How to Get in the Zone and Let Ideas Flow

Stop reading this and make something. That's step one.

Still here? All right. I'll add to this philosophy.

It's like Mary Poppins says, you see: Once begun is half done. You want to get into the zone? Get out of your way and get used to starting. That's the key. Wistfully wishing to figure out how to get in the zone kills your momentum every time.

That's how to get in the zone: practice beginning.

The enemy of beginning is doubt. Doubt is the killer of dreams. It comes from the voices of our personal past. It's easier to remember people saying, "you can't." When alone with our own thoughts, the sad ones talk louder.

Doubt is a kind of fear: fear of failure. To defeat fear, you need an act of daring.

So begin. Begin often and with vigor. Practice running past the doubting voices. Encourage your confidence.

That's The Zone: pure confidence.

Experts talk about the zone. They talk about it as if they've been possessed by an otherworldly force. Before the Enlightenment (when "man placed himself at the center of the cosmos"), people talked about having a genius. People didn't talk about BEING a genius. That would have been too much of a burden. I find it appropriate that people seem uncertain how to get into The Zone, that they're surprised when it happens.

You can't just enter the zone.

Except that you kind of can.

Part of the reason the idea of the zone is such a mystery is because people get into it on accident. There's an unfortunate characteristic that most people who get in The Zone share: practice.

The Zone is the combination of preparation and mindset.

That can be you. You can be someone who's put in the hours and practiced enough to have the muscle memory available when the opportunity arises.

That's the best piece of advice for getting into the zone: practice your craft every day. Make it the fabric of your personality.

That's preparation.

While you do that, here's a few ideas to trigger the right mindset:

  • Find the right music. The Zone is a mood, and music is mood-altering.

  • Figure out what makes you drunk. Charles Baudelaire wrote, "You have to be continually drunk. But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk." Figure out what puts you in that dizzy frame of mind where your self-doubt dissolves. Do that thing.

  • Seek comfort. Not so much that you fall asleep, but enough that you feel brave.

  • Seek discomfort. Not so much that you run away, but enough to keep you bright-eyed and wary.

  • Mess up, sometimes on purpose. There's more than one reason that people use juggling as a metaphor to describe good management. There's also the feeling of the music of the spheres coming into harmony when you get it right. In Juggling for the Complete Klutz, their first instruction is, "Drop all your balls. You'll do this a lot, so get used to the sound now." Overcome your fear of failure by exposure therapy.

  • Identify what upsets you. Aim your skills at that. Constructive anger is a powerful force if you can point it in the right direction. Use sparingly.

Achieve Zen by Force of Will

The Zone has degrees of potency. The ideal Zone is that otherworldly, inexplicable state when you're possessed by your genius.

Failing that, we shall aim for good enough. A good enough "The Zone" is one with only a moderate effort between you and your desired result and no migraine at the end.

Here's the scary part: you won't always have your tools to spark your entry into The Zone. Someday you'll be against the wall and you'll need to deliver the gold.