What does success look like to you? What do you think about when you hear the word “success”? The answers to these questions are extremely important. Why? Because how you think about success directly effects whether or not you achieve success. It’s really simple. When you think small, you tend to achieve small results. On the other hand, when you think big, you tend to achieve big results. IT all comes down to your state of mind and how much you want to get where you want to be.
Many people fail to reach their goals because, deep inside, they don’t believe they can achieve those goals. As a result, they draw their focus back. Instead of wanting a better job, they settle for a smaller reward. This smaller focus is want keeps them back. Treading water and never making any forward progress towards those big dreams.
The goal of this post is to break the habit of thinking small and settling for less. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to ever settle for anything but what they desire the most. The key to doing this is believing that your very biggest goals are within reach. That’s what thinking big is all about. It’s about changing the way you think about life and your role in the world. It’s about rewiring some very basic behaviors in your brain, so that you begin to see what’s truly possible. It’s about taking positive forward steps, perhaps for the first time, towards a new attitude towards life and success. It’s about getting what you really want.
In order for you to get what you really want, what you truly desire, we’re going to look very closely at the concept of thinking big. We’ll start by taking a look at the reasons we have the ability to think big in the first place. After all, if you don’t understand the origin of a process you can never hope to truly master that process and make it work in your own life. Next, we’ll take a look at why thinking big matters. We’ll ask the question “Why thing big?” and we’ll provide some eye opening answers that you may have not considered before. Finally, we’ll look at the think big process, focusing on specific techniques and mindset hacks that will allow you to adjust your attitude and behavior so that thinking big becomes second nature to you. So, if you’re ready to start thinking big and making some very real substantive changes in your own life, let’s get started!
The Road to Thinking Big
However, before you can begin to rewire your brain, you have to understand a little bit about this marvelous organ, where it came from and why it exists. Having this background understanding is an essential foundation on which any significant cognitive change is built.
We are the only creatures on this planet with the ability to rationally think about the world we inhabit. Every other creature reacts to the environment they exist in. We, on the other hand, are able to do more than react. We have the ability to actively change the environment around us. We can remake the world to fit our vision of that world and how we fit into that world. Why is this is so?
The answer to that question lies back in the mists of time. At some point, we developed the ability to proactively change the world. This was certainly not something that occurred in a single instant. Instead, it was a very gradual development that owed its existence to numerous independent factors.
Over millions of years, the size of our brains slowly increased. This increased brain size, in turn, led to increased computational abilities. The bigger our brains got, the more powerful they became and the more we were able to begin manipulating the world. So, in order to understand the brain, we have to look at the factors that led to its gradual growth.
In the beginning, we were forest dwellers. We spent the vast majority of our time in the canopy of the forest. The trees were our homes and our defense. We gathered food there, slept there and, when in danger, we sheltered there. This environment was relatively stable. As a result, we were stable as well. We existed, but we didn’t develop.
Most developmental changes result from environmental stresses. Think about it. Most people are content to work a job that they don’t particularly care for because staying at that job is easier than looking for another one. If economic stress factors cause the elements of that job to change, think shorter hours or less pay, then the person working that job is forced to change as well. This process of stress forcing change is precisely what forced our ancestors to take the first steps that led to us.
You see, millions of years ago, the climate began to change. The world became drier and warmer. As a result of this climate change, the forests that our ancestors called home began to disappear. There were far fewer trees and more empty space between those trees. In addition, vast swaths of land became relatively free of any tress whatsoever. This landscape of scattered patches of thinner forest surrounded by larger areas of open grassland is what we now call a savannah. This was precisely the landscape that led to us.
As the forests died back, many species that relied on those forests for sustenance and defense perished. Those species that survived did so by adapting to the changing circumstances. Our ancestors obviously adapted to the environmental stresses they faced. The fact that you’re here reading these words is proof of that fact. So, what was the exact nature of these adaptions and how did they relate to brain development?
Remember that our ancestors were tree dwellers. This meant that they used all four limbs to navigate through the forest canopy. As a result, when they were out of the trees and on the ground, they used all four limbs to walk. They were arboreal quadrupeds who were not particularly fast or graceful when out of the trees.
