There is no shortage of tools we can use to gain clarity when we’re feeling stuck. Brain dumps, flipping the script, or doing a “pros/cons” list are all helpful, but none of them work all of the time in every situation.
One approach that has a lot of broad applications but doesn’t seem to get much acclaim is one that I call “Zoom In, Zoom Out” and no, it has nothing to do with the virtual meeting platform.
Let’s say you’re feeling frustrated at a situation. You have a general sense of irritation but you can’t pinpoint what’s at the root. It can feel like one of those teensy splinters that is painful but almost invisible to the eye.
Just as with those splinters, it can help to take out a magnifying glass. A mental magnifying glass, if you will.
Zoom in: When did it start? Who is involved? What are some of the most palpable emotions?
Zoom in more: Is there something about the origin of this situation that is particularly bothersome? What about the people in the mix— do they bring anything of note to the situation? When naming the feelings, consider: are there other emotions behind that emotion?
Notice details. Notice textures. Notice nuance.
If zooming in doesn’t yield results, try zooming out. Pretend you’re taking ten giant steps back. Or, more dramatically, viewing it from 62 miles up.
Zoom out: What is the overall landscape? What is in the background? What may be in the periphery?
Zoom out more: How does this fit into the global scheme of your relationships/work/life? Does this deserve the level of attention it’s getting when you consider a more cosmic perspective?
Notice shapes. Notice patterns. Notice composition.
Pro tip: don’t try to zoom and zoom out at the same time; that might disrupt the time/space continuum, or at a minimum make this feel really overwhelming. Oh, and it might take practice to get the hang of it. But for my money, I find it’s even more impactful than that other kind of zooming.
Go on and zoom!*
*Yes, that is a shameless segue to offer this bit of nostalgia…and yes, I desperately wanted to be on the show.
My 5th grade teacher, Ms. McDowell, made us memorize the above acronym. While originally intended to be used to “uplevel” our writing, it can also be applied to creative problem solving. (The fact that I still have it memorized is a testament not only to its usefulness but also to how sticky the brain is during those early years.)
So, along with zooming in and out, maybe you should SCAMPER:
Minimize, Magnify, Modify
Put to other uses
(other) Smart People
“Accommodating a view
by being able to be seen through
is perceptual, not abstract,
like space painted white.”
Excerpt from Permanent Home by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
(Her book of poems, Empathy, is a DPS fave.)
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