I’ve been traveling a lot this month, taking little jumps in time zone of an hour or two, while for others they are ‘night and day’ from each other. I chat with clients and students in different time zones quite easily now that we have technology to transfer us from place to place, and time to time, almost instantly. But that’s not the zones I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the different time zone we go in and out of that is usually uncovered by others – “wow, you were really someplace else!” – or in hindsight – “whoa, what am I doing (and where was I a moment ago)?” While it might seem a bit disorienting or, at times, a bit imprudent, ‘zoning out’ is actually a natural and necessary part of our mind’s life. So let’s focus a little on the unfocused times in our life and mind…
“As regards intellectual work it remains a fact, that great decisions in the realm of thought and momentous discoveries and solutions of problems are only possible to an individual, working in solitude” Sigmund Freud
Master Switch (on and off)
If the subconscious and the conscious mind were on Olympic teams, the subconscious would be a marathoner, while the conscious would be a sprinter. They have different strengths and expertise – the only challenge we have, as owners of both, tends to be our sometimes unreasonable expectations that a sprinter can win a marathon and vice versa.
Just imagine – if we activated our conscious mind all the time and were conscious of everything around us, all the time, we’d go around the bend. It would be too much. It would take too much energy. The sprinter wouldn’t make it to the 26 mile/ 42 km mark.
Yet in our 24/7, always on world, it seems that there is no place for ‘time off’ – which is what our time when we’re less focused has been relegated to. But is the alternative healthy for us physically, mentally and emotionally?
I heard a story from a friend about her mother’s refrigerator. She found the plastic around the light in the fridge melted and through experiments they discovered that the light that should have turned off when the door was closed burned at all times. Which is why her electricity bill was so high as well. Yes, there are times when we don’t need the light on at all – it’s not useful and can harm us in ways we may not even be aware.
Unfocused or Open?
If we replace the words ‘zoning out’ with ‘accessing our subconscious’, it sounds much better. And for many of us it is closer to the truth.
Where do many people report they have great ideas? In the shower – when they are being lulled by the flowing water, not by graphs and charts and a to-do list. When we turn off the noise of the conscious mind, our subconscious is much more open to explore.
The subconscious can be like a petulant child. If the focus is on it – but on the conscious mind trying to work things out – it doesn’t want to play. That’s why we tend to remember people’s names AFTER they leave – because the conscious mind was trying so hard to remember the name… the subconscious mind knew it, as part of the storehouse of information we retain there, but it wasn’t going to offer the answer until the conscious mind stopped working on it. And the conscious mind eventually will, because it’s (as I mentioned before) a short-term sprinter of thought.
So now we can be a bit more compassionate about our natural mind shifting powers – that all levels are working the way they should. And with that benevolence we can actually free ourselves from the internal barrage of harsh commentary, when our focus flits away, like a butterfly in a gentle breeze.
But is that just being too easy on ourselves? First of all, it’s very unlikely – most people are harder on themselves than anyone else; and secondly, the understanding that we have access to the imaginative, expansive, emotional, mind-body connecting part of the mind is an opportunity, not an interruption.
“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run” Kenny Rogers
So now that you know that zoning out is a ‘good’ thing, wouldn’t it be nice to track it? The problem with ‘not’ thinking, ‘not’ doing, ‘not’ focusing is that we may not be aware when we check out for a while. So, I’ve found that it’s often it’s only when we check back in that we get an inkling that we’ve ‘been away’ in the subconscious. At first it may feel unnatural to chart your ‘zone’ times, but when you do, you can gather some important information.
If you have any flexibility in choosing when you do your tasks throughout the day, forcing yourself through a time when you normally ‘lighten your concentration’ may be a losing battle. These will be times when your ‘doing’ mind takes longer and uses more energy. If you can flow with your subconscious – for creating, dreaming, abstract processing, stepping back from the front lines of thought – you’ll discover that the time is more useful and more natural (and easier) for you.
Some of the places where the subconscious mind enjoys is a shower, a walk, connecting to nature, listening to music or engaging one of the senses that delights you, making a place for yourself to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’ for a little while.
Giving over to these pauses in conscious thought sometimes result in flashes of genius, unexpected solutions to problems that don’t seem to be thought through, insights into self, reconnection with a positive feeling or reaffirming thought, more energy (as if you had a short nap for part of your mind!)…
Come back to us…
How can you use this when dealing with others? You aren’t the only one who flows in and out of focus, so there are probably ‘zoned out’ people around you all the time.
For the next couple days, look around you at the people you live, work or interact with and see whether you can notice a few things…
- Looking at nothing in particular
- A slight relaxation in the jaw or shoulders
- Passive watching of a television or screen
- Distractedly fiddling or playing with something
- Staring at the same thing for a long time (that wouldn’t normally be so engaging)
- A ‘spring’ back into action (which means you’ve missed the zoned out time but you can review the situation for next time)
There are many more situations and physiological indicators, but this can give you some things to start observing. Once you have detected others ‘unfocused’ times, what then? This is a time when the conscious mind has shut off and the subconscious is active or alert. This is a perfect time to give suggestions that can help others.
Remember that suggestions are for another’s greatest good, and are not meant to just be advantageous to you (use your power for good). This can be an opportunity for appreciation, support, positive suggestions and reinforcement to slip easily into the deeper part of the mind.
Remember that a basic suggestion is most powerful when it is present tense (rather than future tense), positive (what you ‘do’ want rather than what you ‘don’t’ want), simple and doable (even if it is a bit of a stretch).
Remember that the ‘zone out’ zone is both fragile and robust, so give your suggestions sensitively. Even if the person is startled out of a state by the sound of your voice, that suggestion may have already entered the subconscious before the conscious mind kicks back in.
Lost in Space may be Exactly Where You Need to Be…
“Not all who wander are lost” JRR Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring)
History has shown great artists and inventors using the power of the subconscious mind to create and solve – in the least ‘go-go-go’ ways. Whether in a bath or shower (yes, this works well for me), during a walk or nap, there are many strides made in history by stepping back.
So how can you use this in your day to day life? Acquiring and honing the skills to zone out can be useful for long-distances… whether you’re preparing for a marathon, are working long hours, or have a huge project – taking time outs seem to move you forward without your even realizing it. Athletes who train with their subconscious mind can flow through some of the most grueling conditions because they get in their zone (or out of the conscious zone) while doing their physical effort.
Because only one part can win in the battle of the ‘minds’ during problem solving, it may be better to step sideways or back from the problem (subconscious) rather than trying to push straight through the wall with more cognitive, conscious thinking. You may have had this experience when a detour took you to your destination more quickly. Discover some places or activities that seem to produce interesting insights and add them to your schedule when you need another approach.
But what if you can’t take a walk or shower, or leave your space, what do you do? Many of the ‘greats’ (who may be walking around you right now) know that you can create a space in your mind, where you can go to dream, explore or chill. A friend of mine ‘goes on vacation’ for a short while – she has her locations and imagines them vividly in her mind – and returns to the room or the job with the feeling that she’s had a good break.
Where would you want to go? Who would you like to be with (or by yourself)? What would you like to do (or not do)? It needn’t be a real place but could be a hybrid of your imagination. Create this with as much detail as you can, feel it and the supportive emotions that go with it. Allow yourself to immerse yourself in the experience. Spend a few minutes there and see how you feel after. Experiment with times and places and find your ‘mental vacation’ sweet spots.
The best part about this activity is that people tend not only to feel better, more refreshed, with a different perspective, but you’ve got an answer to people who ask you “whoa, I called your name a couple times – where were you?”… “Paris in springtime – and it was lovely!”