When trees became scarcer, our ancestors were forced out of the forest and out into the grassland to find food. This grassland was similar to those that still exist today. Seasonally, they were covered by tall grasses. These grasses limited visibility to a few feet when down among them. The only way to see farther was to look over the tops of the grass and the only way to look over the top of the grass was to somehow manage to be taller than the grass itself.
Imagine a group of our ancestors heading out onto the savannah to eat. They would be on all fours, moving through the grass, unable to see very far. This made them extremely vulnerable to being attacked by predators. The only way to avoid becoming dinner was to get advance warning of the approach of any predators and moving quickly back to the safety of the trees. Somewhere, sometime millions of years ago, one of our ancestors accomplished this task by standing up on their rear legs in order to see above the tops of the grass. This not only allowed our ancestors to survive by increasing the chances that they would survive the trip out of forest, it was also the first step towards increased brain capacity.
Eventually, over a large period of time, we went from being a quadruped to a biped. This ability to stand upright and walk not only allowed us to be more successful in the environment we inhabited, it also led to several radical physical changes in how we experienced the world.
First, upright posture changed our vision. Our eyes moved closer together, allowing us to have more perfect stereoscopic vision. We also developed the ability to distinguish between a close range of color variations and to see and recognize patterns very quickly. Finally, we developed acute peripheral vision that allowed us a near 180 degree field of vision. All of these visual developments occurred so that we could become very adept at spotting potential dangers. However, they also had a secondary effect. You see, acute vision also requires a greater amount of computational capacity in the brain. Because of climate change, we became more vulnerable to predation. Because of increased predation, we developed acute vision. Because of increased vision, we developed bigger brains.
Second, walking upright meant that two of our limbs suddenly were much less involved in locomotion. This meant that they were much more available to explore and experiment with the environment. As a result, we began to develop very responsive and sensitive hands – hands that were capable of performing and repeating intricate and unique sets of micro-movements. These flexible and coordinated hands allowed us to become the makers and users of tools. For the first time, we began to alter the environment around us to our favor. In addition, a complex set of hands also requires complex computational capabilities. Once again, a side effect of the environmental changes that caused us to become bipedal was increased brain size.
As upright tools users, we began to manipulate our environment even more. One of the biggest of these manipulations was the use of fire. Fire gave us warmth. Fire kept the darkness and the dangers that it concealed at bay. More importantly, fire gave us the ability to cook food and cooking food gave us another incredible advantage.
You see, it takes a lot of time to process raw food. Most of this time is spent in the process of chewing. Before fire, our ancestors would have spent a great amount of their waking hours processing the food they found by chewing it. On average, a gorilla spends eight hours a day chewing food. Our ancestors would have done the same simply because wild fruits, vegetables and raw meat are simply not easily digestible. Before you can efficiently digest raw food, you have to break it down into a manageable form and this means using teeth to grind the food up.
Cooking food over a fire changed all that. Cooked food is much easier to process. As a result, it requires much less chewing. This frees up more time to do other things, such as exploring and experimenting with the environment to improve your condition or simply sitting and thinking or socializing. In addition, cooking food also provided another important benefit. You see, cooked food is much more nutritionally dense. One ounce of cooked food gives you much more food power than one ounce of raw food. This meant that when our ancestors began to use fire they not only had more time to think and socialize, they also had more fuel to use when thinking and socializing. The brain is a very hungry organ and it uses a lot of calories to run efficiently. When our ancestors began to have more calories at the same moment they had more time to socialize, the size of their brains exploded and so did their ability to change the world in even more profound ways.
Socialization is perhaps the most important factor in our ability to think big. Up to this point, our brain capacity was increasing, albeit modestly. The ability to socialize ramped up the development of that capacity considerably. Think about it this way. Humans not only have the power to think rationally, we also have the biggest social network of any other creature. The costs of having such a large capability are high. Getting along peacefully with large numbers of other individuals requires a complex set of skills and behaviors. These skills and behaviors, in turn, require larger brain capacity. So, fire freed up our time for more socialization and socialization drove larger brain development.
You can think about it in these terms. As our brains became larger, we were able to form larger and more complex social groups. These larger groups were able to gather more food, which allowed for a larger calorie load that supported larger brains. Larger social groups also required even more complex behaviors, which also drove development. In other words, the larger the group became, the more complex the social interactions became and the larger the brain became. It was all tied together and it’s still all tied together today.
