Zoned Out of Life (What it Actually Is and How to Stop It From Happening)

Jordan Brown

One minute you're paying attention to what's going on around you.

The next minute, you realize more than a minute has actually passed.

And you have no idea what happened.

Maybe you were watching tv.

Maybe you were trying to focus on a work presentation.

All you know is that your mind suddenly left your body.

And you have no idea what happened to it during the time that it was gone.

It's not a great feeling.

You were zoned out.

But what does that actually mean?

And what can you do about it so that it doesn't happen again?

Zoned Out Meaning (Tasks, Time, and Lack of Memory)

Zoning out is a strange phenomenon.

It's when your brain causes you to be lulled into a state of temporary stupor, leading you to miss what happened for a period of seconds to minutes.

Zoning out should not be confused with meditation or prayer.

When you're doing one of those activities, the goal is to be present and fully engaged in the world around you--to become one with the world, so to speak.

Being zoned out feels different.

There's a clear "lack." A feeling that you missed something important. That your mind wasn't focused on the task in front of you.

And there's another important type of zoning out that we should consider, one that can have a very serious starting point.

Zoning Out or Dissociating? (The Difference Between Zoning Out and Dissociation)

If you spend even a small amount of time learning about mental health, you're bound to hear the term "dissociation" being used in conversations about "zoning out."

Some will use the words as if they're the same thing, but I think dissociating more commonly comes up surrounding "trauma" and one's response to it.

There are some events so horrible that the brain learns to shut itself down and remove you from whatever is going on.

Memories of terrible events can also cause this to happen.

You've probably read or heard about people saying that there are times when they've been "floating above their body" and looking down at themselves.

This happened to me once when my brain couldn't make sense of something that, in my mind, was awful and unreal.

It only lasted for a few seconds, but I recognize that it was now, most definitely, a period of dissociation. It was my brain's attempt to remove me from an insane situation.

So, you can see that being zoned out is different from being dissociated from what's going on around you.

Zoning out is what happens when you're driving a car and you look up and realize you've suddenly missed your exit on the highway.

It's the "anxiety stare" that happens when you're watching TV.

Sometimes I catch myself picking at my skin and looking off into the distance when I'm supposed to be reading a book.

It happens to the best of us.

And whatever task you might be trying to focus on, it's clear that zoning out can be a frustrating experience.

Because it takes you away from what you want to be doing.

It removes you from your own life.

How to Zone Back into Your Life (Sustained Attention and How to Train Your Mind)

If you've gotten down here, you know that being zoned out isn't the most pleasant feeling in the world.

And you're reading to do something about it.

The question remains:

What do you do when the task in front of you is removed from your recent memory?

Because that is what feeling zoned out is--a removal of yourself and your task from your recent memory.

1. Develop Mindfulness

You're going to see this world all over the Internet. It's a bit of a buzzword these days.

But there's a reason that mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years.

Becoming more mindful is all about noticing. It's about being aware of your surroundings. It's also about being more accepting, of yourself and of what is happening to you.

I'll tell you what.

My life changed forever when I started to read about mindfulness and meditation. And it changed even more when I started to practice it.

Start very small.

Download a free meditation app. I prefer Insight Timer, although Headspace is the app that got me to start a meditation habit years ago. Both are good options.

Schedule 1 to 5 minutes in your day to develop this new habit.

Studies have shown that even a few minutes of meditation a day can rewire your brain in positive ways.

If you're struggling to get this new habit going, stack it on top of another habit.

Habit stacking is when you take something you already do, and then you tether a new habit to it.

For instance, this is probably TMI, but I learned about neck stretches that really help my flexibility and ease my tension. I've been doing them while I wash my hair in the shower. I know I'm going to wash my hair, and now I know I'm also going to do this.

2. Don't Beat Yourself Up Over It

This is not really a tactic per se, but it kind of is.

If you catch yourself zoning out, do NOT beat yourself up over it.

This will only associate the experience with negative feelings. And negative feelings drain you of your time and energy.

I started with mindfulness because being mindful helps you accept what is and not judge it. It's about controlling your response to what happens to you.

You don't have to get mad at yourself for zoning out.

Instead, practice smiling the next time it happens. Practice using a goofy phrase such as "You zoned-out zooper, you're so good at that, buddy boy!"

It's hard to feel bad when you're using silly words and phrases to talk to yourself.

3. Repetition is the Key

The final key in this formula is repetition.

Just like a child must receive hundreds of consistent responses before he or she learns good behaviors and habits, you too must practice new skills before they become ingrained in your life.

Each time you catch yourself zoning out, practice your new skills, whether that's meditation, saying a phrase to yourself, or simply taking a moment to pause and collect your thoughts.

Do this over and over.

What gets repeated gets reinforced.

As they say in psychology and neuroscience, "neurons that fire together wire together."

When to Seek Help

But we must return to one very important thing: the matter of "dissociation."

If you feel like you are losing very long periods of time, such as 15 minutes or more, then something else might be going on, especially if you are leaving your body due to horrible events in the past or present.

This might be a trauma response, and you should seek help for it.

In Conclusion - You Can Overcome Temporary Memory Loss and Zone Back In

Zoning out is a part of life.

It happens from time to time.

What's important is that you catch it when it's happening to you--and then choose to do something about it.

How you respond is always more important than what happens to you.

Practicing the above strategies will improve your quality of life by helping you regain the power of your mind and complete more tasks in less time.

You're not a bad person if you lose your focus.

What you need to remember is that you have the power to get it back.

You can go from being "zoned out" to being "in the zone."

Start with awareness.

Build with repeated periods of focus.

And sustain with kindness for yourself.