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Macro, micro, macro

Before I start, this is not my concept, rather my thoughts on a concept popularised by CrossFit several years ago, and one that stood out to me for both its efficacy, and its applicability, when I read it during my study for the Certified CrossFit Trainer's credential some 4.5 years ago.

The article and video from 2010 discusses the concept of observing the big, or whole, picture (macro) to identify a fault. Once the fault is identified, we zoom in to fix that fault (micro). At this point, many coaches just stop. The part that resonated with me was the final step back to observe the bigger picture (macro) one more time. This is because while you may have corrected the local fault, you may have induced another further up, or even down the chain. In short, improving the original fault may have had an net negative outcome. In order to make this concept a little clearer, allow me give an example.

You observe an overhead squat, from the side. You notice that the athlete has the bar a little forward of the frontal plane, or the line above the middle of the foot, more towards the toe. You close in to cue the athlete to pull back on the bar. The athlete now has the bar above the mid-foot. Great! Until you step back that is. You now see the shoulders have further internally rotated to compensate, and the torso is now further inclined. So what to do? Well, we repeat the process, but with an important change; we identify the first critical fault. The fault that occurs first in the movement that begins the chain of events. We triage to make sure we're identifying the cause, not just a symptom. On second look, you notice the athlete's ribcage is flared before beginning the descent, with the bar held overhead, and that they initiate with the knees, meaning the weight shifts into the toes early in the movement. We now have a static and a dynamic fault to work on that occur far before the bar being held slightly forward in the bottom of the lift.

So why exactly do I find this so applicable outside of the gym? I think it works with anything you're trying to improve in your life, and that the two macro steps are the parts we often get wrong.

The first macro, getting the big picture, is something we fail to do quite often. We don't step back and observe enough of the context surrounding a problem to identify its route cause, or its origins. We pop a paracetamol to subdue a headache, without examining how much water we have taken on during the day. We rub ointments on skin problems, without looking at the quality of the food we consume, we use caffeine as a crutch, without looking at our quantity and quality of sleep. I could go on. Often we try to treat the one thing we see, rather than stepping back. The examples I have given are simple, singular instances, but in life things are rarely so simple. Take for example the caffeine and sleep idea. We might find that increasing sleep from 6 hours each evening to 8 reduces our caffeine requirements by a coffee per day, and it also means we are awake for two less hours, meaning we experience less boredom masquerading as hunger, and so we eat slightly less. We now find ourselves £1-3 per day better off, depending on the exact cost of food and coffee, and also losing a little weight. We now find it easier to motivate ourselves to go to the gym, because training feels that little easier when you shift a little bit of excess weight, so you develop a new and rewarding routine. I could follow this spider's web of cause and effect for a long time, but suffice it to say that intervening earlier in the chain and addressing a route cause will solve, quite often, problems other than the single on you were trying to solve.

So what about after our intervention, after zooming in on sleep and improving it? Well maybe we zoom back out and realise that, while many things are great as a result of the intervention, that you have lost an hour of quality time with your partner in the evening by going to bed at 9pm, rather than 10pm. Maybe now you need to adjust your sleep from 9-5 to 10-6 to maximise both? Maybe a compromise of 7 hours still gives some of the positive outcomes, and you prefer this balance? Maybe you attend a class or something similar with your partner to get back that hour of shared time? The reality is almost any change will have some negative consequences, even if they aren't immediately obvious.

That second macro step is just as important. This is where we analyse the effects of our intervention, both good and bad. It's important to realise the time frame over which this second macro analysis is conducted is important too, and will vary greatly depending on the situation. If you're talking shifting capital from one fund to another, it make take a couple of quarters, even a couple of years to really see the effects you are looking for.

So, in summary, the bigger picture matters, not just generally in order to identify problems and possible causes, but after any intervention in order to identify effects. It's also a cyclical process, the second macro analysis of the first iteration, becomes the first macro analysis of the second iteration, and so on.

The challenge is to now spot one thing in your life that is upsetting you, causing concern, or that you're just generally unhappy with, and zoom out far enough to see it in the context of your whole life. Start there, and see how you get on. Be patient, like most things in life, it is a skill that requires work!


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