I was recently in New York City – my favorite place in the world – and the capital of the “living large” mentality. When I was walking through the airport I saw a book in the bookstore titled “Think Big”. Apparently it is a bestseller. Although the book might be a great read, something has always bothered me about that phrase.
While helpful in some situations, the strategy of “thinking big in order to live big” has some real disadvantages. Quite the contrary, I suggest that you’ll have a much bigger life and more rewarding financial future if you spend most of your time “thinking small”.
“What the heck are you talking about? What’s wrong with thinking big?”
Nothing is wrong with this concept….in light doses. To me, “thinking big” means “dreaming big” and being mindful of the big picture. Like I said, that is important – about 3% of the time.
But too often people get stuck thinking big and dreaming about the future. They forget about execution. They overlook their current resources and fail to appreciate what’s really meaningful in their lives. Please let me explain.
I met a kindly woman recently who was about to retire. She didn’t want to worry about her money and quite frankly she didn’t have to. She had enough money to afford a very comfortable and happy retirement. But she was used to “thinking big” in her career and was trained to always shoot for “more”.
As a result, she seriously looked into making risky investments even though she didn’t have to. Why? Because she wanted to hit it big. She wanted “more”.
This was weird to me. If she did hit the jackpot, it really wouldn’t change her life. But if she blew it, it would mean she’d have to go back to work after retirement. So her behavior of “thinking big” was in direct contrast and conflicted with her ultimate goals of living a life where she didn’t have to worry about money. Does this resonate?
Here’s a different way “thinking big” can really get in your way. A friend of mine has a son who graduated with a degree in finance. So far so good. His dream is to be super successful. Again, no problem. So what is the problem?
He simply chases one “promising opportunity” after another. Why? Because he is focused on thinking and dreaming big and he spends most of his time dreaming instead of doing. He only spends 20% of his time working on making his dream a reality. Bad move. Bad vibe. Bad outcome.
How and When to Think Big to Live Large
First let’s talk about how to think big. You do this by having the right big dreams. If your career is your first priority, no problem. But are you sure that’s your priority? What about your family? What about your spiritual life? What else do you dream big about? What does it really look like if you live big?
I support having big dreams – as long as they are consistent with what you really want out of life. My recommendation is to first get crystal clear about what your “dream priorities” are. If you spend 20 minutes a day thinking about that, fine. But that’s about all you really need. That 20 minute “dream session” should be spent considering 4 questions:
- Are you sure of your priorities? Are you sure you have the right goals?
- Are you living in a way that is getting you closer to or further away from these goals?
- What do you need to do differently today in order to get your behavior back in line with your dreams?
- When are you going to do it?
These steps will help you live large.
Success in life, financial or otherwise, is all about execution. Even if you are pursuing the wrong goals, if you execute well, you can easily correct the problem by asking yourself the above 4 questions.
But even if you are spot on with your big thinking it won’t mean anything if you don’t execute. Execution is about taking the next intended step and getting it done right. That requires attention to detail. Small thinking.
When I started my career as a financial advisor, our managers encouraged all of us to continually strive to earn more money. In short, we were groomed to be greedy – and to do our best to instill fear and greed in clients.
What was the result of that “big thinking”? We could never produce enough. We always needed to produce more and satisfaction was always just one sale away. As a result, my peers and I were always in a state of anxiety. And our clients had it even worse.
We spent our time encouraging them to dream and think big as a way to get them to buy investments. If clients had peace of mind, we’d be out of business. What a rotten way to make a living.
I changed my mindset and the way I do business about 25 years ago and it’s worked out great for all involved. I thought about the life I really wanted and then structured my business to help me get that. When I talk to clients, I do the same thing. Sure we talk about the big picture. But we focus on the small steps that need to happen, one day at a time, in order to achieve those goals.
It is important to stretch a little. In order to live fully we have to grow, learn and get out of our comfort zone. But find your balance. This may sound crazy coming from a financial advisor but I personally do not believe that having more money is the key to happiness. If anything, I believe that being happy is the key to having more money.
My experience tells me that the happiest people are those who are clear on what is important in their lives. Once they “get it” they spend most of their time doing those things which get them closer to their goals. Since they are doing the right things and purely focused on executing well for its own sake, the rewards follow.
Do you need to think big to live big? Is small thinking more effective for you? What’s your experience?