Zone of Action: Do the possible to do the impossible

Zone of Action: Do the possible to do the impossible

What mental state are you in?

Are you distracted?
Bloated from eating too much food?

If I told you to run a marathon right now, would you actually do it? Most likely not.

But if I told you to do 5 bodyweight squats because it reduces the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and wakes you up a bit, would you do it? Maybe.

This illustrates a simple point—the actions we are able to take are dependent on our momentary mental state.

Most people know that working out is good: do some cardio every week, lift some weights, get healthier. And yet, most people don't do it. It's easy to imagine why.

When you're in the comfort of your own home, scrolling on your phone, you don't feel like working out. Unless you have a strong habit of working out already formed, you're not going to do it. Doing a 1 hour weight-lifting workout is pretty much impossible. It would take a rare flash of motivation or an extraordinary forcing circumstance to actually do it. In short, that 1 hour workout is outside your zone of possible action.

Zone of Action: Do the possible to do the impossible

Inaction leads to frustration

Doing an Ironman or deadlifting 500lbs is likely not possible for you right now. It might be just as impossible as 4 hours of deep work without checking your phone once.

A lot of what we see on Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok is impossible for us right now. Yet, we often feel as though we should be able to do it: cycle 100km, buy a $1 000 000 house, travel the world,...

Whatever it is, there's a good chance that all those things lie outside your own Zone of Action. And that is frustrating for us. We are unable to immediately gratify our urge.

Some of us are quite familiar with this vicious cycle:

See something awesome on social media
→ be unable to do it
→ feel bad about it
→ do nothing
→ continue scrolling.

This cycle continually creates frustration and reduces our self-worth because we feel that we are unable to do the things others are doing.

Before we go into what to do about this, it's useful to understand why we can't do something.

Why we can't take certain actions

The Ability Chain concept from behavior scientist BJ Fogg explains the top 5 factors that make an action possible or impossible for us.

It has 5 links:

The weakest link determines our ability. One bad link and we won't do a behavior, just like one bad link breaks the whole chain.

If we can't spare 10 minutes, we won't meditate.
If we have $0, we won't buy new shoes.

This concept helps you understand what the issue is, so that you can then determine what you actually can do.

Find a move in your Zone of Action

So what to do about that?

Find something you can do that is in your Zone of Action.

Can't do 15 pull-ups? Do 5 pull-ups or even hang on a bar for 30 seconds every morning.

Can't run a marathon? Run a mile or go for a walk.

Can't focus for 4 hours? Focus for 30 minutes.

But to get even more granular, let's go back to our initial example: you're lying on your bed or couch, scrolling social media. What are the realistic moves in your Zone of Action?

Close social media apps and make yourself coffee? Or take a nap? Or go to sleep?

Go for a short walk?

Read an article on our site?

Those actions require low enough commitment that you can actually take them, while also putting you on the productive path.

And here's the thing: once you start moving, other actions become possible.

When you go on a 20 minute walk (relatively easy) and see that it's really nice outside, it might be enough to inspire you to go for a 1 hour easy bike ride or a 5k run.

When you make yourself coffee and take a short no-tech break, it becomes possible to focus on a short task like answering 1 email. That action will put you in a better headspace to do additional focused effort.

Each action you take slightly changes your mental state, and in doing so redefines what you feel like you can actually tackle. So how to use this?

Focus all your effort on what you can actually do, given how you feel right now.

Whatever you want to do that you feel like you can't, find a move in the Zone of Action.

When you do, it starts a much better cycle. One that makes you feel good at the end of the day, instead of feeling that you didn't do anything worthwhile.

Over time, your Zone of Action will expand. As you build your confidence through targeted effort, it will stretch, and more actions will become easier and easier to do.

Zone of Action: Do the possible to do the impossible

What's in your Zone of Action right now?

Probably not the things you see on your social media feed.

What can you actually do to get a bit closer to a dream or a goal of yours?

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