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Zeno's pacing

Updated: Sep 18, 2023


Zeno's pacing
Zeno's pacing

This is a great mindfulness technique for anytime you’re feeling hurried, anxious, etc. It’s especially useful when you’re mind keeps getting ahead of itself and compulsively anticipating. The technique will help you slow down and reconnect with the flow of the present moment.

The basic technique: cover half of a chosen distance; then cover half of the remaining distance in the same amount of time; and so on, until you can no longer move.

Here’s some background and further details.

There is a famous thought-experiment called Zeno’s dichotomy paradox. In this experiment, Zeno asks: how does a runner ever reach the finish line?


The runner leaves from the starting line.


Eventually, the runner is halfway to the finish. Call that the “1/2” point.


The runner proceeds from the 1/2 point toward the finish. Eventually, the runner is halfway between 1/2 and the finish.Call that the “3/4” point.


The runner proceeds from the 3/4 point toward the finish. Eventually, the runner is halfway between 3/4 and the finish.Call that the “7/8” point.


The runner proceeds from the 7/8 point toward the finish. Eventually, the runner is halfway between 7/8 and the finish.Call that the “15/16” point.


This pattern continues to infinity. The runner will grow incrementally closer to the finish line. The runner may reach the 999/1000 point. But the runner will never reach the finish, because there will always be half-the-remaining distance to cover.


Zeno's pacing
Zeno's pacing

Zeno's pacing image:


The philosophical thought-experiment is fun to play with on its own.

Here, we’re using the experiment as a mindfulness technique.


The formula is: keep covering half the remaining distance, at the same duration each time.


Here's an example to illustrate the technique:


- imagine you have a standard 12' ruler in front of you

- you'd start by moving your finger from the 1" mark to the 6" mark - halfway

- let's say it takes you 4 seconds to cover that distance

- next, you'll cover half of the remaining distance - you'll go from the 6" mark to the 9" mark, and you'll do it in 4 seconds

- then, you'll cover half of the remaining distance - you'll go from the 9" mark to the 10.5" mark, and you'll do it in 4 seconds

- and so on, until the distance is so minute you can't make a meaningful movement


Here are a few applications of the technique:


Zeno's fingertip:


Pick two connected points. E.g., your elbow & your wrist, or two points on a tabletop.


Let's call those points A and Z.

Start at A. Slide your finger from A toward Z. Stop when you reach the halfway mark, which we'll call B.

Note how long it took you to go from A to B. Let's say, e.g., it took you 8 seconds.

Now, let your finger slide from B toward Z. Stop when you reach the halfway mark between B & Z. We'll call the halfway mark C. If it took you 8 seconds to go from A to B, take 8 seconds going from B to C. Notice that this requires you to move at half your previous speed.


Then repeat this same pattern for points D, E, F, etc.. Each time, you'll cover a shorter distance. Each time, you'll take the same amount of time (e.g. 8 seconds) covering that distance.

At some point, you'll reach a distance so minute that you can't make a meaningful movement. Consider that your stopping point.


The gist: keep covering half the remaining distance, at the same duration each time.


Zeno's gaze:


Pick two items or points in your visual field. E.g., the kitchen sink and the stove, or two clouds in the sky.

Use the same method described above. Except, instead of moving your finger, move your gaze.


The gist: keep covering half the remaining distance, at the same duration each time, until the remaining distance is so small you can’t make a meaningful movement, then stop.

Zeno's stride


From where you are, pick a point to walk to.


Use the same method described above. Except, instead of moving your finger or gaze, move your body.

The gist: keep covering half the remaining distance, at the same duration each time, until the remaining distance is so small you can’t make a meaningful movement, then stop.

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