We tend to think big when it comes to mastery. We increase scale and power. But we can go smaller too. One of the most useful tools I know for deepening your practice and experience is to zoom in. To start, we take something that—on its surface—appears to be binary. Yes or no. One or zero. And then we look for places where more subtle choices exist. We may even conjure some of them up. I’ll give you examples of this related to eating and exercise.
Let’s imagine that you put a bookend on your eating time. Maybe it’s some kind of fancy fasting protocol. Maybe it’s as simple as not eating after 8pm. And let’s say that one night—in a plot twist worthy of M.Night Shyamalan—you feel like snacking.
It feels binary. Eat or don’t eat. Triumph with willpower or crash and burn. Very dramatic! But what if you, instead, decide that you can eat whatever you want after you zoom in? That means starting with any or all of the following actions:
- Make a cup of tea
- Drink that tea
- Eat fermented foods like pickles, kimchee, or sauerkraut (no calories)
- Eat filling, nutrient dense foods like lean protein, veggies or fruit
- Move around for a few minutes
- Sit quietly and silently for one minute
- Check in with how you feel—and whether it’s truly hunger
- Get completely prepared for bed
- Go to sleep
You may wind up snacking. You may even wind up eating something wildly imperfect. But each layer of action and decision-making makes a difference. They increase the likelihood of feeling good—in the present and the next day. As we like to say at Bang, friction, not restriction.
Once again, we have a binary view—continue an exercise or stop. We stop when we’re tired. We stop when we’re unsure about safety. Sometimes, we just stop because we reached some arbitrary rep number or other external measure. Sometimes, we’re just distracted. But I’m interested in the moments where we keep going.
Stretching things out just a tiny bit builds resilience. It also helps you tune into your true boundaries. Safety first. No question. But learning where you can gently push your boundaries is a close second. It’s incredibly valuable—and transfers well beyond the gym.
What if the next time you notice wanting to stop, you instead do one or some of the following:
- Assess how close to your limits you are
- Assess your level of technical execution
- Ask what the next tiny milestone could be (one rep? How about a half a rep?)
- Take note of the physical signals telling you to stop
- Take note of the mental signals telling you to stop
- Allow yourself to fully experience discomfort in the moment
- Say to yourself, “I can do hard things”
- Coordinate your breathing with your movement
- Add five more seconds of work
Awareness is an amazing thing. It’s like looking at fractals. You see the big pattern first. But if you zoom in, you see there’s a whole world in there. And within each decision, there is a whole network of even more subtle nested decisions.
Curiosity leads this process. Creativity and awareness boost it. It’s pretty cool.