Getting into the "Zone": The Benefits and Unintended Consequences of the Flow State

In psychology, the "flow state", also commonly known as "being in the zone", is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one's sense of time. (Wikipedia)

The positive mental health effects of the flow state are well documented and, in a time where our collective mental health is suffering at the hands of a global pandemic, we, as musicians, should seek it out as much as possible.

The flow state can help us block out the outside world and exist solely in (and for) the moment. When the flow state is achieved, things become easier and you begin to relax and enjoy an activity more fully. As drummers, everything becomes easier; hands and arms are free from tension, we're more comfortable taking risks and we can do things we couldn't do before. The flow state brings positive feelings to the surface: happiness, optimism, satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment as well as a reduction in self-conscious thinking and insecurity.

Anyone who has ever achieved the flow state knows that it feels great! I personally have achieved the flow state many times during practice sessions, jamming with a band, writing a blog post, writing drum scores or recording music. It is not always easy to predict when or where you may enter the flow state but there are several steps you can take to help you achieve it.

The first step is to pick an activity where intense concentration is required. I have never achieved the flow state by playing through already familiar music. I need to find a challenging activity that uses my brain like score writing, practicing drag paradiddles, voicing tenor notes or recording music. I tend to get "lost" in these activities and lose track of time. This "loss of time" is a clear indication the flow state has been achieved.

Second, you must be prepared to persist with the activity you choose for a good chunk of time. Be sure to set aside a couple of hours for whatever you're planning.

Next, be patient. It takes some time to get into the "flow". For me, usually about a half an hour. After that, time starts to slip away.

Finally, once you are "in the zone", don't forget to appreciate it and enjoy it. Take advantage of the positive energy you feel and get some good work done. When you've finished the activity you've chosen, or when you realize it's 9:00 pm and you forgot to eat supper, notice the positive feelings you experience. Just as negativity breeds more negativity, acknowledging and appreciating positive feelings leads to more positive feelings!

Late in 2020 my regular work on PipeBandDrummer.com ground to a halt. I found myself struggling with motivation to write blogs, post new videos and come up with new material to add to the site. To compound matters my pipe band had not practiced together since March of 2020 and it was affecting me in a noticeable and negative way. I found myself concentrating more on avoiding burnout than improving my quality of life as the days blurred together in a seemingly endless cycle of eat, work, sleep, TV.

I still held practices with my drum corps over Zoom and even, when the regulations permitted, in person with masks and social distancing. However, my creative drive continued to decline. About a month ago, my downturn came to a head when I experienced several days of acute, paralyzing anxiety. I didn't want to get out of bed. I took a couple of days off work. I sat in a chair staring at the wall between naps. I knew I had to do something or my downward spiral would continue.

That's when I decided to ignore PipeBandDrummer.com and start working on recording a song I'd written several years before. The song used the Robbie Burns poem Culloden for the lyrics. I hadn't worked on arranging a song in quite a while and I figured I'd try to embrace the arranging/recording process and complete the project on my own.

First I had to settle on an arrangement. I recorded some rough tracks and listened to them over and over. One idea led to another and eventually the song began to take shape. The flow state I experienced as I jammed along with my rough tracks began to make me feel better--excited even--as the parts started to come together. Small victories started to mount as new ideas materialized. The more I worked on the song, the more work I wanted to do the work. Every few nights I would sit and play along with the song, listen to it, mess with the mixing and tinker with the arrangement. I started to look forward to these nights! The entire process took a little more than a month to complete but I was very happy with the results. I had never before released a song where I bore the sole responsibility for writing, arranging, performing and recording. When I finally finished I felt pretty good about it. Here's the song if you're interested...

 

 

Then, I experienced some unintended consequences...

New blog post ideas for PipeBandDrummer.com started popping into my head. So did ideas for new videos. I started practicing for and releasing some Instagram posts. After having had absolutely zero motivation for months I felt much better returning to the thing that had been the source of my evaporating motivation. And now this--the first blog post since Oct. 29, 2020.

I have learned a very valuable lesson over these last few months: The benefits of the flow state are many! Simply by engaging in another activity unrelated to pipe band, and finding the flow state within that activity, I began the process of improving my overall attitude, mental health and general well-being.

I hope that you, too, can reap the benefits of finding your "zone" as pipe band drummers. Find yourself an activity, even one that's unrelated to pipe band drumming and dive in. Pick up your guitar, make something with your hands, write a drum score, a letter to your mother or a song. Do something hard that you love and get into the zone!

I hope all of you are getting through this pandemic as best you can. Wishing all of you good health as we (hopefully) begin to come out of this difficult time. Stay safe and stay well.

