Think Big . . . Sometimes

There are a lot of writers and motivational speakers out there that claim to have all the answers. They say that if you follow their instructions, you will find success and happiness.

Yet there are still many millions of people out there that are unsatisfied and unhappy. Many of those have followed the instructions of these gurus and haven’t found what they were looking for.

Yet, the professional coaches and spiritual masters of the world continue to make their living. People continue to pay them for their ideas and coaching, which means for some of those people, it works.

The truth is, no habit, strategy, or wise tidbit is going to be right for everyone all the time. As with everything, any new way of thinking you adopt is going to come with downsides. Each person weights those downsides differently. Those that don’t mind these cons will gain great value from changing to that way of thinking. But individuals that are more heavily affected by these cons will often be left wondering why something that clearly works for others isn’t working for them.

This discrepancy lies in a difference of values. We all hold unique values within ourselves, and these values are at the core of what drives us to certain decisions, and whether or not a certain strategy brings us closer to our unique goals.

We also have different vices. We all have skeletons in our closets that we want to get under control and minimize. Unfortunately, some systems that minimize the vices of one individual might amplify the vices of another.

All this is to say that whatever advice you hear, from me or anyone else, treat it a bit like a new prescription drug. Start slowly, assess the results, and get off it if you don’t like the side effects. Just like Tylenol doesn’t work for everyone, neither does striking a Wonder Woman pose to get you motivated. And just like a doctor that prescribes the same pill to everyone regardless of their problems, a guru that claims his way is the one and only way to success is not to be entirely trusted.

For example, one thing I hear a lot from the success coaches is “think big!” The basic idea here is that if you are going to set goals, you might as well set big goals. This practice puts faith in yourself and your abilities, and drives you to new heights. Ambitious goals also make you more excited about your work, and drive you forward to that glorious dream.

But this way of thinking can have some killer side effects when combined with certain values or vices. When I first heard someone say “think big,” I loved it. I thought it sounded like great advice (And for some people, it is!). So, I tried it. But, it was incompatible with one of my vices. I have a tendency to try to turn even the smallest and most mundane projects into my magnum opus. I want everything I do to reach the pinnacle of what is possible, and stand as a testament to my ability and ingenuity.

But, of course, this is completely impractical. While this does lead me to some creative solutions, it also slows me down, making me wait to work on or release something until it is totally perfect. And ‘thinking big’ only plays into that. The loftier the goal I set, the longer the delay, and the more stuck I get in my own excitement to create something awesome.

So, thinking big was not for me. It did not serve to bring me closer to my goals, and it slowed me down. That said, it wasn’t useless, and my time spent thinking big wasn’t time wasted. Testing this way of setting goals lead me to an improvement in how I work, even if that improvement wasn’t to think bigger. Because I tried a new system, I discovered my tendency to think too big, and I was able to discipline my mind to improve myself and my work through other means.

The process of getting new advice, testing it, and discarding what doesn’t work is also a process of getting to know yourself better. It's like solving a maze. You test each path until you reach a dead end. But reaching a dead end doesn’t mean you have failed or that you will never solve the maze. Just reaching that dead end has revealed more of the maze, and shown you where the path isn’t. Now, you can return to familiar ground and try a new path, until you eventually get to the center.


Here is a system that I use to assess new advice or habits. Consider trying it next time you want to implement a new method into your work.

First, set a trial period. I like 21 days, but do whatever works for you. During this trial period, do as the name implies, and test out applying a new habit or method. I recommend marking the end of the trial period on your calendar, as it’s very easy to forget.

At the end of the trial period, assess its effects. It can be useful to write, type, or talk out your assessment of the trial. This can help you organize your thoughts and really see the effects.

From there, you can continue with it if it works, modify it if it's not quite perfect, and drop it if it's totally useless.

Of course, this system won’t work for everyone, so modify or ignore it if it doesn’t resonate with you.