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One Stroke at a Time...

One Stroke at a Time...

Julie writes...

I often find when writing a blog post, the underlying theme is how the characteristics and philosophies of the Zentangle Method have made their way off my tiles and into my everyday life. Things such as gratitude and appreciation come easy to me, but the “No Mistakes” took a little more time to embrace (and I am still working on it!), but the one that I think has affected me most is “anything is possible, one stroke at a time.”



I’ve always had a flare for the dramatics and for as long as I can remember, my first instinct when faced with an unknown situation was to get all worked up and try to figure out how to solve the whole problem or situation all at once. While in the end, things usually worked out how they were supposed to, it was not without some unnecessary self-induced stress.

However, that is not how the Zentangle Method works. When you sit down to begin a tile, you don’t know what the end result will be. Perhaps, you have an idea of where you want to take your tangles, but as you begin to tangle, you take things one stroke at a time. You can’t finish a tile without first putting down the first stroke, and then the second and so on. This is one of the greatest lessons that practicing the Zentangle Method gives us. It creates a path for us to take things, one stroke at a time.

When I first began working at Zentangle HQ, I came in one morning to begin processing and printing orders only to find that a clock had fallen off the wall, landing on the computer and ultimately damaging it and making it unusable. If I remember correctly, we had just released a new product, so it was a busier day that usual and my first instinct was panic. I distinctly remember though how Rick and Maria handled the situation. It was unfortunate, of course, but they very much took a one stroke at a time approach, which was calm and productive. Over the years, that small incident has stuck with me and is always a reminder to take things, one stroke at a time.

Fast forward, and my husband and I find ourselves on an exciting, new chapter of life. While we are more than thrilled, we are faced with many unknowns. Unknowns and uncertainties can lead to fear and panic if you let them, but the good news is you don’t have to. In the beginning of this journey, my husband and I began to discuss preparations and decisions we would have to make and all of sudden everything felt very overwhelming and I just wanted all of the answers all at once. That is not how life works though, so I took a deep breath and told him we were going to take this one step at a time. We looked at what decisions needed to be made first and figured out what did we need to know to begin and then focused on those things first.

We have repeatedly reminded ourselves of this mindset over the past six months and will continue to do so whenever necessary, all while being grateful for this wonderful and exciting adventure full of unknowns and opportunities.

I was inspired to write this blog before recent world events, I just had not gotten around to putting my thoughts into words yet. Given all the uncertainty in the world right now, I think these principals are important to remember. We cannot solve every problem all at once and there are going to be things out of our control, so now it is as important as ever to take things one stroke at a time. Updated May 27... Reading through this blog again, I can feel all of those feelings of excitement, anticipation, worry of the unknown, uncertainty all over again. I have a very clear memory of sitting at my dining room table writing this blog. Even then, I did know how much the “anything is possible, one stroke at a time,” mantra would become a part of me over the next two years.

Updated May 27...


At the time of writing, I was pregnant with my first child and my husband and I were planning and preparing the best that we could. That is what I do, I plan, and I prepare. My default mode is not “one stroke at a time” it is, “all the strokes, all at once.” Well, motherhood has tested all of my abilities to plan and prepare (it is very humbling in that way). For the past two years I have been forced (in the best way possible) to take things, one step at a time, one day at a time, one minute at a time. I sit down on Sunday, and I plan my week, full of work, chores, errands, exercise and such. What I can’t plan for is cleaning the crayon off the wall, the toddler tantrums (being 2 can be tough), the extra load of laundry because he will only wear that one shirt with the dinosaur on it, or a horrific tragedy that makes you just want to sit down and hold him tight and not let go.

It is in these moments that I lean on the “one stroke at a time” philosophy. I push all of the lists and plans out of my mind and focus on the moment that I am in. A feeling that is still a bit foreign to me but one that is both calming and energizing at the same time.

Yesterday I pulled out a tile and I began to tangle. I had no plan. No list of tangles to use or things to accomplish. I was not even sure I was going to finish the tile so there was no use in wondering what it would look like when it was completed. I sat, and I tangled one slow and deliberate, good for the soul, stroke at a time.

