Your downstairs neighbors are blasting music. Again. What makes them think they’ll never get tired of partying? Why do they pick tunes with such a hefty downbeat that your cupboard glass vibrates every two seconds? What can you do to achieve the peace you so well deserve? So, what should you do?
When confronted with an issue for which there is no clear answer, the human mind tends to go in circles. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the broader picture and get caught up in rage and self-pity, squandering our time, energy, and excitement.
Wouldn’t it be good if we could remember to keep things in perspective all of the time?
Wouldn’t it be more efficient to approach all kinds of difficulties with a calm temperament, clear focus, and courageous determination to make the most efficient action possible, from minor annoyances to life-changing emergencies?
Humans, on the other hand, are not like that. We let fear or avarice get the best of us all too frequently, and we make a hasty or shortsighted judgment that we later regret.
Sometimes we become stuck for weeks or months, rehashing the same arguments and refusing to accept the compromises required to move forward with any of the possibilities.
Buddhists refer to this as “losing one’s way in the little self.” We essentially forget about the broad picture and focus on the small one while we’re in this state of mind.
We begin to take our daily difficulties too personally, and as a result, we become less capable of solving them effectively. And this is the polar opposite of strategic thinking.
Let me tell you a story on big picture thinking…
Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army invaded Russia in 1812. Following the critical Battle of Borodino, the seizure of Moscow and hence Napoleon’s victory in the war appeared to be a foregone conclusion.
Surprisingly, Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov took the politically divisive choice to retreat and enable the French to take Moscow.
Many people had been evacuated, bringing supplies with them. The city was set ablaze, and major sections of it were destroyed to the ground.
Napoleon was forced to retire in the middle of a severely cold winter after waiting for Russia to capitulate in vain. Although he won the battle, he did not win the war. The campaign ended in tragedy, with the French army nearly destroyed.
What can we take away from this lesson in history?
1. Focus on the Consequences
Napoleon concentrated on the most vital aspect of the mission: conquering Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of being a small-minded individual.
Nonetheless, he disregarded the fact that the Russian army was still capable of fighting even after surrendering the country’s most significant capital.
Was Moscow, after all, not a significant target?
Brian Tracy, a success expert, has a litmus test: things are important if they have major implications. Things are trivial when they have no significant ramifications.
When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?
- Do you want to spend an hour studying or viewing a new Netflix series? What would each option’s ramifications be? Netflix may be a superior option in some cases, but it helps to keep things in perspective.
- Do you want to clean your flat yourself or hire a cleaning service? What would the ramifications of each decision be?
- Would you rather meet up for coffee with this acquaintance or catch up on your work? What would each option’s ramifications be?
The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix.
Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.
This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values, and aspirations.
2. Flip Defeat Into Victory
By recasting the problem in a broader context, Kutuzov was able to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic success. Losing Moscow did not have to entail losing the war.
Despite the symbolic significance of the Kremlin, the churches, and the rich treasures that had been preserved in the city for generations, the power of the remaining army ultimately determined the campaign’s conclusion.
Many of your personal setbacks could be turned into successes if you adopt this result-oriented mindset.
Few occurrences in a person’s life are completely positive or negative, and it normally takes many years to realize what significance a single encounter had in your tale in retrospect.
This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.
Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?
- Perhaps you take life too seriously and could benefit from learning how to laugh more. Instead of working, join your neighbours or go for a walk; perhaps you merely wanted to be productive while procrastinating on social media.
- Stop and notice this much greater impediment to your productivity now that your procrastination has been stopped; perhaps you are overly sensitive to disturbance.
- Take use of this opportunity to practise ignoring the noise and doing your best regardless; perhaps you have a victim mentality, and the feeling of injustice drains you more than any actual bother your neighbours may have produced.
- Accept this lapse in your production with the same grace with which you would accept terrible weather.
Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.
3. Ask for Advice
Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers with whom they could discuss their business. Getting a different point of view — or several — can only help you gain a better understanding and make better judgments.
Simply make sure that the persons giving you advice are knowledgeable in the area where experience is required.
It’s also possible that paying for counsel is a good investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, and medical experts spend years honing their skills in order to help individuals like you live more prosperous and happier lives.
A short legal consultation can save you a lot of money or perhaps keep you out of serious trouble in the future. A medical examination can reveal possible problems and aid in the prevention of them.
Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.
4. Beware of Biased Advice
Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.
For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:
- Use a specific lotion to protect your skin from dangerous UV radiation.
- Take multivitamins to improve your health.
- Sending lavish gifts to your pals is a great way to stay in touch.
- Consume a delectable pastry to brighten your weekend.
- Invest in a speedier computer to increase your productivity.
However, most purchases are unnecessary.
Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.
- Wearing suitable attire can also protect skin from the sun.
- Consuming a well-balanced diet and exercising on a regular basis can help to improve one’s health.
- Spending time with your friends or talking on the phone with them is the most effective way to stay in touch with them, and it is nearly free.
- Doing something you enjoy on your weekend can make it more enjoyable.
- You may increase your productivity by concentrating on the tasks that have the most impact.
- A speedier computer can actually reduce productivity by making multitasking easier and allowing you to indulge in your favourite distractions.
There are other places where you can get skewed advice. Politicians frequently encourage us to concentrate on a single “grand picture” at the exclusion of all others.
Even the most loving of parents can be guilty of this. They might counsel their children to choose a safe and reputable professional path based on their “big vision” that one must make a living in life.
A youngster, on the other hand, may disagree, based on another “grand vision” that life must have meaning and fulfillment.
It’s human nature to make hasty, emotional decisions based on insufficient information, only to come to regret them later.
When serious consideration is required, you can shield yourself from incorrect judgment by attempting to achieve the larger picture.
Before you examine how you feel about your decision, think about the ramifications.
Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but keep an eye out for possibilities in each situation.
Seek counsel from qualified mentors, but be wary of prejudiced persons who have an opinion but aren’t always looking out for your best interests.
But keep in mind that true big-picture thinking is based on hard-won experience. Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov, two legendary military commanders, were both injured on the battlefield.
Putting your broad picture to the test of reality leads to clear thinking.
- Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
2. Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
3. American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
4. Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?