It’s evening and your dearly beloved has been sitting at the computer for hours. You know that this obsession has something to do with the latest project but you aren’t sure of the details. With a smile, you decide to do something nice for your beloved. You pour a glass of their favorite beverage and take it over to them. Your efforts are rewarded with a grunt or blank stare and they continue working. Undaunted, you ask them if they want a snack with their drink. Nothing has prepared you for the snarl they respond with. You see, you’ve pulled them out of The Zone.

Sad to say, my wife is very familiar with the situation I’ve just described. It’s not fair to her and in her mind she’s done nothing wrong. She doesn’t understand The Zone. Not exclusive to engineers, The Zone is that Zen like state where your mind is able to fully concentrate on the task at hand. You no longer feel hunger or thirst. You forget the grass needs mowing, in fact you forget you have a lawn. You’re fully focused on the task at hand.

Imagine that you’re deep in the middle of a wonderful dream and your alarm clock goes off. When you hit snooze to finish the dream, someone starts shaking you to tell you the alarm just went off. Wide awake now, you realize today is Saturday and you forgot to turn the alarm off. What are the odds of you going back to sleep?

That’s how it feels to be pulled out of The Zone. It took you half an hour to achieve The Zone. While you were there, you performed the work of ten (well, three at least) and someone just pulled you out of The Zone. It might be hours before you achieve that state again. Like sleep, it may escape you completely.

Being pulled out of The Zone is incredibly painful. Once the state is broken, the whole world with all its troubles comes rushing at you. In that instant, you see all the progress you were making disappear. You’re left with the frustration of knowing that once again, you’re an ordinary human being. Think about the way Superman feels when he dons Clark Kent’s suit and spectacles. He knows what he’s capable of achieving but now he has to become human again.

All of us are capable of reaching this state of concentration but most may not even recognize it. Those that don’t recognize it can’t understand how painful the awakening is. From my wife’s point of view, she’s done nothing to deserve the snarl that greeted her attempts at kindness. Once I’m fully out of The Zone, even I can see how petty that snarl was. But in those few moments while the entire world is slapping me in the face to remind me it’s still here, those few moment while I feel my super powers slipping away, my snarl is a very restrained response.

No, I’m not writing this to explain to my wife why I often act like a jerk. I’ve already had to do that, many times. Instead, I want you to understand what the zone it and why it’s important to us. I want you to know it’s not personal when they glare at you for attempting a good deed. Just like it’s not a good idea to wake a sleep walker, it’s never a good idea to interrupt someone while they’re in The Zone.

How do you recognize someone in The Zone?  Just like someone in a deep sleep we’re going to resist your efforts to drag us out of our enhanced state of concentration. That first blank stare while we try to remember who you are is often all the warning you’ll get.

Unfortunately for you, once we enter The Zone, we can completely forget about the rest of the world to the detriment of our health.  Movies and literature are full of scientists and mathematicians forgetting to eat while obsessing on a problem.  Too much time in The Zone is bad for us and for those of us still trying to interact with the rest of humanity, disastrous to our relationships.  

While the movies conveniently provide that wonderful loving but firm companion to the successful scientists and mathematicians, the rest of us are not that lucky. You have to wonder what happens to all those people allowed to stay in The Zone. Do they simply lose touch with the rest of humanity and evolve into pure thought? Do they become supervillains intent on the subjugation of humanity?

I’ll never know but, then again, maybe I’m lucky that my wife snarls back.


Sundae, in The Zone

After reading this, my wife asked me why I tolerate Sundae interrupting my time in The Zone. Sundae understands the zone and has established a protocol for dealing with me. She will approach me and simply stare at me, willing me to notice her. If I continue to ignore her, she will put her head on my leg and let her head get progressively heavier. When I recognize her, she will jump into my lap and let me know that I’ve spent too much time in The Zone and I need to do important things like going to bed or taking her outside to play ball. She can be very persuasive.


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