self improvement tips

4 Reasons The Big Picture is Hurting Your Goals (and what you should do about it)

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 goal 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 away 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 afterwards.

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 major issue with the big picture.

3. It makes you focus on planning and not 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 into one. And for each step, you can include a contingency plan in case it doesn’t work (and your contingency can include it’s 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 to approaching the big picture and goal achievement in general.

1. 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 awhile make 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 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 to 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.

Over to you

How does the big picture affect you? In good way? A bad way? Please leave a comment below because I’d love to know what you guys do about the big picture :)

Hey, Ericson Ay Mires here :) If you liked my article then maybe you’d be interested in my freelance blogging services. You should also check out my ultimate guide on beating procrastination, I think you might like it.

  • ManSpirational

    Oftentimes, we set a goal that, once we set out trying to accomplish it, we realize we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. So, I really like your advice of breaking down the big picture into a series of smaller, more manageable, likely accomplishable milestones. As the old saying goes, small tweaks lead to big changes!

    • Ericson Ay Mires

      Thanks for saying :)

  • Carolynne Melnyk

    This is good advice. It is good have a big picture to get you going, but as you said, it is the small steps to lead you forward. Looking at the process as a journey of many steps helps to keep you focused and not get overwhelmed by the big picture.

    • Ericson Ay Mires

      Exactly my thoughts :) Thanks for the comment!

  • Frank Mattioli

    How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time….

    Great Article!

    • Ericson Ay Mires

      Glad you liked it :)

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  • Shu

    Really good!

    • Ericson Ay Mires

      Thanks :)

  • jennunetta

    great article. I needed this read today. It’s so true about becoming overwhelmed when focusing on the ‘big picture’ and not the more actionable goals and steps needed to get there. One step at a time!

    Thank you!

    • Ericson Ay Mires

      Glad the article was helpful :)

  • Miss_Eurika

    Great article!
    Currently, I’m trying to figure out how my (job) future will look like. But focusing on the “Big picture” just paralyzed and intimidated me.
    Remembering all the little successes I already achieved, and remembering the fact that it’s ok to change directions, gives me new energy to do what feels right. Thank you :)

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  • ScrewtheSystemJoe

    Interesting points. That cliched quote ‘imagine yourself successful’ needs to be challenged and you did a good job.
    As you point out, it’s a balancing act. At the moment, I need to think more big picture. You can take all the actionable steps every day and work towards it but sometimes you need to make big decisions and this requires you to see the bigger picture of where you want your life to go.

  • Del Mar Dentist

    Great article. I, too, am guilty of doing some of these things especially when I was starting with my goals, be it involving losing weight or having a different career. As time went by, I have had major adjustments and even inclusions in my goal and I am very happy with the progress. What was the biggest goal you have had for yourself but really felt the greatest success afterwards?

  • suki

    I agree. I think it helps to write out intentions that align with the big picture and the as you mark off your small steps towards the big goal you can check in with your intentions and keep yourself on track to the big picture. I use the big picture only to understand why the little steps are important.

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