When was the last time you heard someone who makes his living in the personal development realm encouraging people to think small? Well sit back and buckle up, because that’s exactly where this post is headed!
Since 2001, I have made my living helping people figure out how to change their lives for the better. Initially it was exclusively focused on finding career passion, which typically involved a wholesale change to a new career.
And that was great.
But over time, I discovered that it was also limited.
How? Because people were missing out on the enormous, largely untapped potential for positive change at a small-scale level.
Taken cumulatively over time, small-scale changes can create a big shift in how we experience our lives.
I think of it as weaving a life worth living. When you can identify the threads of what makes life vibrant, meaningful, and impactful, you can start weaving them into the fabric of your day-to-day life.
The more real estate those threads occupy – both in your days and in your mind – the more they shape your experience of life.
Here are three ways you can start using the micro view to build a macro life worth living.
1. Practice energy management
This is a super simple idea. How can you bring more of what energizes you into the picture, and reduce or eliminate what drains your energy?
A good starting point is what I call a “personal energy audit.” It involves looking at your life (or individual aspects of your life, like your work, or relationships, or health) and asking questions like:
What is energizing here?
What leaves me feeling good?
What is enjoyable?
What is draining my energy?
What is sucking me dry?
What feels like a bur under my saddle?
The goal is to get away from the broad brush assessment and take a more detailed look at what’s impacting you. At that level, you can start to say, “How can I build on what’s working? How can I reduce what’s draining my energy?”
The broad brush picture only allows for broad brush change. Having a more granular picture makes it much more doable to make change (which kicks up less resistance, to boot).
You can read a more detailed post about doing an energy audit and making changes here.
2. Identify your energizers
The more you understand about what makes you tick – the more you understand about what energizes you – the more potential you have to weave opportunities to experience that into your days.
One of the core explorations I take clients through in my career passion work is looking not just at what they love, but why they love it. The idea is to find the underlying themes that tend to be present when they feel most energized. I think of them as your energizers (clever, huh?).
From a career change perspective, the end goal is finding a new direction that has a high density of those underlying themes. Rather than seeing the pursuit of passion as an effort to find the “one career you’re meant to do,” I see it as an exploration of the potential vehicles (career paths) that will allow you to experience your energizers.
While my focus there is typically career change, the idea can be applied 360 degrees throughout your life, whether that is in your current job, your hobbies, your time with family, or your volunteering. In any part of life you can say, “Where are the opportunities for me to experience my energizers?”
For example, let’s say that one of the energizers you discover is “exploration and discovery” (it’s a key one of mine). You could look around and say, “Is there a project at work I can take on that would give me more of that? Is there a hobby I can take up? What kind of family activities would involve that? How about my volunteering? Are there any opportunities there?”
Again, it’s all about finding the threads that you can start weaving into your everyday life.
You can see more about finding your energizers here.
3. Map your meaning
Another set of threads you can weave into the fabric of your life involves experiencing more meaning.
Meaning is one of those wild and woolly terms that can mean many different things, depending on who you ask. For the sake of this exploration, here’s my definition:
Meaning = What gives your life substance and depth (or, more colorfully, what gives your life juice and flavor).
As I see it, there is no single one-size-fits-all algorithm for what gives life meaning. It’s a unique and individual thing. But there are a number of common themes. Things like make a difference, being part of something greater than yourself, and achieving mastery. I think of it as a meaning menu you can draw from, identifying what resonates with you and creating your own personal meaning map.
To see a meaning menu you can use as a starting point check out this series on how to live a meaningful life (which, I must confess, is unfolding a bit in slow motion).
Your meaning map consists of all the potential meaning sources that speak to you most. There’s no right answer to it – just your answer. It could be a couple things from the meaning menu, or it could be all of them.
Once you have zeroed in on your own personal set of meaning sources, you can start exploring ways to incorporate them into your life. For example, if making a difference is one of them, you might make a game of finding as many different everyday ways to do that as possible, big and small.
That could include paying someone a sincere compliment, stopping and talking with a homeless guy like he’s an equal (because he is), showing the new guy at work the ropes, smiling warmly at someone, or even being kind to the telemarketer who interrupted dinner.
That’s just a sampler platter. Once you start focusing on it, the possibilities to weave meaning into your life are virtually endless.
The big power of thinking small
One final note. I’m not suggesting that large-scale, wholesale change is a bad idea. It might be exactly what is needed. If that’s what’s right for you, and you’re ready, go for it! Set that change in motion!
But let’s say for the sake of discussion that’s not where you are right now. Maybe there are some valid things preventing you from taking a leap. Maybe you’re not even looking to make a change – you just want to find a way to make your life juicier and more fulfilling.
That’s where the power of thinking small comes in. It’s a whole lot easier to make small-scale changes, there are a whole lot more opportunities to weave them into your life, and you never have to wait for the time to be right.
Add to that the lower resistance people typically have to making changes at a smaller scale level, plus the cumulative effect of consistently taking that approach over time, and you’ll find a very big power in thinking small.