HOW TO THINK BIG

Now let’s see how we can enlarge our thinking. Ever ask yourself, “What is my greatest weakness?” Probably the greatest human weakness is self-deprecation—that is, selling oneself short. Self-deprecation shows through in countless ways. John sees a job advertisement in the paper; it’s exactly what he would like. But he does nothing about it because he thinks, “I’m not good enough for that job, so why bother?” Or Jim wants a date with Joan, but he doesn’t call her because he thinks he wouldn’t rate with her. Tom feels Mr. Richards would be a very good prospect for his product, but Tom doesn’t call. He feels Mr. Richards is too big to see him.

Pete is filling out a job application form. One question asks, “What beginning salary do you expect?” Pete puts down a modest figure because he feels he isn’t worth the bigger sum that he would like to earn. Philosophers for thousands of years have issued good advice: Know thyself. But most people, it seems, interpret this suggestion to mean Know only thy negative self. Most self-evaluation consists of making long mental lists of one’s faults, shortcomings, inadequacies. It’s well to know our inabilities, for this shows us areas in which we can improve. But if we know only our negative characteristics, we’re in a mess. Our value is small. Here is an exercise to help you measure your true size. I’ve used it in training programs for executives and sales personnel. It works.

Determine your five chief assets. Invite some objective friend to help possibly your wife, your superior, a professor—some intelligent person who will give you an honest opinion. (Examples of assets frequently listed are education, experience, technical skills, appearance, well-adjusted home life, attitudes, personality, initiative.)

Next, under each asset, write the names of three persons you know who have achieved large success but who do not have this asset to as great a degree as you. When you’ve completed this exercise, you will find you outrank many successful people on at least one asset. There is only one conclusion you can honestly reach: You’re bigger than you think. So fit your thinking to your true size. Think as big as you are! Never, never, never sell yourself short! The person who says “adamantine” when in the plain talk he means “immovable” or says “coquette” when we would understand him better if he said “flirt” may have a big vocabulary.

Each word, each phrase, creates a slightly different mental picture. If someone tells you, “Jim bought a new split-level,” you see one picture. But if you’re told, “Jim bought a new ranch house,” you see another picture. The mind pictures we see are modified by the kinds of words we use to name things and describe things. Look at it this way. When you speak or write, you are, in a sense, a projector showing movies in the minds of others. And the pictures you create determine how you and others react. Suppose you tell a group of people, “I’m sorry to report we’ve failed.” What do these people see? They see defeat and all the disappointment and grief the word “failed” conveys. Now suppose you said instead, “Here’s a new approach that I think will work.” They would feel encouraged, ready to try again. Suppose you say, “We face a problem.” 

So the  tenor of her remarks indicated that she was discouraged about the attitudes of many people she talked with. “Most days I interview between eight and twelve college seniors, all in the upper third of their class, all at least mildly interested in coming with us. One of the main things we want to determine in the screening interview is the individual’s motivation.

We want to find out if he or she is the kind of person who can, in a few years, direct major projects, manage a branch office or plant, or in some other way make a substantial contribution to the company. “I must say I’m not too pleased with the personal objectives of most of those I talk with. You’d be surprised,” she went on, “how many twenty-two-year-olds are more interested in our retirement plan than in anything else we have to offer. A second favourite question is ‘Will I move around a lot?’ Most of them seem to define the word success as synonymous with security.

You have created a picture in the minds of others of something difficult, unpleasant to solve. Instead say, “We face a challenge,” and you create a mental picture of fun, sport, something pleasant to do. Or tell a group, “We incurred a big expense,” and people see money spent that will never return. Indeed, this is unpleasant. Instead say, “We made a big investment,” and people see a picture of something that will return profits, later on, a very pleasant sight. The point is this: Big thinkers are specialists in creating positive, forward-looking, optimistic pictures in their minds and the minds of others.

Can we risk turning our company over to people like that? “The thing I can’t understand is why should young people these days be so ultraconservative, so narrow in their view of the future? Every day there are more signs of expanding opportunity. This country is making record progress in scientific and industrial development. Our population is gaining rapidly. If there ever was a time to be bullish about America, it’s now.” The tendency for so many people to think small means there is much less competition than you think for a very rewarding career. Where success is concerned, people are not measured in inches or pounds or college degrees, or family background; they are measured by the size of their thinking. How big we think determines the size of our accomplishments.

But does he have a big thinker’s vocabulary? Probably not. People who use difficult, high-sounding words and phrases that most folks have to strain themselves to understand are inclined to be overbearing and stuffed shirts. And stuffed shirts are usually small thinkers. The important measure of a person’s vocabulary is not the size or the number of words he uses. Rather, the thing that counts, the only thing that counts about one’s vocabulary is the effect his words and phrases have on his own and others’ thinking. Here is something very basic: We do not think in words and phrases. We think only in pictures and/or images. Words are the raw materials of thought. When spoken or read, that amazing automatically converts words and phrases into mind pictures. To think big, we must use words and phrases that produce big, positive mental images. In the left-hand column below are examples of phrases that create small, negative, depressing thoughts. In the right-hand column, the same situation is discussed but in a big, positive way.

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