High performance athletes get in the zone when competing, quieting their minds, breathing, focusing, visualizing every move they need to take, even following a set routine and rituals in the seconds before leaving the start box. They may not be able to eliminate all distractions but do get to a point where they can keep those distractions at bay. Their preparatory routines become so ingrained that it could throw them off course if not followed to the letter.

It is rare that I see artists use any type of centering as they begin creating each day. We enter our studio and just expect to create. Yes, some go through rituals such as tidying up first, placing the materials they need at their side, perhaps making a cup of coffee or tea. Others feel the need to get chores out of the way before they focus on creating. But our to-do list of distractions never ends, and can sometimes be a delay tactic when there is uncertainty about steps or a technique for a piece in progress or a new piece of art, or when we are not satisfied our art is good enough.
As artists we are not taught the benefits of getting in the zone to prepare for creating or coached in techniques to get into that zone. Rather we hope we will find our focus once we have started our creative activity. Sometimes we do. And sometimes we don’t get there at all and find all kinds of other tasks to distract us. When we do discover the value of getting in the zone early, it’s usually through discussion with others or by fluke. Unless it’s a meditative style art class, it’s unusual to be led through an exercise in classes and workshops to find our focus or to be reminded to centre ourselves. Instead, when the gun goes off, we are just expected to begin creating.

Since taking up yoga a few years back, more and more I am able to quiet my mind, slow down and find focus like the athlete who gets into the competitive mindset. When I then applied similar steps to my art, trying various meditative practices to see what would work for me, I discovered I do my best creative work when I read first, something that gives me pause for reflection rather than fiction or world news. I follow this with a few minutes focusing to set an intention for my creative work that day, visualizing the project at hand. I am then ready to begin and am in a much more relaxed state than when I started. I am getting into my zone. And I am able to push aside distractions that arise.

There is no one right way to get into the zone. And everyone finds their way is different from someone else, and may find they need new ways over time. And of course some days are harder than others to find that focus. For some, sitting quietly and focusing on the breath works, others prefer to take a walk, or sit outside focusing on the sounds of nature. Gentle movement can work too. Other rituals may include lighting a candle, putting on quiet music, pulling on a favourite shirt to wear. Visualization and setting an intent are the important areas to focus.  

Overall I’m happier with my art when I follow this process. Without it, well, let’s just say I’ve had some successes but also more failures than I care to admit. In the zone, I’m much less tense about the outcome, in a more relaxed state of mind, willing to pause, not rushing, not pushing, and truly pleased with the creative results.


"Music is full of longing and movement.  Painting should be the same." I read this quote in Hundred and Thousands: The Journals of...