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Why “Thinking Big” Trumps “Smart Thinking”

June 15, 2014

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Contrary to what common sense dictates, if you want to amp up your ability to be and do your very best at anything—whether as an expert or learning something new for the first time— “smart thinking” might be thwarting your success. To truly tap into your full potential, instead of thinking “smart,” you need to “think big”!

There’s no doubt that we value smart thinking. We all want to be considered intelligent. But what does it mean to think smart? We say someone is smart when they have a lot of facts and information , a big vocabulary, a good memory, and seem capable of getting what they want.   

All around us, we see society rewarding those who are seen as smart.  As Malcolm Gladwell points out in his bestseller Outliers: the Story of Success, people who are seen as successful are most likely to be given the kinds of social opportunities that lead to further success: the rich are the ones who get the biggest tax breaks, the best students get the best teachers and the most attention, etc.

Those who value smart thinking seeking out ways to further enhance their intelligence, through reading, school, or services like Luminosity.

However, the drive to engage in smart thinking neglects an enormous aspect of our humanity. While this knowledge-based approach to the world may help us succeed professionally, academically, or financially, it can’t be  confused with a true understanding of the complexities that form the bases of our physical, mental, and emotional lives. This type of “knowledge”—what I call “thinking big”—encompasses the interrelatedness of everything in our fast-paced and complex environments.

Thinking big means developing the capacity to access insights beyond what appears on the surface of our everyday lives and everyday interactions; it goes to the deeper levels of the true realities of our human existence.  

Thinking big is a way of seeing and perceiving, that includes the possibility that what you see or know or understand, no matter how successful or effective you may have been in past experiences, is only a partial picture of the reality of a situation, never the whole story. Unlike smart thinking, thinking big includes a willingness to not know what you think you know, to not take your own opinions and perceptions too seriously, to remain open to all possibilities.

As you might rightly conclude, thinking big is actually about not about thinking at all. Rather, it’s a way of allowing what is to surface into conscious awareness. Only then, and not through recalling facts or making inferences, can we come to see the reality of a situation with clarity. Thinking big means opening your mind by freeing it of any active cognition, which then allows you to be fully receptive to the world. It allows us to experience the wholeness of our lives rather than the mental constructs we believe our lives to be. 

An effective tool for accessing “thinking big” is mediation.  Meditation puts us in touch with the spirit of our entire being and with reality as it is.  Mediation quiets the smart thinking part of our mind, and allows thinking big to take us to the depths of our experiences and existence.  When we are able to see more of our true existence, we can become more of the whole and happy beings we are meant to be.

Joan Moo Young is a Health Coach and 2005 graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She meditates daily and seeks to share meditation with others as she has found her practice to be a true path to happiness.