Whether it’s your professional or personal life, sports team, volunteer group, or dinner plate, humans tend to think big. We see ourselves as astronauts on the moon, living happily by the beach, winning the championship, eliminating poverty, and sitting in front of the most beautiful plate of oven-baked lasagna.
In such cases, our human instincts serve us well; thinking big provides the foundation from which our minds find motivation, our lives feel purposeful, and our networks and circles come together under common goals and desires. Thinking big is a critical aspect of maintaining a purposeful life, by seeing life as a journey and not as a big mess of disconnected days, actions, people, movements, and thoughts.
That being said, our goals, dreams, desires, and overall intrinsic value come not through thinking big, but by acting small. The actions we take at each step in life are the driving factors behind where we end up and the impact we make. Our actions give us shape, form, and direction to realize our big thoughts. Our actions carry us through each day to build a purposeful story.
But is this notion of “think big, act small” (TBAS) the optimal approach? Some considerations to make:
1. Flipping the Paradigm: TBAS vs TSAB Approaches
What happens if we flip this paradigm of thinking big and acting small (TBAS)? What if instead we focused on thinking small and acting big (TSAB)? How would our shape, form, and direction differ?
Thinking small may provide us with the ability to deal with manageable chunks, the ability to break down large problems into smaller intellectual divots that we fill through logic and reason. Inherently, thinking small allows us to make smaller decisions, minimize risk, and to tightly align plans with results.
On the other hand, acting big can provide great visibility, posture, control, and leadership. Sure the risks may be elevated, but so are the rewards. Despite human nature, it seems that taking a TSAB approach through life can surely provide the same foundation for success and happiness that a TBAS approach provides.
So when should we utilize a TBAS approach and when should we utilize a TSAB approach?
2. Understanding Scope: Approaches for Individuals vs Groups
How do our approaches to thinking and acting change given the surrounding environment at any given time? Is one approach better for the professional setting? Is another better for the soccer field? How should our strategies differ when considering differing circumstances? Most importantly, does the presence of others directly influence the scope of our thinking, and if so, to what extent might this be within our control?
I find myself thinking big in the morning, thinking smaller throughout the day, then thinking big again at night. Both morning and night are when I see and am around the least amount of people, while during the day it’s a constant interaction of many different people through conversations, technology, and sense. So is the scope of my thoughts primarily dependent on the size of my immediate social environment?
My actions are tougher to characterize as the scope of them has no obvious correlation to any temporal component, physical surroundings, or social environment. So are actions less guided by our surroundings than our thoughts? How does the scope of our actions and/or the willingness to take big actions depend on the size of the acting body? Is the success rate higher for larger groups taking smaller actions, or smaller groups taking larger actions?
3. Independence: Decoupling Thoughts from Actions
The discussion of scope lends us the idea that thoughts and actions may be influenced by completely different elements, from the time of day to the size of our immediate social environment. So does it benefit us at any one time to decouple thoughts from actions, or is it in our best interest to bind the two so tightly that all our actions are driven by thought, and all our thoughts stem from actions? Is the strength of the bond unique for every individual, and again, is it within our control?
At the end of the day it is my belief that, given the events in our lives both within and beyond our control, we should be readied with TBAS and TSAB approaches, guided by an assumption that the strength of the bond between thoughts and actions as well as the scope of each is well within our control. Some days our best approach is to build visions and lend a hand, while other days require thoughtful prayers and leaps of faith. Realizing these differing approaches while beginning to analyze the interactions between thoughts and actions is critical to providing strategies for any situation. More importantly, it maximizes the chance for positive results and successful outcomes, for both the individual and the populations at large. Now that’s a pretty big thought.