With a new year upon us, it’s a good time to practice new skills. Here’s one that comes in handy for any kind of challenge, just so long as you apply it up front. Whenever you feel challenged, all you need to remember is to choose between two mindsets: go big or go tiny. Each approach works under different circumstances, and the trick is to know when.
When there is something that you must do, choosing the right mindset makes all the difference. Whether it’s a positive challenge you’ve chosen—or a problem you haven’t—your initial approach matters. It’s like photography, where you choose your lens to get the effect you want. A panoramic vista calls for a wide-angle lens that captures everything as far as you can see. But when you want a close-up of a tiny flower, you choose one of those lenses that sees the world in a grain of sand. Our minds have similar lenses, and we make life harder when we use the wrong one.
If it’s a challenge calling for creativity or new ideas, our thinking needs to go big. The same goes for dreaming about what we want in the future or which possibilities we plan to pursue. At these times, we should go big with our ultimate goals and make sure we keep pulling in information with as wide a net as possible. We might feel tempted to suppress our fantasies for fear of ridicule. But when you’re contemplating what you want to create and pursue, you should go as big as you can. You’ll find out whether your dreams can be realized, but it’s for sure they won’t be if you narrow your scope too early. Go big with your hopes.
When it comes to raising children, the same idea applies. You should hold a big space open in your mind as they explore what they could be good at. When it comes to a child’s future, we help by keeping their options as open as possible, closing no door prematurely, and encouraging them to work toward goals that energize them. If you are supporting anyone’s dreams about the future, encourage them to go big. You can cut back later if needed but go big on goals at the daydreaming stage.
However, going big when you are already facing an intimidating challenge will overwhelm you. For instance, if you have a huge task or serious problem, you don’t want to go big with your thinking because the situation itself already feels too big. Our minds go big when we are scared, popping wide open at the wrong time and going big with every bad outcome we can think of. The result is either paralysis or a need to escape. A wild imagination makes a bad situation even bigger. Go tiny when you’re overwhelmed.
All big problems and daunting jobs call for going tiny. These situations need to be broken down into their smallest components and then tackled piecemeal. We don’t need a wide net when a wave is engulfing us. Instead, we need to zero in on one tiny aspect at a time. When we go tiny, we decrease the scary stimulation that is bombarding us and create manageable focus in an otherwise complicated situation. We remind ourselves that now is not the time to worry about everything at once, that we can only move forward with tiny steps in the right direction. Go tiny when you feel overwhelmed.
With children, go tiny when they make a big mistake. They aren’t helped by someone imagining the worst of them or thinking about everything that could go wrong. Instead, try seeing their flaws as tiny incidentals to be addressed, but not centered upon. Children need to see their mistakes as tiny things that can be overcome by a change of course. The same goes for our own mistakes. Go tiny on your judgments.
You have an entire new year to practice this balance between going big and going tiny. Get in the habit of asking yourself whether a situation needs to be expanded or shrunk. Choosing your approach wisely means you won’t undersell your dreams or be overwhelmed by your challenges. This year you can choose how you experience life as long as you remember you have a choice.