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Leave us your thoughts on taking things one stroke at a time and we will select a commenter at random to receive an “Anything is Possible…One Stroke at a time” Zentangle MantraBand.

Julie Willand

55 comments

  • Wonderful to hear your story Julie! You inspire me!

    Alice Steuck Konkel on

  • Thank you, Julie. I find your posts, and your tangling videos in the Project Packs to be some of my favorites. I like the way you call your favorite tangle your mac ‘n cheese tangle. That’s so funny. I love mac ’n cheese and you taught me to love Marisu.

    Ann Baum on

  • Like you, Julie, I am a “planner” and detail oriented, so “one stroke at a time” did not resonate well! But it is this philosophy that has changed me and guided me through the last 2 years, and especially through the events in our country the past 2 weeks. It is always the “surprise ending” of every tile that that reinforces all the lessons of Zentangle. A huge thank you to you for sharing the honesty of your journey. It strengthens all of us in our individual struggles.

    Bonnie Johnson CZT36 on

  • Especially the various current situations in the world make it necessary to be in the here and now and to proceed step by step. Especially when you are used to planning a lot in advance, this is very difficult. Zentangle is a good basis for practising this procedure and staying confident.

    Claudia on

  • Not only is this blog timely for all of us, I appreciate Julie reflecting on how the lessons of the Zentangle method haven’t changed, but they are now applicable to an entirely new set of circumstances. I would love to read the next update in 2024!

    Susan Litteral on

  • Hi Julie,

    Over my working years I have worked with cancer and alzheimer patients and carers, I was always thrown into whirlwinds of work, homelike, research and sometimes a tad of time for me. Life was such a chaotic mess at times. I wish I could of known about “one stroke at a time” then. Now due to me practising and teaching the Zentangle method I am so much calmer, in control, definitely not worrying very much and thanks to this, my health and mental health have improved. For this I am grateful along with some of my students whose lives have changed for the better for this practice of "one stroke at a time ".

    Gloria (Jo) Flynn on

  • Hi Julie, thanks for the update. As a fellow perfectionist and mom of 3 young men , it is a constant struggle to stay regulated-in a place where one can think and act with the one stroke at a time mentality. Even with 25 years of meditation and yoga! It has been rough since CZT38 training and can’t seem to get off the ground with the triage of family life and health issues. I am starting some breathwork practices to see if it can help me process my past traumas and help me stay regulated more often. It is a retraining of the nervous system. Family life has triggered the past and gotten me stuck in sympathetic drive-anger and frantic action mostly and occasionally the freeze response- where I feel burned out and lethargic. I do art most nights now and it helps me calm down for bed. Every parent needs to know that their children may trigger past trauma and bring up strong emotions. We have to move through them in a safe environment, feel safe to feel them and then we can get to a regulated place and live more from one stroke at a time. It is not our failings if we cannot do it all the time. AND we can do something about it. We are empowered. And know it is still hard to feel feelings but it is worth it. Peace to you all.

    Julia Davenport on

  • Sometimes you just have to sit back and enjoy the “one stroke at a time” moments and your post is a great reminder of this – thanks

    Angela Drummond on

  • The “Anything is possible” and “No Mistakes” mantras have helped me so much, both at home and at work. I have had to tangle to reboot my brain when it behaved like that circle that goes round and round when the computer has frozen!

    Catherine Gisby on

  • Thanks for your update, Julie! Your life lesson illustrates the power (and flexibility) of humans to evolve; to adapt to their environment or situation; to improvise; and to accept change. Species who cannot evolve, adapt, improvise, or accept change often become extinct.

    As a retired professional “planner,” I find the gift of Zentangle is a methodology, not only to create something beautiful, but in the process, I’ve learned how to evolve, adapt, accept, or cope with so many things in my personal life that I cannot plan for, nor control. Thanks for reminding me to reflect on my progress.

    Jessica Dykes (aka Jake) on

  • “Anything is possible one stroke at a time”

    What wonderful words to live by. Something in these troubling times I am striving to implement into my own life.
    Julie thank you so much for sharing your very personal thoughts and story in your blog. It is truly inspirational.

