I've been thinking about what it means to 'be in the zone.'
For reference, wikipedia also calls it 'Flow' and has this definition:
In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time
NTs talk about the zone as though it is a relatively rare experience, so I will start by assuming it is. For them. My experience is that I enter an intensely focused state fitting the description of Flow quite often : all I have to do is engage in an activity I enjoy and start focusing on it, and after a few moments my self disappears, I lose all track of time and I remain immersed in the activity until interrupted or fatigued. That sounds awfully similar to the psychological definition of flow, so I think that I enter into the zone quite easily, and multiple times every day.
My musings are mostly on the relationship between feeling emotions and being in the zone. I know that I experience feeling different than NTs experience feelings. I can't really know what is like to be NT; but the more I review literature, jury cases, politics, war, the often inexplicable behavior of other people I know, and as I find the words to ask more and more pointed questions of NT friends, the closer I get to believing this about NT and Autistic emotions:
From the definition I am getting the impression that one of the requirements to get there, is pushing one's emotions into the background.
That gels with my impression that I go into the zone easily, because for me my emotions are already in the background most of the time, and all I have to do is concentrate. But I think moving focus away from the emotions is actually a big deal for most NT people. I get the impression that they feel what I feel in my rare emotional-bubbling-over moments, ALL THE TIME. Before I knew I was autistic I would get really confused about crimes of passion and grown people squabbling over politics and coming to blows and full-blown wars with people dying, all because they wouldn't stop yelling long enough to listen to one another. If I rethink those things and image the people involved feeling like I do in one of my emotion moments, and UNABLE TO ESCAPE those emotions, it start to make a lot more sense. If that is the case, then it isn't so much they won't stop yelling as they can't stop yelling, or it is really hard to stop yelling, because they are over excited ridden by powerful emotions they can't just turn on and off like a water hose. If you're autistic, maybe, like me, you find it relatively easy to turn off your emotions after the first gush is past and you feel like you get a grip again. And maybe you find it really hard to turn ON your emotions, like when your fiance tells you about the tragedy of a coworker and you want to show sympathy but you know you need to FEEL a lot of sympathy or it won't show very much but you just can't fan the feeling into a full blown flame. It lies there like a little spark and you say 'that sounds terrible, that tragedy, how is the coworker taking it?' but it sounds hollow to your NT fiance because your voice doesn't have enough emotion in it.
What do you, whoever you are reading, think your emotions do? Foreground or background? Do you go into the zone and is it easy or hard? Frequent or infrequent? I might be unemotional for some other reason than that I am autistic, so I am curious if there are other people who also wander through life with the emotions mostly in the background and if they are like me in some ways.
I may have got the wrong end of the stick here, since I tend to rely more on feelings and experience more than a strictly logical approach. That's just one consequence of a badly-fractured education/adolescence. ;-)
I'd say that for me it is quite easy, and happens more than daily. But I'm undecided as to whether those under the ND label find it easier or more difficult to enter flow than those under the NT label. Perhaps we might also be forgiven for thinking that NT are widely perceived to be in the zone in a manner and at times that are considered by the majority as socially appropriate; whereas those labelled ND are often perceived to be in the zone (by the majority) at/in a socially inappropriate time or manner.
I'm also not sure I entirely agree with your thoughts on emotions taking a back or front seat according to people's neuro-labelling. If I were to say a back seat, I might just remember that my emotions frequently appear to be just a little bit too forward for comfort. So let's just say it isn't always the same.
There is probably a considerable diversity within those labelled NT, so they could perhaps be thought of as on a NT spectrum, which perhaps segues seamlessly into our own diverse spectrum. I'm not at all sure where I might be positioned on that 'widened' spectrum.; but the flow state can fairly obviously be put to practical use, and so probably helps people to go beyond the labels with which they are frequently burdened.
Being in the zone in that sense - sporting or movement, is when your mind is non verbal.
I’m in the zone a lot - it’s how I get my knowledge. It just downloads as a feeling of bliss, usually followed by revelation after revelation.
Ahhh yes it is both non-verbal and non-emotional for me. Is it emotional for you?
Yes, Great topic,
I wrote about his in a post somewhere on here. lol. See the post on archery for more here: https://community.autism.org.uk/f/health-and-wellbeing/15245/archery-and-autism
I just think that any state that allows you to feel the flow is your natural state. This might be physical, internal, external or mental. For example, you might even see public speakers inflow.
In summary, I would say that mechanical processes have more affinity for people with ASD. And come easier.
Bend it like Beckham, or being a great archer or throwing objects into a bin without thinking, as all flow.
I would also class music as flow. Moving vocal cords, playing instruments etc.
Do you think that's why I love running?
I agree. Movement either shooting a bow to a target or running is a 3d puzzle. I have often felt most relaxed in solving 3d puzzles or running. And I loved a bit of archery.
I think 3d puzzles are a required state, especially for autistic people. Just like a requirement for the mind healing called REM sleep.
REM and flow states help us feel good. I think we can reach this state when we are focusing on three-dimensional problems. Like dance, singing, running, archery and building.
