How to Focus on the Big Picture and Reach Your Goals

Focusing on the big picture…do you do it?

When I was home for the holidays this past week, I had the realization that many of us don’t.

My two sisters, Megen and Abby, shared some valuable insight into the challenges of getting “stuck in the woods” and “not seeing the forest for the trees.” They highlighted the importance of focusing on the big picture, and their words of wisdom got me thinking.

I began reflecting on the power of stepping back and taking stock of the big picture in our lives.

Whether we’re working toward an impossible goal, navigating challenging relationships, or beginning a New Year’s resolution to adopt a healthier lifestyle, identifying and returning to our big-picture goal is one of the secrets to success.

And today I am excited to share with you my favorite strategy to identify that bigger picture in any area of your life.

So if you’re ready to get started, check out the latest podcast below!

Prefer to read? No problem! The transcript follows the recording.

Let’s do this!



  • Why it’s important to tune into the big picture in any area of your life
  • Three leading areas where we overlook the big picture
  • My favorite strategy to step back and see the end goal



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Do you ever get stuck in the woods? What is your favorite way to step back and focus on the big picture? Share your strategies below!

How to Focus on the Big Picture and Reach Your Goals

Hey, friends! Welcome to the podcast. How was your week?

I had an amazing time at home in Minnesota visiting my family. There is something that’s so powerful about stepping away from your everyday routine and unplugging, and really making time to connect with the people who mean the world to you.

It really is something special. And I hope that you had a lovely week as well.

Now, in addition to the sheer joy spending time with my family, I also found some inspiration during our conversations; both of my sisters made a few comments last week that really got my wheels turning and inspired the topic for this week’s podcast. 

In fact, I wrote the outline on the flight home as I reflected on our time together.

So shout out to Megen and Abby for sharing their pearls of wisdom last week. 

The Inspiration

Now, both of these instances happened when we were unwrapping presents. So first, my younger sister, Abby, was talking about one of her friends being “in the woods” and blinded by the drama of some family arguments.

This particular person was so fixated on what “this family member” or “that family member” said that they were overlooking the fact that everyone was healthy and home together, celebrating the holiday. And she used the phrase of being “in the woods” to describe this person’s situation. In other words, they were so absorbed in the arguments and the drama that they couldn’t see the bigger picture.

And then my older sister, Megen, joined in and shared a similar story. But the saying that she used to describe the situation was, “you can’t see the forest for the trees!”

You’re In the Woods

Now, I’m guessing that either “you’re in the woods” or “you can’t see the forest for the trees” are phrases you’ve heard before at some time in your life. 

I know that I’ve heard them often and I’ve even used them myself.

But for some reason, when my sisters used them last week, their comments really stuck with me. And I spent a few days thinking about the power of these phrases. 

Because oftentimes when we’re looking in from the outside of the problem, when we’re outside of the woods, it’s easy for us to see the forest. It is easy for us to see the bigger picture and to look past the drama. 

So for example, when you see a friend or a partner or a sibling who is struggling to see the bigger picture, it is easier for us to recognize it.

But when we are in the woods, or when we are in the midst of some drama, it is much harder to find our way out. It is harder to see the bigger picture and to gain that valuable outside perspective. 

How to Focus on the Big Picture: Get Out of the Woods

And that’s what I want to talk about with you today. We are going to explore the importance of stepping back and taking stock of the big picture. Because I’m telling you, this skill is absolutely invaluable.

When we acquire that skill, and when we learn how to step out of the woods and gain that broader perspective, we have a much easier time moving forward. And this is true not only in our relationships but also on any goal that we’re working toward. 

Details vs. Big Picture

Now, I’m not saying that the details aren’t important. And I’m not saying that we should only look at the big picture. We absolutely do need to slow down and consider the details of our goals, our plans, our relationships, and everything else in our life.

But here’s the deal. If we don’t have an end goal in mind. If we overlook the larger objective and we only focus on the minutia, it’s often very challenging to move forward, because we don’t actually know where we’re going. We don’t know what we’re working toward.

