Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Z is for Zone

 When I was doing my Sunday sampling last weekend, I landed on a passage of Happier Hour that was such a perfect description of me I could have written it myself. In her section on "flow" (often called being "in the zone," writer Cassie Holmes offered seven conditions for achieving this elusive state of happy productivity:

  1. Clear your space of threads for other tasks on your to-do list.
  2. Clear your schedule for at least several hours.
  3. Create this space during the time of day when you're most alert.
  4. Shut the door.
  5. Put in earplugs or put on headphones.
  6. Close out of email.
  7. Put your phone away.
I have had this post floating around in my head for about an hour. When I sat down to write it (alone in the sunroom where it's quiet), my husband was happily ensconced in front of a football game. I hadn't finished typing even three of the seven conditions above before he was wandering around making noise, rattling a bag as he put it away in the kitchen, opening and closing the refrigerator door....

You know. Living in his own house.

But reading about flow today made it abundantly clear to me why this is such a big deal. It even alleviated some of my guilt over being annoyed by it, often out of proportion to the interruption itself. Being on the cusp of flow only to have it shatter through a noise, an innocent (albeit poorly timed) request, or, y'know, life is like finally drifting off after a sleepless night only to have the alarm go off minutes later. 

Living in a house with other people is not conducive to flow, yet flow is an essential ingredient in creativity and, for may of us, concentration. The older I get, the more I feel the need to protect flow. Not only do I get in my own way when it comes to getting on the flow on-ramp, but, with age, I find it harder and harder to get back on the flow highway when an unanticipated red light jerks me to attention and makes me slam on the brakes. 

This concept flows (pun intentional) ever outward. Why I get distracted by everything but the thing I've promised myself I'd do, and frustrated by days that feel like a succession of meaningless tasks (#1). Why I love blank pages on the calendar (#2). Why I get frustrated when important tasks get pushed off into the evening (#3). Why I so desperately needed a door for my office to signal times when I really needed not to be interrupted (#4). Why every little noise (#5), email (#6) or text chime (#7) pulls my focus, even if only for a second.

FoYu via Pixabay

Holmes points out that flow usually occurs when we're doing something we're good at. This makes it so much more than happy productivity. If you've ever been in flow or ("in the zone"), you know that it can bring with it a kind of joy and fulfillment unlike anything inspired by a completed to-do list. Its very elusiveness is part of what makes it so desirable, and what makes it so incredibly frustrating when it shatters and we find ourselves trying to reassemble its shards to build a pathway back to where we were only a few minutes previously.

Achieving flow can nurture the soul, and coming out on the other side of it can make us more fun to be around. Having been nourished by a task we enjoy so much that we lose track of time while we're doing it, we feel a sense of peaceful accomplishment, along with a boost in confidence and a sense of gratitude, hopefully directed at least in part to those who made it possible. This a fortunate counterbalance to the grumpiness and frustration we feel in its absence.

For some, flow arrives with the endorphins that accompany a great run or athletic endeavor. For others, it comes through daily pursuits like cooking or knitting, or perhaps through spiritual practices like prayer or meditation. Getting lost in a book or music or art (whether listening, looking or creating) can inspire flow as well.

Sometimes we seek flow, and other times it finds us. Either way, we'd do well to invite it in as often as possible. 

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