the middle of a novel–and I completely zone out and can’t even remember hearing or almost doing anything. It’s very odd, but I always have lots of writing done when I come out of it. 🙂

  7. Wonderful post Eric! I am completely and deeply in the zone when I write music. But haven’t done that for a while (that kind of inspiration has “seasons” for me). Recently, being in nature helps me to get into the zone. Creativity begins there for me. Then it can take many different expressions, like writing or doing art work.

    • Brava, Tiny! I am enjoying reading about how and where people find themselves in the zone. And I get the ‘seasonal’ aspect. I believe being in and with nature is such a natural setting in which to allow and invite flow. Here’s to your continuing creativity when you’re in the zone!

  8. Great post yet again Eric! I guess that’s what makes the difference among a group of equally capable and talented individuals… The ones who can tap into their zones the best are the ones coming out tops. I have to reblog this! 🙂

  9. Very good your advice, Eric. Thank you very much for sharing with us.
    I think anything you engage to perform, if you put passion and love, the result will be fantastic.
    Have a wonderful Sunday, Eric and all the best. 🙂

  10. I have visited the zone…. 🙂 And I like it there. What I struggle with is when something strikes me-idea and thought wise- and my brain desperately wants to follow it. But I can’t because I’m sitting at work. Or taking care of other matters. And I have to table a thought or idea. And then when I get back to it….the energy that prompted it isn’t there. Such is the life of full time work, relationships, grocery shopping, etc….. Great article Eric.

    • Methinks you likely find yourself comfortably in the zone when you’re out there in/with nature (a few posts back). Cherish those experiences and look with favorable anticipation, to the next ones. No need to struggle. Simply be there when the situation allows. I know this sounds a bit woo-woo yet I know you ‘get’ it. 🙂

  11. I have felt “in the zone” while writing… but it’s been a while. It doesn’t usually happen with blog writing, that feels different. Less like a zone and more like a smokey bar where I’m yelling a story at my friends 😉

  12. I concur. It certainly doesn’t happen when blog writing. And few can tell a story like you — to friends or a fascinated larger readership! When you get around to writing your eagerly anticipated novel, I’m sure there will be many in ‘the zone’ stretches. Something to look forward to!

  13. I’m not one who is always in the zone. I’m usually not great on something, but often good at anything. Passion and goal-setting determination play a key role in being and staying in the zone.

    • Rommel, how you describe yourself could easily the be envy of many. Often good at anything is admirable! I don’t believe many people find themselves always in ‘the zone.’ However, those who do visit it, regardless of frequency, appreciate the significance of being so exclusively focused on one activity when there. Good of you to stop by.

  14. Great post Eric, and well said on how important it is to find the ‘zone’ because so much gets done with so little effort. I wish I could do it regularly in all aspects of my life ~ that is a real challenge. Your guidance at the end is so valuable, finding the zone is the battle for once you are there everything flows. And when everything flows, life somehow becomes so much easier 🙂

    • I can only imagine how easy it may be for you to slip into the zone when immersed in your photographic work… maybe even more so, after the fact, when you are aligning philosophic thoughts with your images. I concur, it would be a gift to be able to be in the zone in all aspects of our life. Personally, I’ll take and appreciate it whenever I am there. 🙂

  15. I’ve gotten in the zone when running alone; I try focusing on each breath and just clear my mind. As someone else mentioned I’ve also been in the zone when hiking, focusing all my attention on what’s right in front of me. Now I need to get in the zone and focus on my career! 🙂 Thanks for the post

  16. Getting the music to help me into the zone has always been a problem for me – get too carried away with the music 🙂 – so I just say to myself: you’re going to do this! And focus become a conscious and purposeful decision to take in, to learn…

    • You’re not alone, Ina. I rarely need music to prompt or coax me into a state of ‘zone’ readiness. I simply need to be in the right environment to enable the task or activity. When it’s my sole intention, flow kicks in. I think this is not dissimilar to your saying, “you’re going to do this.” What follow thereafter depends on our mindset and exclusive focus.

      • Yep, Eric, focus is a skill that needs nurturing with direction in life however short or long term a direction might be. I often think that the beauty of growing mature in age is that one can relatively easily cull many things out of life and go for what makes most sense

  17. Being in the zone….funny enough your first picture resonates with me also as i used to be a swimmer. I miss that feeling of competing, not thinking about anything, just you, the water, and the race at hand. Being in the zone, was like being in another world, a silent world, a slow motion world, everything else fades into oblivion as your focus and determination increases. It is a felling I could never forget, and hope to experience again when I join the university swimming team.
    Great post.

    • Glad the post and its message resonated with you, Nick. A swimmer most all of my life, I have always appreciated being in the zone in a pool. The competitive drive as waned but I can still recall what got the adrenaline flowing. I like your description of what it’s like for you — I can relate. Bravo on looking forward to rekindling the competitive spirit at university.

      And thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • Glad you’re excited about this! 🙂 But a clarifying question might be: Are you simply head-down busy, perhaps multitasking or are you focused exclusively on a singular task/activity and lost in it? The answer can be defining!

      • When I watch a movie, I’m n he movie. Same with a book or tv show. If I’m not, it’s is not worth it. Photography and cooking, too.

        Multi tasking doesn’t work , in my experience. It only makes me less good at multiple things. He exception is the gym. The older I get the less I like to go and so I’m plugged into my iPod’s music or podcast.

        On e train I get involved on the net and need alarms to make sure my stop is coming and I get off.

  18. I love the chart at the end of your post. It is a perfect visual representation for what it takes to find yourself in a state of flow. The ironic thing, for me at least, is that I seldom recognize that I am in a flow state until I am back out of it. In the moment of flow, I am so encompassed in whatever is creating the flow state (and rightfully so) that I don’t have the awareness that I am flowing freely. It is only upon reflection that I realize, “Hey, self, remember when you were writing that post last week. Didn’t the feel awesome. Nothing could come between us and our end goal. We were in the zone.”

    Moral of the story, for me, is to take time and reflect upon those setting and triggers that allow you enter the zone so that you can frequent it again and again in the future. It is a truly wonderful place to be 🙂

    • Well said and shared, Dave. Thank you. I relate to and applaud your “post-zone” view, especially for people newer to finding and experiencing the zone. Having awareness of a ‘path back’ is often helpful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s