GPS and the Big Picture

It’s kind of like using a GPS. If you don’t put an end destination in the GPS, you can’t get the turn-by-turn instructions on how to get there. 

And you know what happens then, right? You never get anywhere. 

Plus, you need that final destination as a reference. You need the endpoint as something to check back on. 

Think of it this way. Have you ever put in an address in the GPS and the directions end up taking you in the completely wrong direction? 

This happened to my husband and I when we were back in Minnesota last week. We were going to someone’s house, but the GPS brought us to the wrong end of the street. And if we didn’t know exactly where we were going, we wouldn’t have been able to check in with ourselves and say, “hm, this doesn’t look right. This wasn’t where we wanted to go. This wasn’t our end goal.” 

So while those smaller details are certainly important, you need to begin with the bigger picture to help you create a plan to get there. And you need to return to that bigger picture time and time again to make sure you’re moving on the right path. 

Because if we don’t, it’s way too easy to get lost. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the details, and the stumbling blocks, and the drama of the every day. And when this happens, we lose sight of what’s most important.

Alright, so let’s talk about when this situation comes up in our lives.

Relationships and the Big Picture

Let’s start by talking about relationships since that’s what inspired my sisters’ comments in the first place. 

And since we’ve just had a week of holiday festivities with family, it’s possible that you, too, may have found yourself lost in the woods for a little bit.

Because as we’ve talked about in earlier podcasts, this is the time of year when small disagreements often pop up. And when you combine that with busy schedules and holiday stress, those small disagreements can start to grow. 

And if we’re honest with ourselves, they sometimes get blown out of proportion. 

We start losing ourselves in the woods.

We start worrying about what he said or she said. And we worry about whether she liked her gift or if we bought each child enough presents. We worry about the details, and we overlook the big picture of our families celebrating the holiday together. 

We overlook the moments of laughter. Or we miss the joy in our children’s eyes. And we forget about the shared moments of joy together. 

Frankly, we overlook the big picture of family.

Other Relationships

And the same can be said for other relationships, too. Maybe you find yourself picking fights with your partner about all the little details. Or maybe you feel yourself getting worked up about your coworker who always finishes the last cup of coffee but never brews a new batch. 

Again, we all do this in our lives at different moments. We all find ourselves focusing on the little details.

So wherever you hear yourself in these situations. And wherever you find yourself focusing on the trees rather than the forest of your relationships, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about what the bigger picture is for you.

Questions to Consider to Find the Big Picture

What is the bigger picture for you in this particular relationship? What is your end goal? And what is the most important thing here? 

Is the most important thing the disagreement about where you’re having Christmas dinner? Is it the thing your mother-in-law said in the heat of the moment? Or is it that everyone is finally together celebrating the season.

Is it your partner never taking out the trash? Or is it your love for who they are in this world?

And the beautiful thing is that you get to decide. You get to choose your big picture. You get to step back from the individual trees and focus on the beauty of the forest whenever you want to. 

Healthy Eating and the Big Picture

This idea of seeing the forest for the trees also came up when my husband and I were bemoaning the amount of junk we ate over the past week. 

Anyone else in the same boat this year? Or is it just us?

So, Ryan and I tend to eat pretty healthfully throughout the year, which means that the constant stream of sweets and delicious foods over the past week left us feeling a bit…full. And in the airport on the way back to Boston, we were talking about looking forward to returning to our relatively healthy way of eating.

And our conversation got me thinking about getting lost in the woods once again.

Because I think a lot of us can easily beat ourselves up about overeating too many cookies on Christmas Eve or going overboard on all the delicious appetizers at the neighborhood holiday party. 

In fact, I was working with a client a few weeks ago who is working on a weight loss goal, and during our coaching session, she was already beating herself up about “losing control” over what she’d eat during the holidays. And it hadn’t even happened yet!

And again, I think this is so easy for us to do this.

We fixate on the details. We focus on the number of cookies, on the extra slice of pie, on the second helping of whatever, and we overlook the bigger picture. 

And we do this in a couple of different ways. 

Overlooking the Big Picture

First of all, we overlook the bigger picture of why we’re together in the first place. I mean, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 99.9% of the time, we aren’t getting together simply to eat food, right? 

