You’re motivated. You know exactly what you need to do, you’ve got it all planned out and all you need to do is stick with it. What could go wrong?
Day one, check. You manage to stick with your goals and you’re feeling good. Day two, check. You did it but feel your motivation waning.
Day three, miss. You wanted to do it, but realized it’d be months before you made any real progress and felt discouraged. Day four quit. The idea of not seeing big results for months has made you give up.
Can you relate to this scenario? Most of us can, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
The big picture is holding you back
That’s right, contrary to what you see plastered all over the internet, the big picture can actually hurt you. (And it can hurt you in a big picture way too).
You were taught the wrong way
It’s not that the big picture is inherently bad, but the way you’ve been taught is all wrong. It’s unfortunate because it’s the same everywhere you look, “imagine yourself as a success” has become the 101 on big-picture advice.
How to use the big picture the correct way
There’s a smart way to approach your goals and use the big picture, but first, we should take a look at the major problems with it. See if you can relate to these four problems, then I’ll show what you should about them afterward.
1. It makes you fantasize
You might not realize it, but there’s a chance that when you envision yourself as a success (i.e. imagine the big picture), you get a little “high” off the feeling of it.
Even though it’s not real, you still get that feeling of achievement and it makes you fantasize. So if any of you out there are prone to fantasies and daydreaming, this just might be the reason for it.
2. It makes you feel overwhelmed
Do you ever just think of something you’d like out of life and then dismiss it as quickly as you thought it? Want to know why you did that? Because you thought it was too “unrealistic” of a goal.
For example, having a “hot body” would require too many days in the gym; becoming a skilled guitarist would require too many hours of practice; becoming more healthy would require eating too many bland meals.
The feeling of overwhelm is so effective that you don’t even consider some ideas. Even if you do end up pursuing a goal, it’s easy to quit when you don’t see any results after the first few days (right as your motivation runs out).
This happens all the time and is a major issue with the big picture.
3. It makes you focus on planning and no action
The big picture is all about the end goal and the process of getting there.
The problem with any plan is that there’s an infinite number of small steps that can be included in one. And for each step, you can include a contingency plan in case it doesn’t work (and your contingency can include its own contingency as well).
See the problem?
It’s easy to get caught up with making sure you’re “on the right path” (i.e. following the big picture).
Every hour spent planning could be spent on actually creating a good outcome for yourself. It’s not hard to come up with a few small tasks that you know for sure will lead to good things, that’s what you should be focusing on instead.
4. It makes you inflexible
When you make a big picture plan, you strive to stick to that plan. But in the initial phases, there’s a critical window where it’s still easy to quit.
This period is vulnerable because it’s right after your motivation has worn off but before you’ve developed strong enough habits to overcome gaps in your consistency.
If at any point you miss more than a few sessions of work, you’ll fall off the boat completely. Why? Because you’ll say “I’ll start again tomorrow,” but never actually do it.
Eventually, you’ll just stop thinking about it and pretend like you were never doing it, to begin with. It sucks, but it happens all the time.
The correct way to approach your goals
Here are three smart tips for approaching the big picture and goal achievement in general.
1. A glance at the big picture, never focus on it
Personal development guru Stephen of “Deep Existence” says to think of the big picture like a jigsaw puzzle.
We use the picture on the cover (i.e. the “big picture”) as a point of reference. You shouldn’t stare at the cover while putting the pieces together, you’d fumble around and make a mess of things.
It’s impossible to create something with grace if you don’t give 100% focus to what you’re doing, so imagine how good your results will be if you don’t give that focus to each step your actually doing (essentially the building blocks of your goal).
So instead, just glance at the big picture occasionally (instead of constantly thinking about it). Focus most of your attention on what you’re actually doing, and then every once in a while making sure that it fits into the grand scheme of things.
Don’t let your lofty goals scare you away by thinking about them too much, it’s not like it’s going to disappear if you don’t think about it.
Just do the work, and eventually, you’ll meet your goals.
2. Focus most of your efforts on the smallest, most actionable steps
Following on that last tip, make sure to give complete focus to each and every step. Don’t worry about what’s happening in 10 steps or 5 steps, only what’s happening right this moment (with “an idea” of what the next step will be).
This line of thinking creates an ultra-flexible mindset. You’re not going to be thrown for a loop because you missed out on assignment or changed your schedule last-minute.
This way you never end up feeling like you’ve “strayed too far from the path,” which leads to wanting to give up.
3. Let your experiences guide you towards your goal
The great thing about taking action is that you learn everything you need from it. It serves as an internal compass that changes course each time you learn from your experiences.
This is all you need to start with. Don’t worry about what you want five years from now, one year from now, or even one month from now.
Chances are you’ll need to adjust the goal anyway, towards something more relevant to what your experiences show you.
The bottom line
I don’t think the big picture is a bad thing, but for most people, it isn’t very helpful.
People who’ve just started to pursue a goal are most vulnerable to the flaws of a big picture focus, mostly since they haven’t developed the discipline or knowledge needed to stick with a big lofty goal.
Only people with good habits in place (i.e. people who won’t abandon ship after missing a few days) should create detailed plans, they’re the most likely to stick with them after all.
(But of course, this means they’ve taken several small steps already, which is what you should be worried about – not the big picture). So if you’ve got a new goal in place, don’t worry too much about it.
Instead, focus on the small steps that’ll get you there. You’ll mess-up, yeah, but you’ll learn from it, and you’ll learn how to adjust the sails as well. And that’s all you really need.