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Use Big Picture Thinking to Stay Focused

Big Picture thinking helps us make better day to day decisions

Dr. Henry Cloud, author of the Boundaries series of books, discusses in Never Go Back the the things we learn to never do again as we mature, such ignoring big picture thinking and trying to change someone else. 

Mature Behavior

Dr. Cloud asserts in his book, that as we grow and mature, we make mistakes. However, healthy people learn from these mistakes. He has collected what he believes are the top ten mistakes adults make, but learn from and never again get caught in these negative spirals.

His “never go back awakenings” are

  • Return to what hasn’t worked
  • Do anything that requires you to be someone you’re not
  • Try to change another person
  • Believe that you can please everyone
  • Choose short-term comfort over long-term benefit
  • Trust someone or something flawless
  • Take your eyes off the big picture
  • Neglect to do due diligence
  • Fail to ask why you are where you are
  • Forget that your inner life determines your outer success

I think a lot of us can point to specific experiences in our lives when we learned one or more of these principles. My husband being stuck in a dead end, low paying job and refusing to look for better options taught me that I can not change another person, no matter how close I am to him or how much I want him to change. He has to want it for himself. Once he did, things fell into place.

My editorial job at the magazine has taught me recently that I can not please everyone. While I do live in a small town, I can’t feature every couple, business, childhood achievement, wedding or event. Someone is always upset that they were left out. I do my best to be as inclusive as possible, but I will always disappoint someone.

Learning from mistakes involves some dirty work

Learning to Use Big Picture Thinking

When it comes to how we view situations, Cloud sees two camps of people- the Strugglers and the Thrivers. Strugglers are caught up in every moment and passion. They are held hostage to what is going on right here and now. I can easily describe this person, but I tend to be one. Being an Enneagram four also pulls me toward feeling all the feelings and being carried away on those emotional roller coasters.

For me, it is so much easier to focus on what is right in front of me- the next fire to put out, the next mountain to climb, the next meal to prepare. Becoming a mom has narrowed my focus even farther. With kids, everything seems to be a long slow process. All we can see is the next step. Somehow we will get to adulthood, but for now I can only think about getting to bedtime.

The trouble is, the big picture has to inform the day-to-day decisions. This is the way we become Thrivers. When we see things as “one scene in a much longer movie” we keep the ability to think rationally about the situation. We understand that everything changes over time and things improve when we are in the valley and will not remain at mountaintop experiences.

Big Picture thinking helps us make better day to day decisions

Apply Big Picture Thinking to Parenting

As a parent to young children, every day can feel the same. We are incredibly busy, but always doing the same tasks over and over and over again. Even reading the same books, watching the same TV show, playing the same games and having the same conversations.

I can guarantee that tomorrow after school I will have to ask about 100 times for my kids to change out of their uniforms. I will then have to tell them to stay out of the food because they already had a snack and I’m cooking dinner. I’ll have to fight with my twelve year old about homework. My eight year old will have his done before I even have to remind him. My girls will argue over something small and stupid (today is was a throw pillow). No one will want to take a bath. Someone will complain about dinner. The eight year old will have to be stopped after three servings.

Sometimes my days are so repetitive, I think I could do them in my sleep. But I’m certainly not getting any sleep. But I digress.

I can robotically prepare dinner, check homework and read Amelia Bedelia. But that is doing a disservice to everyone. With the big picture in mind, I can remember that I am training young people to be responsible, honest, compassionate, hard-working adults. Completely changes the tone of the conversation, doesn’t it?

Big picture thinking is important for our kids too. They need to see that they are not just doing math problems and emptying the dishwasher day after day. They are learning skills that will be necessary to function in a world without their parents one day.

big picture thinking takes us out of the cycle

Setting Goals the Right Way

Thinking about the big picture also helps me to set better goals for myself. I tend to focus on habits I want to build, things I can mark off every day. Did I work out today? Drink enough water? Have a conversation with a friend? Clean something? Do all the tasks on my to-do list for the week?

But none of these are goals in and of themselves. I have to look further than tomorrow to set a goal. My goal needs to be more than a laundry list of tasks. I want to accomplish big things! Thinking small won’t allow me to grow like that.

If I want to improve at my job, I need to set a big goal. Breaking it down into pieces that I can accomplish is important but the big scary goal comes first. The big picture goals of where I want to be in five or ten years inform the small decisions and habits I’m forming each day.

Fixing my Vision

My take-away from this book is keeping in mind the big picture. I do have big plans for my life. I want my kids to learn to make big plans for themselves as well.If I lose the big picture for my life and my family, I lose the purpose for the small things and daily habits. And motivation is the one thing we moms (and humans) can’t lose and still be accomplished and peaceful.

I’m going to take some time this week to think about my big picture. I need to think about my one year, five year and ten year goals. Personal, professional, relational and health goals need to be big with defined small steps to reach the big goal. Plus, if I write them down, I can regularly go back and monitor my progress.

What reminds you of the big picture? How can you make your goals reflect your big picture thinking and transfer them to small manageable tasks?

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  1. I enjoy Dr. Cloud’s Books as well! I’ve had the pleasure of hearing him speak in person on several occasions. I need to be better about today’s steps to reach long term goals. It can be daunting to follow through on such loooong term plan, ya know? 🙂

    ~ Emily from So Sunny Day.

  2. Really excellent article!! So much I took out of this! I’m gonna have to go read that book, then I’m saving this to reread after I’m finished the book. Love your perspective!!

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