6 comments

  • Lovely atmospheric job, Zach

    Lovely atmospheric job, Zach

  • Sara
    Sara USA
    Thank you for sharing this raw and lovely post. I really enjoyed your tune! I already listened to it several times. Robbie himself would probably sing it to his many lovers. Your blog has been a great help for me over the years with teaching and improving my own skills. I hope nothing less than strength and peace for you in this new year!

    Thank you for sharing this raw and lovely post. I really enjoyed your tune! I already listened to it several times. Robbie himself would probably sing it to his many lovers. Your blog has been a great help for me over the years with teaching and improving my own skills. I hope nothing less than strength and peace for you in this new year!

  • David
    David St. Stephen, NB
    I have only recently become acquainted with yourself and your site. You are helping me complete one of my ‘bucket list’ aspirations to master the awesome skill of pipe band drumming. Your heart felt post and song was inspiring.

    I have only recently become acquainted with yourself and your site. You are helping me complete one of my ‘bucket list’ aspirations to master the awesome skill of pipe band drumming. Your heart felt post and song was inspiring.

  • Steve
    Steve Australia
    Hi Zach Uncanny, I was sitting thinking this morning about how I've been spending my time, too much TV, and perhaps I should set aside a night to improve my drawing and sketching skills, what great timing your email was, it has inspired me to find the zone. Great song by the way. Thanks Zach. Regards Steve

    Hi Zach
    Uncanny, I was sitting thinking this morning about how I've been spending my time, too much TV, and perhaps I should set aside a night to improve my drawing and sketching skills, what great timing your email was, it has inspired me to find the zone. Great song by the way. Thanks Zach.
    Regards Steve

  • David Galbraith
    David Galbraith Saint John, NB
    Greetings, Zach. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and the journey you have taken to cycle back to the source of your first and deepest interest. You have given inspiration to others, for sure. I too, have taken a bit of a break (not intentional, by any stretch - Covid protocols dictated that), and now wish to gather up my wits and get back at some hard practice, as we are anticipating some opening of the tight controls we have been subjected to in these past twelve months. I turned, as you have, to a different hobby - a different tack, as it were - and engaged in doing some woodworking hobby things, and have taken from the idea stage to fruition some tangible items for use in our corps. We need to keep active, busy, engaged, whatever gets us through this, but we will emerge on the more positive and enjoyable side of things with the hobby we all love, and want to participate in, once more. Cheers!

    Greetings, Zach. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and the journey you have taken to cycle back to the source of your first and deepest interest. You have given inspiration to others, for sure. I too, have taken a bit of a break (not intentional, by any stretch - Covid protocols dictated that), and now wish to gather up my wits and get back at some hard practice, as we are anticipating some opening of the tight controls we have been subjected to in these past twelve months. I turned, as you have, to a different hobby - a different tack, as it were - and engaged in doing some woodworking hobby things, and have taken from the idea stage to fruition some tangible items for use in our corps. We need to keep active, busy, engaged, whatever gets us through this, but we will emerge on the more positive and enjoyable side of things with the hobby we all love, and want to participate in, once more. Cheers!

  • Joyce
    Joyce California
    Colladen is heartbreaking and lovely - rich and clear. How satisfactory the smooth harmony of your voices sounds! Thank you, and thank you for your site. This past year, just retired, living alone, isolated, I was untethered. The detailed organization and structure of your site, the zero to sixty, was a blessed relief. Something to sink into, to make sense, incremental progress, and move forward while standing still. It expanded to other things – walking, swimming, cooking. Being un-complicated by anybody or anything, I could reconstruct a new arc to every day, all in a zone. I shared your site with other drummers in my band, and we started meeting early to do warmups based on your 5 long minutes – a structure welcome by all. Now, sustained happiness, after finding the online community of piping and drumming, the generosity of teachers like you, and fun, fun, fun! Thank you for the site, your careful work, and being the way you are.

    Colladen is heartbreaking and lovely - rich and clear. How satisfactory the smooth harmony of your voices sounds! Thank you, and thank you for your site. This past year, just retired, living alone, isolated, I was untethered. The detailed organization and structure of your site, the zero to sixty, was a blessed relief. Something to sink into, to make sense, incremental progress, and move forward while standing still. It expanded to other things – walking, swimming, cooking. Being un-complicated by anybody or anything, I could reconstruct a new arc to every day, all in a zone. I shared your site with other drummers in my band, and we started meeting early to do warmups based on your 5 long minutes – a structure welcome by all. Now, sustained happiness, after finding the online community of piping and drumming, the generosity of teachers like you, and fun, fun, fun! Thank you for the site, your careful work, and being the way you are.

Add comment