At the end of a two-week crisis-management workshop, the instructors made us promise to take one thing away from the training.
"When times get really tough," they said, "don't forget to keep taking a step back so you can re-focus on the big picture."
Leaders fix problems, especially during emergencies.
Yet it's easy to get so caught up in fixing those problems--and, after a while, in fixing any problems--that you lose sight of the things you really need to accomplish.
Taking a step back to assess the overall situation? Good advice.
But what if instead of bringing clarity, the big picture seems too challenging? Too daunting? Too overwhelming?
That's when you need to take a page from the SEAL playbook, and start thinking small.
Here's what Andy Stumpf, a retired Navy SEAL and SEAL instructor whose 17-year military career resulted in multiple commendations--including five Bronze Stars--said when asked by Joe Rogan why some SEAL candidates quit during BUD/S training:
When I went back as an instructor... my favorite question [when people quit] was, "Why? You said this is your lifelong goal, this is all you ever wanted to do...and you quit. Why?"
Time and time again, the answer I got from students was they got overwhelmed. They were doing the opposite of keeping their world small.
There's two ways you can look at BUD/S. It's 180 days long. Or you can look at it as a sunrise and a sunset, 180 times.
Hell Week is another good example. It starts Sunday in the evening and ends Friday in the afternoon, and you get about two hours of sleep on Wednesday. That's it. It's horrendous to go through. Almost all the attrition occurs from Sunday night until Tuesday morning. Beyond that, you're probably going to make it through.
The advice I was given was, "Don't look at Hell Week as a five-day pipeline. Just make it to your next meal, because they have to feed you every six hours."
So if I can stack six hours on six hours on six hours, and just focus on getting to the next meal...it doesn't make matter how much I'm in pain, doesn't matter how cold I am...if I can just get to the next meal, get a mental reprieve and mental reset...then I can go on.
If you can apply that resilience to setting and approaching your goals from digestible perspectives...you can accomplish an insane amount.
How to Think Small
One of the biggest reasons people give up on huge goals...or give up in the face of an unexpected challenge...is the distance between here, where you are today, and there, where you someday hope--or need--to be.
If today your storefront is closed and your employees are dispersed and there's no end in sight to shutdowns and social distancing...the distance between here and there can seem insurmountable.
Looking at the big picture? That might only serve to make you want to give up. There's no way to get from here to there.
Instead, decide you'll think small.
Set your goal, then focus all your attention on the process you've created to achieve your goal. Decide what you'll care about most is what you need to do today.
And when you accomplish that, allow yourself to feel good about today.
After all, you accomplished what you set out to do. That sense of accomplishment will give you the motivation--the mental reprieve and reset--you need to do what you need to do tomorrow.
But only if you think small.
Lay out all the steps that will get you through the challenge you face. Then break that list down into daily chunks. Or even four-hour chunks.
Or, to use Andy's metaphor, into meals.
Then focus on getting to the next day, the next four-hour chunk, or the next meal. And then, only think about the next.
Keep your head down, keep thinking small...and one day you'll realize you managed to accomplish what once seemed too overwhelming to even consider.