There have been studies that say that an autistic mind prefers order and is especially good at solving three-dimensional mechanical puzzles.
Also studies for dyslexia enabling the "outside and slightly elevated" view. ie looking at yourself as if you are standing behind yourself and standing looking over your shoulder. - Used to increase or decease dyslexia. And use this to solve 3d problems or be creative.
I have felt and slip into this state a few times. Also referred to as "flow". You might recognise this as being able to hit targets without effort. Fluke shots were you throw rubbish into a bin without looking or thinking about it.
Also recognised by others as a fluke.
Movement for health
Totally agree that it does really matter if you are walking or running. Painting the house or a watercolour. The matter is doing. We mustn't forget that children need this movement.
Rocking flipping tapping
Have you ever wondered why some autistics sway?
I think people with ASD get 'flow' more easily than NTs and yes, probably because they don't have so much emotional 'background noise' distracting them.
Being able to 'flow' easily may well explain why (with hindsight) is the people with ASD that have 'got sh*t done' throughout history - focussing on the job in hand... if Edison had been NT do you think he'd have 'found a thousand ways not to make a lightbulb' - no, he'd have got emotional and given up after 10 or 100.
I LOVE it when I hit flow, usually it's during physical activity for me - running, sailing, riding my motorbike and I've had it a coupe of times playing pool (in my youth)
That feeling when everything except you and what you're doing falls away... bliss
NAS62014 Really interesting analysis and totally resonates with me. My emotions are in the background unless I'm in a quiet, safe place and I find it hard to respond to NTs about bad things happening because it would take me a while to bring my emotions forward in order to know what I actually feel about whatever it is. In general it's hard to talk about emotions with NTs because they will never give you the time to figure out how you feel. I don't like to discuss emotions unless I'm alone or with someone I *really* trust and who shares my analytical approach to dealing with emotion. I get into a flow state really easily, that's where I most live and how I feel pursuing a 'special interest' or even at work when I'm researching some policy issue, writing a report, or trying to solve a strategic problem. The only emotions that will easily push to the front with me are frustration and anxiety (sometimes I think they're prety much the same thing - not being able to get something done, or having my flow interrupted, makes me anxious). Most of the time I'm thinking about something I'm trying to understand or daydreaming in fantasy worlds. My natural rhythm seems to be a few weeks of intense flow followed by a few weeks of goofing off in fantasy worlds. If only work would let me do that I'd be ten thousand times more productive.
Same. NT people often pay thousands of pounds to get into the flow and we have it as part of our make up, for free, or at least some of us do. I’m the same as you so I’m also interested in whether other autistic people are also like us.
I have a similar cycle of being in the flow then checking out.
My support worker noticed it and noticed that it’s generally a three week cycle, so she has encouraged me, and I’m going with it, to arrange my work life so I work three weeks on and one week off, three months on and at least one month off (I think I’ll need more than a month by then, for fantasy time and other courses/seminars etc that are often in different countries, which also means I need extra time because I also like to have time to enjoy/explore the country I’m in) and I might work 3 days on (during a work week) and the rest off, to help me maintain balance because even though I might want to work more, it is often (probably always) detrimental for me to do so, so I’m having to look at it this way and plan to work for shorter periods, for the long term gain.
It hasn’t been an easy journey for me to get to this stage but I’m almost there, and I got there, by learning to take baby steps. This often felt like pure torture and like it was the totally wrong way of going about doing things (still does sometimes) but my burnout has forced me to comply and after about a year of doing this, I can totally see the benefits now, of taking baby steps and doing less to achieve more, even in the short term, although I still don’t like it, but I think it’s only my ADHD brain that doesn’t like it, and I can understand that, so I won’t be hard on it.
But I’m not quite there with it all yet, my adhd brain still wants to charge forwards, but I’m getting to the stage where I can see which brain (asd or adhd) is in charge, at any given time, which helps me to work with it, to get it on a course which is more beneficial and healthy long term.
It’s not easy, but I’m getting there and I’m hoping, at least in the beginning, that adhd meds are going to help. When I get back into the rhythm of twice daily dedicated meditation sessions and regular sessions at a centre (I’m a vipassana meditator) I will need the help of the meds, much less, and by then I’ll have my work set up in the way that works best for me, as well, which I am hoping will offer me a more balanced and sustainable life over the long term. I’m not quite sure if that’s what I want - a balanced and steady life - but I think it will minimise the number of burnouts I have, which is definitely a good thing because I don’t want another burnout. So I’m gently easing myself into a new way of living where I mostly meditate, spend time in nature, lots of silence, yoga, running, strength training, long walks/hikes, maybe some indoor/outdoor shooting and roller blading and apart from that, work, and my work will benefit greatly from me living that kind of life. And now I know I’m autistic, it seems the perfect life for me anyway. I think it’s just the fact that I don’t like change, which is making it more difficult to come to terms with because really, that is how I like to live my life, it’s only really the adhd brain that objects, but even that is slowly changing.