Beyond the Zone is something I have recently discovered having been a graphic designer for over 15 years. For the first time I have been applying a concept which has been used amongst athletes for a while now. It’s often referred to as ‘Being in the Zone’. Athletes often apply it to achieve peak performance when competing.
When I looked at it, I realized that going beyond the zone can also be applied to creativity. As all designers know, we have those “good design days” and the “not so good design days”. I’ll get a brief from a client, I’ll settle down in front of the computer to start designing, with all the expectations of coming up with a great design. And then the brick wall. Nothing. No inspiration is forthcoming and the frustration descends with all the usual negative self-talk – “I can’t do this, I must be jaded, maybe I’m burnt out”. That’s when the mind gets really noisy.
So I looked at what was happening on the ‘good design days’ when it all just flowed. I could effortlessly produce a great design, which I instinctively knew the client would love. Why was it different on those days? Because I was “Beyond the Zone”. Without even realizing it.
So what exactly does it mean to be Beyond the Zone? Sometimes it’s referred to as the Flow. Basically it’s about being totally present in the moment. Many people spend less than 2% of their time living in the present! Be aware of how often your thoughts and feelings are focused on the past or the future. Amazing isn’t it?
This doesn’t only apply to designing, going Beyond the Zone can be applied to any activity. If you are a writer, play a sport, an artist, or simply taking some time out to play in the garden with your kids. Are you thinking about all the things you have to do tomorrow, or something that upset you yesterday? How much do you miss out on in the present moment by worrying about the past or future? It seems so simple to do, so why don’t we do it more?
At times, it seems our thoughts are designed solely to get our attention! It’s often the ego that gets in the way. The ego means the false identification with thoughts, social roles, memories, judgments, desires and fears. The Ego likes to be in control. Part of Mastering the Zone is letting go of the Ego.
Your mind is making too much noise. Just be present in the moment. When we focus all of our attention on something, the mind becomes quiet. When you are engaged in an activity and your mind wanders off of it, bring your attention back to what you are doing. Be aware of the entire experience of that moment. One of the ways I practice bringing myself into the present, when I find my mind is too noisy and distracting, is to focus completely on my breathing. I pay attention to my breath, the sound of it and the rise and fall of my chest. If my mind starts to wander, I gently bring it back to my breathing.
When you are present in the moment, or Beyond the Zone, the activity itself is rewarding, so it becomes effortless and elegant. I call this the Hot Zone. Enjoy the journey. A big part of it is to not be attached to the outcome, just enjoy what you are doing by being immersed in it. So in my case, if I’m designing a logo for example, I’ll totally immerse myself in the process of creating without worrying about the end result. I find it’s a very productive zone to be in. And more enjoyable. I find when I’m working like this, time slows down. For a designer chasing deadlines, this can be very useful.
Dan Millman, the author of ‘The Peaceful Warrior’ suggests it would be wise to remember that we can control our efforts, but not the outcomes. So I don’t aim for “winning” or for “success,” but rather for excellence, since that’s all I can control.
A great movie to watch, is ‘The Peaceful Warrior’ based on Dan Millman's book. In the movie you will hear that ‘there are no ordinary moments.’ You will understand this if you practice Mastering the Zone. Every moment has so much to offer if you are aware. A book I recommend reading is ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle. He says that we should use the mind as a tool, and not let the mind use us.
See you in the Hot Zone!
The Adventure Learning Zone Masters
A little exercise to Being in the Zone
The next time you are gardening, playing with your children or even just doing something simple like taking a shower, be totally present in the moment. Focus on the sights, sounds and textures of every little detail. When you catch your mind wandering off, bring it back to the moment. Do this for at least ten minutes a day...It sounds simple, and it is. But you'll be amazed how long ten minutes can be when your mind keeps insisting on wandering off on its own. As you practice you'll find it gets easier. And most of all, have fun!