As spouses, siblings, friends, and associates, we continually define our world within the context of what has been and remain hesitant to truly embrace what might be.
Why do we do this? Consider a few reasons:
- Experience has taught us. Skinned knees and bloody noses have taught us what happens when we push ourselves too far. Failure has an acute impact on our ability to dream and an even greater impact on our willingness to execute on those dreams.
- People remind us. We all have friends and loved ones who remind us of past failures: ours or someone else’s. Most of the world is incredibly good at finding the problem with something: bad ideas, risks, holes, gaps, poor grammar, and misspelled words. It is far easier to edit another’s idea than to originate your own.
- Instinct. Our instincts tend to lean toward the negative or self-protective. There is good reason for this: survival. We are built to survive and have numerous internal safety features to help achieve this mission. The problem is that surviving is not necessarily thriving and we are built to achieve so much more.
- We allow ourselves. The biggest reason we think narrowly is because we allow it. We allow all of the external noise, messaging, and criticism to hold us back or convince us of what is not possible. Or, more insidiously, of what we are capable.
I have seen this frequently when mentoring business owners and entrepreneurs. As a society, we often envision these mavericks as having larger than life ambitions, goals, and visions. Quite frequently, they see themselves within the self-limiting context of today: people, money, facilities, markets, etc. Yes, there are visionaries out there building castles in the sky long before they build them on the ground but the vast majority of entrepreneurs are actually selling themselves short every single day. The problem is that these business owners are too busy listening to the noise rather than focusing on the way forward. The noise is always much louder.
I believe the answer is to embrace expansive thinking. Thinking expansively is about focusing on the possibilities. It is asking “what if?” When we think expansively, we open our self to the universe and become receptive to a scope and expanse far beyond what lies before our eyes. This is not always easy. You may ask yourself: How can I think expansively when I’m trying to cover payroll or a mortgage or tuition? How do I think big when I’m struggling to keep up with my workload, projects, or customer demands? When things are breaking? When people are leaving? And on and on and on.
Thinking expansively is about being intentional with your possibilities. It is about developing a habit of seeing beyond your immediate world. It is looking for opportunities and embracing them before you have all of the answers. Expansive thinking requires you to intentionally open yourself to a world beyond you, seek pathways to that future, and walk deliberately toward those new options. I’m not suggesting it is being foolish with your time, money, or resources. However, you need to remember that we are naturally wired to protect all of the above. It feels much less natural to push your envelope than to play it safe.
Expansive thinking requires you to intentionally open yourself to a world beyond you, seek pathways to that future, and walk deliberately toward those new options.
Another way to consider the idea of expansive thinking is to contrast it with focus. Common wisdom today tells us to focus, to specialize. The deeper we are with a set of skills, knowledge, and experience, the more successful we will be. Focus is important when seeking to achieve your objectives. The problem is that we often narrow ourselves unnecessarily in our quest to be a specialist. As human beings, we are not machines. Our mind is an infinitely curious, flexible, and receptive instrument with wide ranging capabilities and interests. Expansive thinking calls us to bring the wide ranging capabilities of our mind to bear on our own lives and seek all that is possible.
Embracing expansive thinking can be difficult. Here are some ideas for fostering it continuously in your life:
- Say “yes” more than you say “no.” Our natural state is to say “no.” When we say “yes,” we open our self to the universe and all of its possibilities. Find reasons to say “yes” and you will move toward a more naturally expansive state of mind.
- Surround yourself with possibility people. We all have friends, peers, and loved ones who are quite capable of reminding us of what is not possible. Find people who are believers in your possibilities, even if they don’t see their own yet. Eventually, you’ll help them see their own as well.
- Collect ideas. Ideas come to us from all places at all times. Don’t ignore them. Write them down no matter how silly they are. Each idea is a sign, a signal of some possibility. Often, ideas don’t make sense in isolation but a collection of them might present the opportunity for you to connect the dots of a bigger concept.
- Be a consumer of information. Find sources of new information and fresh ideas. Video, audio, and the written word present incredible opportunities to be inspired with new ideas, new concepts, and new ways of thinking. Find sources that force you to think and push you to look at things differently.
- Experiment. Frequently, we kill an idea at inception because it is clearly not a good concept. Thinking expansively is to consider all ideas and their potential implications. Sometimes, we need to trial an idea to see where it leads. Even if the original idea doesn’t work, walking down the path often yields new discoveries.
- Discuss ideas. For most of us, it is incredibly difficult to sit before a blank sheet of paper and capture a collection of brilliant ideas. However, get us in a group and things start happening. Group discussions help us think expansively by bringing fuel to the idea engine and getting others involved. It is difficult not to think expansively in such situations. A word of caution: re-read the second bullet above.
Ultimately, thinking expansively is about changing your state of mind. Get out of the habit of telling yourself “no” before you’ve even started. Occasionally embrace new possibilities without clear objectives and the journey will reveal more than you expected. Form a new habit of looking beyond the obvious and you’ll be rewarded with new sources of joy and fulfillment. Engage the less pragmatic visionary within you and you’ll inspire yourself and those around you to new heights.
Engage the less pragmatic visionary within you and you’ll inspire yourself and those around you to new heights.