There is something called the Dunbar number, named after the researcher who developed the concept. The Dunbar number refers to the number of social relationships that one person can have. For the average person, this comes to about 150. Of the 150, about 5 tend to be intimate relationships. 15 tend to be a close support group of best friends and 50 tend to be a larger group of good friends. Around this core is about 500 acquaintances and 1500 people that we know by face or name but have no relationship with. Every person alive today has a social network that is this extended. It is a web of conduct and behavior that holds our complex society together.
This social network is also what allows us to have the ability to think big. After all, each of the people that comprise our individual social network has a comparable social network of their own and each of the people in those networks has their own social network and so on. This interconnectedness means that we all have a nearly unlimited amount of potential customers, clients, mentors, advisors teachers and motivators. These are the people upon which the concept of think big is built and it’s precisely because of all these people that the concept works.
You see the road to thinking big is built on the idea of big brains. It may seem obvious, but without our current brain capacity, we would be unable to think big. We would be unable to think beyond today and our immediate needs. We would be unable plan for something different. We would be unable to conceive of anything new. We would not be able to set goals and take the steps necessary to achieve those goals. In short, we would be stuck in whatever situation we found ourselves, unable to alter our environment to our advantage or change our situation. This is precisely why big thinking is so important. It is a part of our heritage. It is a part of our humanity. It is why we, as a species, are who we are today. In other words, thinking small is a crime against our collective heritage. In the next chapter, we are going to examine this idea and others like it, in greater detail.
What Is Thinking Big and Why It Matters
So, let’s get down to business by asking two very important questions. What exactly is big thinking and why does big thinking matter? It is critical that you develop clear, solid answers to both of these questions if you’re going to start thinking big in your own life. After all, you can’t take action on anything unless you first understand what it is and why it’s important. So, let’s start the process by taking a look at the idea of thinking big.
As the name implies, thinking big is first and foremost a mental process. It is about realizing that anything is possible as long as you want it badly enough and believe that you can take the steps to get it. However, even though thinking big begins as a mental habit, it isn’t only about thinking. It’s also about using that positive mental, can do attitude to take the physical steps necessary to make your dreams come true.
Many people fail at thinking big for one very basic reason. They refuse to make the attempt to change the way they think. This means that if they are thinking small, they are also acting small. Why? Because how we think has a direct and powerful influence on the actions we take in our day to day activities. Conversely, how we act also has a powerful influence on the way we think during the day. The two activities, thought and action, are intimately tied together. Each influences the other and each has the potential to either inhibit the other or allow the other to grow and expand. Let’s take a closer look at this process.
Someone who is used to thinking small typically takes a very narrow and short sighted view towards life in general. They have very immediate goals and needs that, when satisfied, provide them with a feeling of accomplishment. They have a habit of settling for less, even though they don’t actively realize that every thought and action is designed to provide this result.
You have to realize that all decisions in life revolve around the concepts of risk and reward. Every potential action entails some risk and provides some reward, if successful. People who think small tend to overestimate the nature of risk and underestimate the value of reward. Because of this, they find taking all but the most minimal of risks too difficult and they accept the smallest of rewards as adequate. They settle for less by habit. While they may actually have dreams of “something different” than their current situation, they are mentally and physically incapable of having the thoughts and taking the actions necessary in order to effectuate real change. This leads to some difficult and problematic behaviors.
A person who thinks small may dream of more money, but will consistently settle for situations that provide less money. They may want to live in a different locale or climate, but will remain for years in a place that they actively dislike. They may dream of traveling, but will never leave the geographic area where they live. A person who thinks small also is satisfied with less. Minor things provide a level of satisfaction that is disproportionate to their value. Food and drink are the biggest dangers to a person with this type of outlook. It’s too risky to try for a better job, so a hamburger or cookie takes the place of the bigger goal. These small things provide an inordinate amount of pleasure precisely because they are taking the place of larger goal. They satisfy as if the larger goal had actually been met. This behavior very often leads to overeating and substance abuse problems. In this way, thinking small can actually lead to physically harmful results.
