As a frequent airline traveler, I have become a master at zoning-out. When I was younger, and addicted to the dopamine that comes from accomplishment, airport delays would raise my ire and my blood pressure. Now, I see my travel experiences as just another sequence of obligation and disruption. Besides, I never found any benefit in the gnashing of teeth that comes with screwed up travel plans. No airline employee ever did anything different to me or for me because of my anger and vitriol. I learned to cope by zoning-out.
Let’s not confuse zoning-out with something truly productive like meditation, directed thinking, or guided relaxation. To coin an old Steely Dan lyric, it is “time out of mind.” Whereas those 70’s rockers were likely referring to some other substance, my gateway to zoning is my iPhone.
I nicknamed my iPhone Sancho Panza, a reference to Don Quixote’s faithful sidekick, because it is always at my side and ready to help me attack the next windmill, or pass the time mindlessly. My Bose wireless headset goes in my ears when I clear security on my outbound flight. I develop a custom playlist for the flight based on mood, weather, destination, and the work ahead of me. And then I fall in the rabbit hole of apps designed to take me away. I am addicted to word puzzle games and block pattern games (Wood Block Puzzle is particularly engaging.). I stalk Facebook. I read news. I shop. I text. You get the picture.
In 2017 I made a point to think about what I was gaining and what I was losing with my intensive relationship with Sancho Panza through about 100,000 air miles. Here’s what I have discovered:
- Zoning is better than anger and frustration. Zoning doesn’t give me much, but it takes far less from me than wet-cat emotions.
- Zoning is pervasive. It’s not just me. It’s most of us. Walk from the back of the plane to the front in the middle of a flight and observe for yourself.
- Zoning sneaks into times where we should be awake, attentive, and engaged with others. I was recently at a client meeting where a basket was passed around at the top of the meeting and attendees put their own Sancho Panza’s in a basket, only to removed at a break. Brilliant.
- I make poor choices when I am zoned. Good food or junk food? Take a walk or solve a puzzle?
Here’s the thing, when you are Slammed, you justify the need for a break—anytime or anywhere. And now, with your trusty companion at your side, you can completely zone out in a socially acceptable manner. The “breaks” will become more frequent, more immersive, and more time consuming. And soon, the very forces you are trying to get a break from become that much stronger. The deadlines get closer, the pressure goes up, performance quality goes down.
The trick is to use zoning out as a transitional experience. Sure, take 10 minutes on the plane to work on a game or check Facebook (time limits help), but ensure that the behavior is intentionally set up to be a gateway for the healthy behavior to follow. And that healthy behavior is not always work! Meditation? Yes? A great book? Yes? Writing a letter of substance to a friend or relative? Yes!
I will continue to zone in 2018. But I will be much less likely to allow those behaviors to sneak into the other elements of my life that demand my attention and compassion. If Don Quixote was anything, he was vigilant, and so am I.