    Linda Rowland on

  • Thank u for sharing as it totally resonated with me. Yes I too want solutions for every single problem at once. I used to freeze if I am confronted with a problem and if I can’t solve it or find a solution, I would just want to keep myself away from it. Alas! Life is not that easy 😁. One stroke at a time helps to keep calm at the same time energizes, very true. Yesterday I too started a tile with no planning and going one stroke at a time😊keep going 👍

    Ramadevi Srinivasan on

  • Thank you Julie for sharing your struggles and insights. With all that is going on in the world today, it is a relief to read an article with a positive and uplifting message! Maybe peace, harmony, and happiness will eventually find us all by taking it one stroke at a time…one day at a time.

    Carol R. on

  • I’ve been conscious of the parallels of one stroke at a time and one moment at a time very much lately. When facing PTSD triggers, it’s so easy to get caught up in the overwhelm of feelings it produces. Stepping back and handling it one moment at a time has really helped.

    Chrissie Murphy on

  • There are passages in the Bible that allude to this concept, one of my favorites is Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your paths.” We take our life journey not knowing the end destination, and have to trust that it will be the path we are meant to take. We can have an idea of where we want to go (like when we start a tangle) but we won’t know how it ends until we’re done!

    Peg Foltz on

  • With all that is going on in the world today, I depend on my tangling even more to help me de-stress, and narrow my focus to one stroke, one minute at a time. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    Ellen Weinman on

  • Oh Julie,

    This is such a wonderful piece in these challenging times. Thank you. And…Congratulations on having a toddler now…tantrums and all :-). I’ve been finding the need for “One stroke at a time” recently as well. Just this. This too. Now this. Breath.

    Molly Siddoway King, CZT on

  • A therapist friend once passed along some good advice that I use. It really echoes the “one stroke at a time” philosophy. When a client expressed being “frozen” because of being totally overwhelmed with too much to do, she should make a list of everything the she needed or wanted to do. Then she would pick one thing on the list to begin to work on. If she could only work on the project for five minutes, that was just fine. It was a start; an accomplishment; one stroke at a time. Very helpful advice, indeed.

    Jane Rhea on

  • Thanks for this post. It is true for me also that Zentangle mottos have become larger than life. I have begun to notice that I can move into a high anxiety quite easily. And now with the Zentangle method and sitting down to draw I can move out of high anxiety quite easily

    Lisa Hoesing on

  • Never have I wanted and needed to Tangle than this time in my life. My husband of 45 years is dying of cancer and my heart is broken. 💔 I find comfort with Zentangle. Thank you Julie. ❤️

    Claudia Lowery on

  • Thank you for sharing these wise reminders.

    Nancy CZT18 on

  • This comes at a good time for me. I have joined a few FB group challenges, and spend way too much time looking at others’ complex creations, which incite me to try to come up with something equally complicated, which adds stress to the situation, which is certainly not supposed to be what it’s all about! I like that Maria’s tiles illustrating Well during this month have been very simple, easy to follow. And if one wants to kick it up a notch, they are easy to add one embellishment or a bit of color without shooting for the moon in terms of complexity. Thank you for this blog, thank you for the videos. Thank you.

    KENDRA PAGE on

  • I have always been a take the bull by the horns and let’s do it all at once kind of person. I discovered Zentangle after losing my job. Beginning with the early project packs showed me how to slow down, breathe, concentrate and yes, one stroke at a time. This method has helped me get through the pandemic shut down, finding a new job and making some important decisions about my future without jumping in feet first. I know find myself coming home from work, taking care of pets, paying bills and doing chores-all the while looking forward to the time when I can sit by myself and tangle one stroke at a time. It is calming in these crazy times to just go slow and enjoy what I create.

    Kathleen Wiktor on

  • This remains one of my favorite life lessons of my Zentangle practice. And one of my favorite aspects to share with others as I teach. Thanks for sharing your story, Julie.

    Diane Harpster on

  • Thanks for your important story Julie. It’s a great reminder & actually it’s the only way I can function well!

    Rimona Gale on

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