So, what does this have to do with big thinking? Small thinking has everything to do with big thinking precisely because big thinking has the exact opposite effect on life and personal achievement that small thinking has. Remember that thoughts and actions are the same thing. Actions are really externalized thoughts and thoughts are internalized actions. So big thinking results in big actions and big actions result in big thinking.
This is exactly why having big thoughts is so important and so powerful. Big thoughts are the springboard to big actions. They are the start of a change in behavior that starts to actually change lives. Big thoughts break the cycle of small, downward oriented thinking. Big thoughts prevent you from ever settling for less than you deserve and less than you desire. They change how you look at the world, and the possibilities that it offers, from within. This inward change then has a positive effect on outward action. Because you think you can do something, you begin to actually take the actions necessary to make that thing a reality.
So, why else should you think big? Well, to begin with, big thinking is possibly the only way to live a fully aware and fully actuated life. Ask yourself this question. “Who am I responsible for?” You might answer that you’re responsible for the health and well-being of those closest to you. You might also answer that you’re responsible for your neighbors and your community. While you’d be right on both counts, take the time to think about what meeting those responsibilities entails. Yes, it requires patience, love, understanding, effort and, to a certain extent, money. However, there is one element that is critical to all responsibilities and everything that they entail. That critical element is you. This means that in order to be responsible for others, you first have to be responsible for yourself.
Face it, if you’re not responsible for yourself, you can never fully take care of those around you. So, what’s the best way to take responsible for yourself? You can best take care of yourself and those around you by changing business as usual. Are you getting everything you want out of life? Are you and those around you really contented and happy? Are there things in your life that you wish you could change? Are there areas in your life that could use improvement? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you very likely have developed the habit of setting your sights low and accepting the results.
Michelangelo is reputed to have said that the danger in life is not setting your sights to high and failing to reach your goal. Instead, the real danger in life is setting your sights too low and being successful as a result. Preventing this “false” success is the main reason why you should begin the process of thinking big. It is only when you begin to think big on a regular basis that you can start to achieve the real success that you deserve.
The Think Big Process
Now that you understand how the ability to think big developed and why thinking big is vitally important, it’s time to get down to the specifics of the think big process. These are the focused steps that you can take every day to break the habit of thinking small and accepting less. Remember, that you have to be committed to this process in order for it to work. Doubt is the number one enemy of thinking big. Inaction is the number one way for you to ensure that you stay exactly where you are. Your entrenched mental habits will resist change. This resistance will manifest itself as doubt, disdain, boredom and procrastination. Many people know what they SHOULD do, but very few people actually take action to create real change. Statistically, about eight percent of people actually reach their goals on a consistent basis. It’s entirely up to you whether you join this eight percent or remain with the other ninety two percent that settle for less.
Get Comfortable With Discomfort
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said that change is the only reality. If you think about it, that statement is the truth. Nothing that you see around you is static. Everything is changing from one state to another. Nothing is permanent. So, if change really is the only reality, we have a problem. You see, change makes the vast majority of people extremely uncomfortable. Most people would rather operate under the tacit assumption that everything is stable and secure when, in truth, nothing is guaranteed. The people who deny the reality of change are the small thinkers. They trade the discomfort inherent in all change for the illusion of comfort that a small life provides. In order to begin thinking big, you have to accept that most comfort is illusory and embrace the transient discomfort that changing to big thought mindset brings. Discomfort is very often a sign of positive change.
Set Realistic Goals
Ironically, short term thinking often gives rise to long term unrealistic and unfocused goals. For example, ask most people what they want out of life and the answer will usually be “more money”. Fine enough, money is one of the signs of success, but it is not, and does not, represent real success. Because of this, many people confuse money with success. They mistake a collateral effect for the goal itself. They ignore the fact that there are plenty of wealthy people out there who are unhappy and dysfunctional. The problem is that “more money” is an unfocused and unrealistic goal. Instead of looking for more money, people should be doing an honest assessment of what it is that they really want. They should be thinking about what real success means to them. Many of these more focused goals will inevitably involve increased sums of money, but the goal is not about the money itself. Money is a means to get to and end. It is the end itself, no matter how you define it, that is really important.