Of course not.

Instead, we are getting together to spend time with one another.

We are getting together to enjoy one another’s company. 

Yet we overlook that bigger picture. We overlook the end goal, and instead, we get lost in the details. And when we do that, we don’t get to enjoy that time with those people because we’re fixating on the details.

And the other way that we get lost in the woods is by forgetting about the 51 other weeks of the year when we are eating healthy. 

Again, it is super easy to beat ourselves up thinking, “I can’t believe I ate so much over the last week.” 

And if you find yourself falling into that pattern, I invite you to think about the bigger picture once again. 

Are those few days really such a big deal? Are they really going to throw off your pattern of healthy eating for the rest of the year? Probably not. 

There is No Wagon

As I’ve talked about in a past podcast, there is no wagon. You have not “fallen off the wagon,” you just chose to eat something that is different from your normal way of eating. And there is no reason you can’t jump right back to normal today. It’s no big deal. 

And this is especially true when you focus on the end goal rather than details. Because when you focus on the healthy lifestyle that you lead the remaining 360ish days of the year, rather than the four days when you enjoyed a few holiday meals with your family, you have a much easier time following through on that healthy lifestyle that you’ve chosen for yourself.

And this is true at any time of the year. I promise you, you will have a much harder time reaching your goals when you keep focusing on how you “slipped up” instead of focusing on how you’ve been successful in the past and how you want to continue that success going forward.

New Year’s Resolutions, Major Goals, and the Big Picture

That brings me to the third situation where I often see people getting stuck in the woods. And this is when we’re working toward major goals or New Year’s resolutions. Since New Year’s is just around the corner, it seems especially appropriate to talk about it today.

So maybe set a goal for ourselves to workout 5 days a week or to cut sugar from our diet. Perhaps we commit to journaling every morning or to limit our time on social media to 15 minutes a day. Maybe we set a goal to save money for a big purchase or to turn our side hustle into a full-time business by the end of the year. 

Whatever the goal is that we set for ourselves, when we get started, we often have some understanding of the bigger picture. We want to improve our physical or mental health. Maybe we want to have a downpayment for a house by the end of the year. Or we want to leave our current position and work for ourselves. So we have some general idea of where we want to end up.

But when stumbling blocks come up along the way from point A to point B, that’s when we start getting lost. We start focusing on the individual trees, and we lose track of the forest. 

Resolutions and the Big Picture

So for example, maybe you’re trying to journal for 10 minutes each morning, but you missed five days in a row mid-January. Now, when this happens, it’s so easy to tell yourself you “fell off the wagon.” It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re far too busy to write for 10 minutes each morning. And it’s easy to beat yourself up for breaking the commitment you made to yourself.

But what if missing 5 days of journaling is not a problem? What if those five days are simply a few trees in a beautiful forest. What if these five days are simply one obstacle along your journey?

If this were true, and this slight deviation from your original plan is really no big deal, how might you look at the situation differently? How might you show up differently as you continue working toward that habit?

Let’s think about another example. 

Maybe you’re saving for a downpayment on a house, and you’ve diligently put money away every paycheck for several months. But then, life happens. 

You have unexpected car bills pop up. You decide to spend money on a few impulse buys that you’re now ruminating over and possibly even regretting. And your brain is starting to think, “what’s the use?” “This is hopeless.” “I’m never going to save enough money.” “I might as well give up now.”

And suddenly, these sneaky negative thoughts start gaining momentum. We allow these few setbacks – those few trees – to get in the way. We get stuck in the woods. And we lose sight of the bigger dream. We lose sight of the home we want to buy for our family.

Return to the Big Picture

And of course, so many of us do this with our goals. 

We tend to throw in the towel when we step off our set path for a moment. We focus on those few instances when we break from our new habit or we fall back into an old habit. And when we do this, that’s when we get lost. That’s when we forget what it is we’re working toward. And that’s when we can’t see the forest for the trees.

So if you’re adopting a new habit for the New Year, or you’re working toward your impossible goal that we talked about back in episode 21, and you aren’t seeing the progress that you’re expecting right away, remember to focus on the big picture. 

