In developing my book I Can’t Do This, I’ve needed to analyze more critically the internal process I use in coaching and therapy to help clients gain empowerment and move down a path of expansion rather than diminishment and hopelessness. It’s been a fascinating experiment, attempting to articulate exactly what’s happening in me in terms of my thinking, behavior, intuition, assumption, and questions, when I’m in relation with another who is wanting help to overcome crisis.

I’ve found that a key component of my process is looking for and bringing to light the various forms of “small thinking” my clients suffer with – the limited, negative and hope-crushing ways of perceiving life and oneself, including one’s assumptions, beliefs and projections that keep one wedded to the experience of ineptitude, worthlessness, or “smallness.”

Small thinking creeps in constantly for women. I see now how my own small thinking has kept me from pursuing what I dreamed of for myself for many years. In fact, I’m sad about the time I lost in my own small thinking, but realize somehow that all is as it should be.

I believe that what’s required to release ourselves from the negative effects of small thinking is a hyper-vigilance in weeding out this thinking, and replacing it with larger, self-affirming and possibility-engendering thinking. What we need to focus on are thoughts that make us feel better, give us hope and relief, and support our trust in ourselves and in our own power to make positive change in our world.

To assess the tendency for smallness in your thinking, ask yourself these intriguing questions:

When/if you’ve been unsuccessful at a particular endeavor, do you beat yourself up and say “See, I knew I couldn’t do this?”

When something is creating a deep challenge for you, do you project onto it a much bigger fear or issue?

Do you forget that this too shall pass and that your current situation is NOT forever?

Do you believe that when you fail, it’s the failure that matters (it isn’t).

Do you become hopeless and resentful when, after trying and trying something, the desired outcome doesn’t occur?

Do you look for validation and approval in all the wrong places?

If so, here are a few tips that I’ve found to be beneficial in moving myself and others away from small thinking:

  • Pick an area you are feeling hopeless or discouraged about now. For the next week, observe closely all of your thinking and questioning about this topic/area. Each time you think about this topic/issue, ask yourself “Is this small thinking or big thinking?” In other words, does your thinking imply “I can’t handle this” or does it suggest instead “I can and I will be successful in time.”
  • Each time you have an “I Can’t Do This!” type of thought, say to yourself “There goes another small thought,” and then let it go. Make a mental check mark. (Count up all the small thoughts you’ve had in a day…you’ll be amazed at the number.)
  • Don’t judge yourself, or indulge in thinking even smaller thoughts about your small thought.
  • When you notice a small thought, after letting it go, replace it with a thought that is bigger.

Examples of big thoughts are:

“Despite my limitations, I know I can and will rise to this new challenge.”

“I’m working to close my “gaps” and I know that takes some time and inner work.”

“For good reasons that I’m not aware of but I’ll know in time, this opportunity did not come to pass as I had hoped. Another great opportunity will and I’ll be ready.”

“I’m on a learning curve and it is expected and natural that there will be some bumps.”

“Rejection doesn’t mean that I’m not good. It means that the fit wasn’t right at this time.”

“That person’s reaction to me is more about him/her than about me. What can I learn from this?”

As an example of this process of examining and replacing small thinking, a recent client of mine was experiencing great difficulty around exploring what new directions he might take professionally after years building a long-term successful career in finance. While he loved his field and work, he was itching for something new, exciting, expansive that he could sink his teeth into. We explored all of this dreams, options, talents, gifts, passions, yet when he endeavored to envision something “new” for himself, he couldn’t.

We then shined a light on his thinking around taking on something new, and uncovered “smallness” around the area of failure. Longing to validate himself, his work and his career, he had been avoiding an honest examination of where he has truly failed in life and work. Once he was able to look failure squarely in the eye and accept that he indeed has some limitations (don’t we all) that have contributed to failure at times, he was then able to accept and forgive himself for not being perfect.

This allowed him to move on to the realization that striking out on his own and starting his own business might just be the perfect next step, and that he could be wildly successful at it.

I believe we’re naturally good at big thinking, but have learned through misguidance and fear to limit our thinking and lower our expectations to avoid hurt. The best gift I ever gave myself was the decision to throw small thinking to the wind. In observing those folks whom I truly admire in life, I see concrete evidence of their big thinking. They make it a habit to say to themselves and others as much as possible (and believe it): “Dream and think big for yourself, your life and your work…the world will thank you for it.”

Where do you experience small thinking and how have you replaced it with expansive thinking? What’s happened because of it?