BIG Picture Thinking

BIG Picture Thinking

Education January 03, 2019 / By Joanne Foster, EdD
BIG Picture Thinking

Kids who dwell on the entirety of tasks or situations may find this approach to be strategic—or alternatively, they may become overwhelmed. Here’s information about BIG picture thinking, and 10 ways to embrace that process productively.

The Big Picture: What Is It? 

Looking at the BIG picture involves trying to see the entire scope of a task. This can be a tactical way to obtain a full sense or understanding of things. 

Many kids (and adults, too), don’t like to begin a task or commitment unless they’re able to picture the whole thing from beginning to end! Why is that?

They may want to establish if they can comfortably and fully achieve it, or know exactly what steps will be involved in moving forward. They might hope to be pre-emptive with respect to challenges or surprises that could occur part way through. Perhaps they aspire to be properly prepared. For example, if a task is large, or complicated, they may need to understand all the implications, acquire certain materials, and maybe even fashion a timeline before they begin. They may also find that it’s exciting to envision the creative possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead—as when we embrace imagination, speculate, embark upon a fresh venture, or begin a new year. 

And, there may be other reasons why kids might want to see “the whole staircase,” and not just the first step.

However, the flip side of all of this is that when things loom large, they can also seem scary, far-reaching, or discouraging.  If it turns out that a task appears too BIG or too daunting, kids may choose to procrastinate, or even back off completely. This can become problematic because task avoidance can compromise productivity and outcomes.

10 Ways to Help Children Deal with BIG Picture Thinking

Stop to think about it: a BIG task is really just a bunch of smaller ones. By viewing them as bite-sized pieces, instead of a huge plate full of stuff, it will be easier to digest. No one can eat an entire cake in one swallow. Kids might want to see the whole thing, but regardless of what it looks like in its entirety, it will taste the same whether they see it or not—and the truth is that they still have to tackle it one piece at a time. As they do, the BIGness becomes less big…

Here are ten tips for children and teens who sometimes have difficulty getting past a BIG picture approach—and who may worry, procrastinate, or disengage—and who may be seeking ways to become more productive.

1. Block your time well.  Use a productivity app or calendar or create an itinerary. Grant yourself time for an initial overview of everything that you want to do, and then be sure to set aside abundant time to do the task itself so you won’t run out before you’re able to complete it. You can also insert a “catch up” day or a “time out” segment into your plan as a safeguard, just in case you require it.

2. What if the picture looks way too BIG?  There are ways around it. Ask for help. See if you can get a longer time period for completion. Self-talk can also be a useful way to give yourself a boost. The phrase “self-talk” refers to the words people use to convince or coach themselves into action, by reviewing what they have to focus on, and how they intend to proceed, one step at a time. 

3. Get the REAL picture.  What should you consider? If you intend to get a realistic and thorough overview of a situation, a set of circumstances, or a task, think about what matters—including options, possible deterrents, and consequences. Take into account what information you may need, and how you might be able to get it as quickly as possible, so you can proceed. Ask smart questions.

4. Who else should you consider?  If your way of thinking, or a resulting slow start, is going to affect other people (for example, if they’re counting on you), be sure to connect with them so they’re aware that you’re looking at the BIG picture, and know what you have planned. 

5 Join up with others.  Can you share the BIG task? Maybe you can collaborate with friends. For example, when three or four people design a historical timeline, write a story, review a play, or plant a garden, the job gets divided up and becomes more manageable. You can share responsibilities, and encourage and support one another.

6. Slot in the R’s—re-envision, repair, revise, or redo.  Any plans that take into account the BIG picture should also leave time to remedy the results. A final product or end goal won’t seem as off-putting, and you’ll feel more self-assured if you know you’ve set aside the opportunity to fix, edit, and fine-tune results. And to infuse some creativity, too!

7. Have faith in your ability to overcome a high hurdle.  Give yourself a pep talk, going over what you have to do. Think positively about the path you’ll have to take to get there. Then, take it. Be confident!

8. Use mental imagery.  Close your eyes and visualize the BIG task. Envision yourself doing just the first one or two things that need to get done on the way to completing it. In the same way that you read a single page of a book at a time, imagine tackling just one aspect of the task you have to confront, and then taking a break before tackling another, and another, as you “see” fit. 

9. Find success stories.  Think about people who have prevailed, or draw upon stories about characters who “moved mountains”—or, conversely, people who stalled needlessly because they “made mountains from molehills.” What can you learn from these accounts?

10. Build skill sets.  Figure out what skills you can use or need to develop. BIG pictures are composed of composites, and they can be tackled incrementally. The sooner you begin to identify what skills you need to call upon, and work though the steps, the sooner you’ll gain forward momentum. 

The BIG picture is important. It’s beneficial to appreciate and become knowledgeable about the “whole package.” Encourage kids to plan so that there’s opportunity to do that—including opportunities to do the different elements of the pending task, and to meet expectations. And, as they take the time to get a better feel for what lies ahead, help them think about that as actually being a tactical part of the action plan—not a way to avoid it—as they move on with determination toward completion. 


Reading and Resources 

Material in this article has been adapted from content on pp. 55-59 of the author’s most recent book, Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate (recipient of the Independent Book Publishers Association’s 2018 Silver Benjamin Franklin Award), and also from p.12 of its predecessor, Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. Readers can find additional information by checking out the award-winning book Being Smart about Gifted Education, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster. To learn more about these books (and also Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, written by both authors), and to acquire accessibility to a wide range of articles and links, go to Information about professional development workshops and speaker sessions with Dr. Foster can also be found at this website.

For excellent resources on supporting and encouraging gifted and high-level development, check out the assortment of material published by Great Potential Press

Eileen Kennedy-Moore has a brand new book, Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem. It’s written for parents but there’s lots of valuable information for teens. 

Martin Luther King said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” There are many wonderful quotes that can inspire children (and adults, too). Check out the series of articles that focus on quotes at Roots of Action. Topics include healthy development, creativity, goals, resilience, integrity, and more. 

Here’s an interesting article on self-talk. 

For information on developing time management skills, see Mitzi Weinman’s book It’s about Time: Transforming Chaos into Control from A to Z. 

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