the big picture

Why Stepping Back to See the Big Picture is So Important

Just like a film with swooping wide-angle shots and detailed close-ups, every aspect of your life involves several different focal lengths.

On a day to day basis, your attention is probably on the details: the action steps you need to take to move from A to B and B to C. That’s a good thing – this is the level at which work gets done. If you’re writing a book, for instance, you’ll probably be thinking about your chapter in progress as you write, not about the entire thing.

At times, though, it’s vital that you take a step back. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the little steps of your projects, goals, and even your whole life, without ever thinking much about where you’re really heading.

Don’t Get Too Caught Up in the Details

Of course details are important, but it’s easy to get bogged down in a mass of actions. If your life feels like a constant treadmill – running and running and never really getting anywhere – then you might find it hard to think of anything beyond the present moment.

The problem here is that, if you stay caught up in the details, nothing’s going to change. Sure, you might clear your inbox today – but you’ll just have to do it all over again tomorrow. You might work a 60-hour week in order to get everything done – but next week’s going to be exactly the same.

By taking a mental step back, you can make changes. Perhaps you’ll realize that you need to delegate some of your work, or even change to a new position or a different job.

Stay on Track to Your Destination

You might set out on a new adventure with an end goal in mind … only to end up looking just a couple of steps ahead.

For instance, perhaps you start your own business in order to do work that you love and spend more time with your family: that’s a great goal, but it’s an easy one to accidentally subvert. If you take every single piece of work that comes your way, you may well find that you don’t love what you do, and that you’re working more hours than you want.

When you step back from the day-to-day, you can check whether you’re still on track for your destination – and if not, you can make changes before you go too far down the wrong path.

Adjust Your Course in Light of New Developments

Sometimes, you’ll find that you set out towards a big goal … only for the territory to change around you. The map you originally drew is no longer going to get you to where you want to go (or, alternatively, you’ve found a new and more attractive destination).

Let’s say you’re planning to switch careers, but a new opportunity opens up in your current workplace. Instead of sticking doggedly to your original plan, you might decide that this new role would be a perfect fit for you – and you’ll want to adjust what you’re doing in order to go for it.

How to Take a Step Back

In a busy life, it can be tough to find the time and space to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of a particular project – or even your whole career or life.

Here are five things to try:

  1. Keep a journal. Several times a week, spend 10 – 15 minutes writing in your journal about whatever’s on your mind. This is a great way to add more reflective time into your life.
  2. Schedule “stepping back” time. For instance, you might head to the local park (or a coffee shop) every Friday lunch time, so that you can think about the week and about your future plans.
  3. Go on a retreat. Take a whole weekend – or more – out of your daily life; get away to somewhere quiet where you can think, daydream, write, draw… whatever works for you.
  4. Attend a conference. Talking to people in your area (or in the field you want to move into) and learning new ideas in conference sessions can help bring your thoughts to a new level.
  5. Hire a business/life coach. If you’re struggling to get perspective on your own, or if you just want to make faster progress, a coach can help you see the bigger picture of your life.

Today, find just five minutes to think deeply about one aspect of your life – perhaps a problem that’s been nagging at you, or a project that you’re struggling with. Write down your thoughts about the bigger picture, and see what comes out of this.

Photo credit: ‘Outdoor Photographer‘ by Big Stock


13 Responses to Why Stepping Back to See the Big Picture is So Important

  1. Bchamber says:

    a read worth sharing

  2. Justin Mazza says:

    Sometimes it helps to get someone elses point of view. We do tend to get so caught up in our lives that the picture gets muddled.

  3. Great post Ali :)

    I love the analogy with writing the chapter as opposed to writing the whole book. And it is like that for sure. Sometimes we delve so much on the details and what is happening now, without raising our head to look further ahead.

    Steve Jobs once said that he asked himself each and every day the question about what if that is his last day. And if the answer was with more regret and hesitation about what he was doing, then he knew that some change is needed.

    Also a good thing to do is to have one day in the week when you do deep thinking about everything in your life. This is an advice from Robin Sharma, and it makes sense a lot. That way the big picture will be far more easier to reveal to us.

  4. Thanks for sharing this. The last three things to try seem a little impossible for me right now though…

  5. We all have within us the answers. I agree by stepping back and looking through different lenses, we will be able to find and magnify that what really makes us joyful. 
    Thanks for the post!

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  8. Don says:

    Sometimes, it is so easy for me to get caught up in the details. It is a really good reminder to take a step back every once in a while to see the big picture and where you are at. Most of the time the little details do not matter much in comparison.

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  10. steveborgman says:

    One way to step back and see the big picture is to celebrate our personal victories, especially at the end of the year. Another idea I recently used, since I am a person of faith, is to write prayer requests on a slip of paper and put it in a “God” box, entrusting the details of my daily struggles to Him. The sense of peace that comes from this act is great.

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