Find a Support Network
As we just discussed, starting to think big involves big changes that aren’t always comfortable. Some people start this process with an island mental state. What’s an island mental state? Well, that’s when someone thinks that the only way to bring about personal change is to go it alone. This type of stoic, stiff upper lip attitude is always a mistake. It’s never a good idea to decide to hide the process or the discomfort that the process brings. If you really want to change, then you absolutely have to share what you’re going through with others. Colleagues, friends and loved ones can all provide you with the support that you need to continue on changing how you think about success and reaching your goals. Without that key support, it is very easy to fall back into old ways of behavior simply because they are more comfortable and familiar. A solid support network will prevent this from happening and allow you to continue moving in the right direction.
On a note that’s similar to finding a support network, you also need to be able to accept help in order to succeed. You need to open yourself up to the possibility of accepting help when it’s offered. In order to accomplish this, you have to become a person that others want to help. You see, there are other people out there that have already gone through the process that you’re beginning now. These people are capable of offering you some very valuable advice that they picked up along the way. This could be advice that is critical to you successfully completing the process. The problem is that there are people who are embarrassed by being see as someone who needs guidance and mentoring. They would rather fail than be seen as wrong or as a novice. This is largely a result of taking a short sighted view of the world and of their future. Don’t be afraid of accepting any help that will allow you to develop the long view that comes with big thinking. Once you internalize the process itself, you will be in the position of paying it forward by helping people by giving them the value of your experience.
Eliminate Negative Behaviors
This is a big one, a very big one. Everyone has the ability to develop negative behaviors. Everyone exhibits negative behaviors. A problem arises when those behaviors are allowed to continue and negatively affect potential outcomes, time and time again. It’s been said that one definition of insanity is repeating negative actions over and over expecting a positive outcome. It’s pretty accurate description of the very behavior we’re discussing. The key to breaking out of this negative behavioral cycle is twofold – first, recognize the problematic behavior and second, begin to take proactive steps to eliminate the behavior when it arises. When you consistently work to break bad habits, the result is the adoption of new habits – ones that positively affect potential outcomes. The following is a list of some of the worst habits that negatively affect big thinking.
Why take action today when it can be put off until tomorrow, right? Wrong! Procrastination is simply avoidance behavior. When you procrastinate, you are simply avoiding a task that will have a positive effect. Why would anyone want to avoid doing something that has a positive effect? Because, even though they pay lip service to dreams and success, deep down they really don’t want those dreams to come true. Success is scary. Being successful means that you’re going to have to change the way you view life. You’re going to have to change the way you operate. You’re going to have to change the way you look and feel about yourself. The easiest and safest route is to avoid all of the change by avoiding doing the tasks that will bring about change. At its heart, procrastination is born from a fear of real success and the changes that real success will bring.
We’ve touched upon this one previously. Short term thinking is brought about by a short term view of the world. Instead of looking at the big picture and formulating a plan to positively change your circumstances, it’s easier to keep your head down and concentrate on the immediate. This often takes the form of “now is not the right time” thinking. People with short term thinking often feel that right now is a bad time to start taking the long view because there is so much going on in their lives that occupies their attention. They don’t realize that all that pressing “stuff” that is vying for their attention and occupying their time and energy will always be there. Why? Because they very often create the chaos that results in the “stuff” precisely because they never formulate and act upon a long term, big thinking plan. Their failure to act is the reason they’re stuck and the reason they’re stuck is their failure to act.
Negativity can be so pervasive in a person’s outlook that they don’t really see it anymore. It has become such an ingrained habit to think in terms of can’t, won’t and don’t, that it becomes nearly impossible to think in terms of can, will and do. You will often find a person with an overall negative attitude busy punching holes and finding flaws in any new idea or concept. They have dozens of reasons why something won’t work, but they lack the ability to formulate even a single reason why something will work. They are readily able to tell you what’s wrong with the world, but they are unable to take the smallest step to help effectuate positive change. In some ways, negativity is a form of emotional color blindness. Chronically negative people have become unable to see the positive aspects in anything, including themselves. It is this last effect that is perhaps the saddest part of ingrained negativity. When you can’t see the positive aspects of your own personality you run a real risk of never being able to let those positive aspects fully flower.
