In our current wellness milieu, we’re often encouraged to think about our own thinking—do we practice good mental hygiene? do we meditate? are we self-aware? I’ve been thinking about the scope and scale of my thinking a lot lately and realizing that “thinking big” has never come naturally to me, at least in terms of my professional growth.
Thinking small is not entirely a bad thing, of course. I take pride in being a detail person and someone who delights in setting and achieving day-to-day goals that (hopefully) add up down the road. I know I need to challenge my mental habits, however, and dare to think bigger. When I did a quick Google search on the topic, I was met with several articles, almost all authored by males, discussing what it takes to achieve sweeping success in business ventures, and I immediately felt like I’d wandered down the wrong path. While I admire these authors’ entrepreneurial spirit, it’s not something that feels authentic for me to cultivate in myself.
A recent chance conversation with a professor of counselor education helped me reframe my thinking on thinking big in a way that felt more accessible to me. We chatted about what he described as “high achievement thinking” and how it’s less about your specific goals and more about your habits of mind. Here are the main takeaways.
4 Non-Scary Ways to Approach Thinking Big
1. Redefine thinking big. When I hear “thing big,” I immediately think of others’ ambitions—creating a best-selling product, becoming a household name, having oodles of followers. These versions of success may not resonate with you, however. They may even fill you with subtle dread and make you want to avoid change altogether. If so, try this instead: Take ten minutes to brainstorm or journal about what it would mean for you to level up in your own career—just one level. This may not be thinking huge, but it is thinking bigger in a way customized to your own profession.
Once you’ve done this, then you can think of the building blocks to reaching that next goal. This exercise may reveal to you, however, that you’re not at all interested in that particular path of growth. If so, don’t limit yourself to thinking linearly—maybe your next step isn’t up but adjacent. Sometimes a horizontal move can feel just as successful as a more traditional “promotion.”
2. Take moderate risks. Many of us experience some degree of fear when it comes to our profession—whether that’s fear of failure or fear of success. Our surest path of getting anywhere, however, it so move past those fears and take risks. Fortunately, we don’t have to take enormous leaps. In fact, we’re more likely to be high achievers when we take moderate risks. This may be really good news for anyone who doesn’t want to/ can’t quit her day job or move across the country but would like to make significant progress in her line of work.
3. Expect discomfort and make peace with it. Everything that accompanies thinking bigger is likely to come with a bit of discomfort. Changing your mental habits, seeking constructive feedback, and letting go of old routines are rarely easy things to do. When you can anticipate the discomfort, however, you can reframe it as “growing pains,” and suddenly it won’t seem as scary as it once was.
4. Practice self-love. The term “self-love” gets used so much in product marketing these days that it’s easy for me to tune it out entirely, but this is a mistake. We must be able to forgive ourselves and pick ourselves up after hitting road blocks. We must also be able to make decisions for ourselves based on what we truly need rather than what we think we want. When I frame it as being a mother to myself, “self-love” and the actions that accompany it make a little more sense. Next time you’re in a difficult place with your work, ask yourself how someone who loves you very much would try to help you—and do that for yourself!
Don’t stop celebrating the little victories! Those are important, too.
How do you challenge yourself to think bigger in your career?
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