In The Zone At Oshkosh

by Dr. John Beasley, MD

I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things . . .” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

We’ve all been “in the zone” – that rewarding and energizing experience of being totally immersed in some experience. Interestingly, there is not a lot written on this, but it is an important concept in practically every aspect of life.

Think back to a time when you were making that final approach…you were totally focused on what’s going on with the airplane and your environment. You might also be in the zone when you are singing or playing an instrument, reading an engrossing book, or in uninterrupted interaction with another person. There are limitless examples, and I’m sure you can come up with your personal ones. The “zone” is also known as “flow.” For a good overview, see:

A related concept, for those old enough to remember the ‘60s and ‘70s (somebody said, “If you remember those years, you weren’t really there”), you will recall the phrase “being in the groove.” This phrase had its origins in the world of music, but the meaning really extends well beyond that – it’s the “…Sensory-motor coupling or integration of the sensory system and motor system. [It] is not a static process.” See Being in the zone and having flow are much the same phenomena – the total, rewarding, energizing focus on some activity.

In my medical world, I can be in the zone when I’m interacting with a patient and engaging in dialogue, or doing some procedure. Delivering babies is one of the most in-the-zone activities I can think of, and like aviation, could have its moments of stark terror as well. But too much of a good thing can be a problem, too. One can, especially in times of high stress (“Gosh, where did all that ice come from?”), have excessive focus or “hyperfocus,” which our industrial engineer colleagues call “tunneling.” This is a situation where we focus just on one set of cues to the exclusion of others. The sad fate of Air France 447 is one example.

Many things can disrupt flow as well. In my medical world, many physicians find that the need to switch attention from the patient to the computer is quite disruptive, causing “break in task” as can happen when a call comes in or a pager goes off. In aviation, it might be a nervous passenger or a warning light.

Recently, while flying to Wausau, Wisconsin, a low fuel pressure light came on. No big problem when I sorted it out, but it sure didn’t help me stay in the zone.

So what does this have to do with EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, which many of us attended this past July? Most of us who love aviation and airplanes find the total immersion in the world and dreams of aviation at Oshkosh a fine way to get into the zone.  Sometimes when I’m there, I just look at the people: old grizzled veterans getting misty-eyed looking at a warbird, young entrepreneurs engrossed in explaining their latest and greatest whiz-bang thing, and the rest of us ordinary folks walking and taking it all in. I hope you enjoyed the zone at Oshkosh as much as I did. “I am energized.

My soul is in the sky.” — William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V. Scene I(More excellent quotes from

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