Excuses are the walls that surround, trap and stifle positive impulses. They have no basis in reality. They aren’t actually factual, in the sense that event X occurred that literally prevented action Y from being performed. Getting hit by a car on the way to an important presentation, thereby missing the opportunity to close an important client isn’t an excuse. It’s an unfortunate factual circumstance. Excuses have no such grounding in reality. They aren’t circumstantial. Instead, they are simply justifications for failing to do something that needed to be done. Excusable behavior needs no excuse. Inexcusable behavior desperately requires one. Using excuses as justification for inaction is simply another way of avoiding doing what needs to be done in order to make your life better. In this way, excuse making is a cousin to procrastination and short term outlook. All three are defense mechanisms operating to keep a person from moving forward and changing their life for the better.
This is an interesting one. Every sensible person analyzes any situation. It’s human nature to take a look at all the angles before proceeding. A problem arises when this analysis prevents any decision about course of action to be made. Under these circumstances, the person doing the analysis always needs more information before deciding. The always need more time to decide. They always need one more opinion to inform their judgment. The thing is, there isn’t enough information, time or opinions in the world that will motivate them to pull the trigger and make a decision. They are suffering from analysis paralysis. Over analyzing a situation gives them an excuse not to take action on the situation. No decision means no action, and no action means no change. The end result is that they get to remain static and comfortable in the behavioral rut that gave rise to the impulse to over analyze in the first place. That was the unconscious goal all along.
Similar to over analysis, perfectionism causes any forward movement to stop in its tracks. Every action has to be just right. Every word has to be carefully considered. There can be no error and no missteps. Even if a potential outcome is fine from an objective point of view, from the subjective point of view of the perfectionist, the outcome is worthless. If there is even the slightest error, the entire process has to be scrapped and started over again from the very beginning. There are no salvageable parts that can be reused. There are no lessons to be learned. One mistake taints the entire projects and everything must go. The only possible result is a complete do over. This is a crippling behavior, one that prevents many people from taking the steps that they need to take in order to get ahead.
Ignore Negative Reactions
When you’re trying to change your own life and move forward with a newer and bigger attitude, you oftentimes draw negative judgment and criticism. This negative press usually arises from people who feel threatened by your positive change. What happens is that the steps that you’re taking to think big remind these people how mired they are negative behaviors and routines. It forces them to think about the work that they need to do in regard to their own attitudes and behaviors. That reminder scares them because it forces them to confront themselves and to confront the need for change. This, in and of itself, is enough to make then resistant and this resistance manifests itself in judgment and criticism about your positive steps. Recognize this behavior for what it is – an attempt to derail you so that they can maintain the illusion that everything is fine in their lives. Remember, change is so uncomfortable to some people that not only will they avoid it in their own lives, they will also attempt to make you avoid it in your life.
Use Empowering Language
The way you speak carries immense power. How you use words certainly affects how other people perceive you. Your way with words or lack thereof, helps the outside world to form an opinion of your strengths and weaknesses. Yet, did you know, that the same use of words has the ability to affect how you feel about yourself? It’s true. Your choice of words can make you powerful and positive internally or it can have the opposite effect. Research has shown that simply by changing a single word in how you express yourself can alter both your outlook and consciousness. For example, think about your use of the words “but” and “and”. You might say, “I’d like to go to the park, BUT I have to finish some work.” Alternatively, you could say “I’d like to go to the park AND I have to finish some work.” The first example sets the park and work against each other. You have to choose between the two. The second example is more inclusive. It allows you to think about both activities as possible. A change in the usage of two simple words leads to two very different mental states and two very different results. This is an example of how you think is how you act in action.
We’ve come a long way and covered a lot of ground. Thinking big is not an option, it’s a necessity if you’re going to achieve your goals in life. We’ve seen how important big thinking is to real success. We looked at how we even have the ability to start thinking big. Next, we looked at what the process of thinking big entails and why that process is so critically important to your success. Finally, we focused on some specific processes that you can use every day to develop your own “thinking big” mindset. Now the ball is in your court. You can take what you learned and begin to change the way you think and act or you can continue to behave in ways that guarantee you will remain where you are. There really is no choice is there? It’s time to start thinking big and making your own personal dreams of success come true.