To understand the concept of “zooming in” or “zooming out” on your life, it’s helpful to visualize a more familiar concept, such as a camera.

Let’s start with a smartphone camera. It has a built in zoom capability, but it’s pretty limited. Most people use the camera as is, occasionally sliding their fingers to zoom and take a decent picture of some object in the distance. 

Next up in the camera world are DSLRs. These are typically what you think of today when you hear the word “camera”. This analogy will make more sense as we go along, but for us, there is one critical distinction between the smartphone and a DSLR – in a DSLR, you can choose your lenses. The casual photographer might get a basic zoom lens in a kit and leave it at that, but professional photographers know that the lens can make all the difference. This is also where you start to see some serious zooming power, with “super telephoto” lenses that cost 10’s of thousands of dollars. Why do they pay so much? So they can capture dramatic and detailed photos of things that most people can’t see from where they are standing. 

Let’s keep going into the world of telescopes and microscopes. These operate on the same principles as an everyday camera, just more extreme in terms of range and price (the James Webb Space Telescope is currently approaching $10 billion). They let you look inward to see individual atoms or look outward to see to the edge of the visible universe. The scale at these extreme ends is hard to comprehend (if you’ve never seen the 1977 short film “Power of Ten”, you should check it out).

Now think back to your smartphone. With all these amazing zoom capabilities out there, how much of your time do you limit your pictures to the default view on your phone? Probably most if not all. Is it convenient? Yes. Beautiful or insightful? Not so much. There is a reason the most powerful pictures tend to not come from smartphones.

And that was just zooming in space. You can also zoom in time. You can zoom out – there is today, this week, this year, this century, and all the way out to the 13.8 billion year existence of the universe. We also have technology that can go the other way and zoom in to 1/10 trillionth (1 x 10-13) of a second where you can watch a beam of light.

You can zoom in and out on a society – from an individual up through a city, a country, and eventually to the entire world. You can do it to an economy, from the individual purchase of a loaf of bread, to the multi-decade cycles of economic growth as Ray Dalio explains in this video. Zooming in and out is a technique you can apply almost anywhere.

So how do you apply it to your life? Like almost any change, my advice is begin small and play around with it. The starting point is to realize that most people live their lives without using a zoom at all. They stand there like those parents at their child’s soccer game, watching the game through the flat 2D screen on their phone as they record, rather than really looking at the live 3D match right in front of them.

Zooming in is actually easier. You may know it as focus time, or flow. The idea is you zoom in on the moment, forgetting about all of the other things going on in the world. There are entire meditation practices designed to help you zoom in – focusing on your breath and living in the moment. 
Zooming out is less talked about, but equally as valuable.

Zooming out immediately provides perspective. Despite how intense an experience may feel in the moment, it is rarely a moment that matters in the grand scheme of your life.

Zooming out is also a great way to advance your career.