Remember why you started this journey in the first place. Remember, the obstacles along the way are all part of the experience. They are all part of reaching this new goal that you set for yourself. They are just a few trees in the woods, so don’t let them lead you off track. 

Instead, set your GPS. Stay on course. And keep working toward that big-picture goal.

How to Stay Focused on the Big Picture

So how do we do this? How can we remind ourselves to stay the path and to step back and look at the bigger picture?

Because as I mentioned, it is often easy to see the big picture for other people. When others are feeling overwhelmed and lost, it’s easier for us to recognize that their challenges are just bumps in the road on their way to success.

But when we are in that situation, it somehow feels different. When we are facing those obstacles, it feels much harder to touch base with the broader perspective and remember that it is all part of the journey.

So what can we do?

Think of Your Future Self

One of my favorite strategies to help me step back, and get out of the woods, and start seeing the bigger picture, is to check in with my future self. I check in with the Paula who has already reached the goal or already adopted the habit. 

Future Self Example: Run a Marathon

So if your impossible goal is to run a marathon by the end of 2020, but you miss training for a while, check in with your future self. Check in with the self that already ran that marathon. 

Picture what she looks like, what she’s doing, and how she feels. What would she tell you about missing that week of running or not improving on your latest time? How does she see this obstacle?

Future Self Example: Side Hustle to Business

Or if your impossible goal is to turn your side hustle into a full-time business, but you don’t reach your February sales goal, I encourage you to look ahead to your future self of December 2020 when she reached the year-end goal. What would she tell you about this month? What advice would she give you about moving forward? How might this smaller challenge fit within the grand scheme of your successful business?

And when you check in with your future self, remember that she has already reached the goal. She has already written the book. She’s already lost the weight. Or she has already signed the clients. 

Because when you put your brain in that space, and when you think of your future self already accomplishing that goal, you will have a much easier time focusing on the big picture. You’ll have an easier time remembering why you are working toward the goal in the first place. 

And when you get in that mindset, you will uncover those powerful thoughts and feelings that will get you taking action and getting right back on track.

Questions to Focus on You Future Self

So the next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed. Or the next time you find yourself spinning out in drama or frustration. Or the next time you feel like you’ve lost your sense of direction. I encourage you to step back and think of your future self. 

Ask her, “what is the big picture here?” “What is my end goal?” “What do I want?” And “what can I do to start moving in the right direction?”
Then, start taking those steps. Put one foot in front of the other. And you’ll see that forest in no time.

Quote of the Week on Perspective

Now before we go, I want to leave you with this week’s quote of the week, which comes from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, who was a French critic, journalist, and novelist from the 1800s. And he offers a powerful statement on perspective, which reads: 

We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

It’s so easy to focus on the negative. It’s easy to hone in on the stumbling blocks, the obstacles, and the thorns in our path. It is easy to get frustrated by the challenges and to lose sight of the big picture.

But the truth is that there is often something beautiful or powerful within the struggle. There is often a silver lining around that stumbling block. And while the silver lining may not be clear to you yet, and you may be solely focused on the thorn right now, with time, your perspective will shift.

With time, that valuable broader perspective comes into focus. And you’ll start seeing the roses. And you’ll recognize that those challenges were all part of your journey and part of who you are.

10 thoughts on “How to Focus on the Big Picture and Reach Your Goals”

  1. Great reminder. I’m often guilty of failing to see the big picture in a given situation, but stepping back and looking at where you want to go with a goal, relationship, or resolution is so helpful in maintaining motivation.

    1. It’s easy to get sidetracked by all the details, isn’t it? They’re certainly important, but checking in with the big picture is so important, too.

  2. You have the uncanny ability of speaking to my current situations!
    I’m struggling with how to stay focused during this time in my life- we’re living in a 2 bed apartment whilst beginning a home build. I really needed the reminder to stay focused on the big picture.

    1. I’m so glad it resonated with you, Marta! It can be hard to focus on the big picture, but it sure helps in challenging situations 🙂

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