Your Zone of Proximal Development

Zone of Proximal DevelopmentYour edge.

The place you can step into.

Grow into.

Your zone of possibility.

Your zone of proximal development is the space just outside your current capacity that you can reach if you have the right support.

Last year I suggested that biohacking is the ultimate new years resolution.

Because as long as you stick to biohacking principles, you can’t fail. If you fall off your program, you can turn your attention to that and start hacking your will-power, or adjusting your goals, or fine-tuning the strategies you are using to achieve them.

But why do we fail when we set self-improvement goals?

Zone of Proximal Development 5The Zone of Proximal Development

Zone of proximal development theory suggests there are 2 reasons:

  1. The goal is outside the zone of possibility; or
  2. The goal is inside the zone, but the strategy didn’t include the necessary scaffolding to achieve it.

To find your goal-achievement sweet spot you need to:

  1. Determine the boundaries of your zone of proximal development;
  2. Set a goal that’s inside your zone; and
  3. Determine what supports you need to achieve that goal.

If your supports are adequate, you should be good to go!

By moving into your zone, chances are you’re expanding it, thereby increasing the likelihood that more ambitious goals will eventually end up inside your zone, too.

Let’s geek out ZPD theory a little more

The zone of proximal development, or ZPD, is my #2 parenting strategy of all time.

I’ve been a parent for 60% of my life and in that time I’ve tried a lot of things. Consistently, ZPD enables me to do my best work as a parent.

My top parenting strategies 4ZPD is also my #2 life strategy.

Developed by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky in the 1920s & 30s, ZPD was lost for decades before it resurfaced near the end of the 20th century.

Vygotsky hypothesized that humans are hard-wired to learn certain things.

Like language.

Put any child in a environment full of speech and affection, and barring a significant cognitive disability, they will learn to speak fluently.

Nobody has to create a structure for that to occur.

But if we want to learn things that we aren’t necessarily hard-wired for, we need appropriate supports.

Vygotsky suggested that to help develop certain skills and capacities, we need to first determine the scope of an individual’s zone of proximal development and then create customized supports to help them to grow into that potential.

Later theorists referred to these supports as scaffolding.

Both the ZPD and the required scaffolding are unique to each of us.

So, in the biohacking context, not only are we taking bioindividuality into consideration, which includes our particular health status and our environment, but also our ZPD and the supports that are effective for each of us as individuals. Those are the dimensions of n=1 experimentation.

Lev Vygotsky. Image from

Lev Vygotsky. Image from

Sound like a lot to sort out?

It is, but each of these elements can be simplified considerably by approaching the n=1 project in a systematic way. And if you put your energy into discerning what these dimensions are for you, rather than copying what someone else is doing or pursuing goals in a haphazard way, you’ll find yourself way ahead.

In fact, taking time to plan using ZPD is an excellent way to successfully move through the contemplative stage of change.

According to ZPD theory, part of designing the appropriate scaffolding to support the development of an individual involves:

  • their receptivity to particular types of support;
  • the sequence that the supports are offered in; and
  • how willing and adaptive a person is.

These factors not only effect the design of effective scaffolding to support change, but also effect the size of the ZPD.

Zone of Proximal Development biggerYou can make your zone bigger.

Vygotsky also believed that the ZPD of many people was larger when they were in a supportive social context than when they were alone, and that social networks can act as scaffolding for growth.

SAD to AIP in 6

All of this is one reason why I endorse Angie Alt’s SAD to AIP in 6 every time she offers it.

SAD to AIP in 6 provides appropriate scaffolding in a supported and social context to make the transition to the AIP possible.

Learn more about the SAD to AIP in 6 program here.

4 thoughts on “Your Zone of Proximal Development

  1. Petra–this is a great example of why I love you!! Someday, I’m gonna make you a lovely cup of tea and we will talk for hours. Thank you.

  2. I’m sitting a written exam tomorrow that includes a lot of child development theory (BTW our course attributes scaffolding to Jerome Bruner), but I’d never thought of the ZPD in terms of my own journey. Thank you Petra for making me think – again!

    • Yes, Bruner came up with the term scaffolding & I like it because it suggests that the supports we need may be temporary. We can erect them whenever we need them, and then as we become stronger in that space they can gradually be dismantled. Bruner emphasizes scaffolding for children’s cognitive development, but I find the scaffolding concept quite useful for any change for any person, particularly changes in habits. I use it a lot in my work with young parents who live with conditions of complex risk. Good luck on your exam tomorrow~!

  3. Pingback: Achieving Your Health Goals | petra8paleo

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