So everyone whose head is not up a deep dark place knows about the adult coloring books craze. I recently saw a cute cartoon with two zebras facing each other, one with bright rainbow colored stripes saying “It is supposed to reduce stress.” What adult coloring books are/are not is the light topic I offer you today.


What adult coloring books are not is meditation or a purposefully designed mindfulness practice. To say that they are is a bit of an insult to those who take these practices seriously. Just because you sit down to color a pre-drawn image does not suddenly make you the Dali Lama.

And while there is a low level of creativity in coloring as an activity, (you select the colors, what areas to color, how intensely to press down, the rate of speed with which you color) it is not the same as making art with your own hands from scratch. In much the same way you can buy a roll of pre-made slice-and-bake cookies from Pillsbury, you may choose the coloring book you prefer, and let your inner Picasso out, as long as you stay inside the cubist lines.

Don’t be hatin’; I’m not dissing your coloring habit

Dissing coloring is not the point of this however. What coloring books do provide is clear. Number one is to shift your focus from external events beyond your control into an activity that is deliberately easy, and allows you the ultimate control. In this case, I propose that easy is good. Easy is fantastic. Sometimes easy is even necessary. Often at work or in our daily lives we grapple with problems that are difficult to solve. It is well documented that taking a break from intense focus on an issue can often result in our minds creating new approaches to old issues. The reason is that your mind is free to wander while in a more relaxed state.

Second, coloring is a structured activity that is not goal oriented. How often do you allow yourself a break from achievement? I submit we don’t do this often enough. Coloring is one way to take a breather. No one is grading you. No one is demanding anything of you. No one is there to satisfy but yourself.

Third, there appears to be some evidence (Claire Zedelius, 2009) that the repetitive action of coloring can increase your ability to focus, perhaps even increasing your skill at recalling details.

I support the idea of taking a little creative break now and then, whether or not you color, or choose some other activity that relaxes and frees your mind up, such as art journaling, or some other craft form. What determines the value is whether or not you can bring your focus into the present moment without wandering back to the issue that was previously consuming your thoughts. I do this occasionally with Zendoodles or Zentangles, or magazine collage combined with watercolor. Here are a couple of my watercolor collages.

Watercolor collage

Find a simple activity that allows you to shift your focus for awhile. Have the goal, if you simply must have a goal, that it is easy to do. And keep in mind that the activity is just for you, no one else. And it does not have to be perfect. Perfection is not only impossible, but it strays far away from easy. Easy does it in this case! Here is a coloring book I find amusing. Go ahead. Cut loose.