People spend too much time focusing on the exceptional, the uncommon and the rare. When asked what would make them happy, most of us talk about big events (the birth of a child, winning the lottery, an upcoming vacation, or a major promotion). When it comes to thinking about changes that would significantly improve our existence, here again we focus on major actions like giving up alcohol, traveling the world for six months, doing a year of pro-bono work in a third world country… you get the point.
This is unfortunate given the infrequency of said big moments, and the unlikeliness that most of us will have the courage, time or planning skills to undertake most major changes.
What if instead of focusing on big events and big changes, we paid a bit more attention to the smaller, more mundane aspects of life? Maybe, we could all start to realize that small actions have a HUGE impact.
Think small and go big
The problem with thinking big, is that it can have a paralyzing effect. The bigger the dream, the larger the goal, the greater the change, the less most of us believe we are capable of achieving it. Small goals, however, little steps, reasonable changes, those we trust ourselves to make.
The good news is that those small changes can have a huge impact. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or give up your favorite food to create the life you want, all you have to do is think of the smallest shift that will get the ball rolling.
Consider this: Let’s say you are badly sleep deprived, which unfortunately is a reality for far too many people. You might need to add a good two hours to your night to make up the deficit, but there is no way you can just give up 120 minutes of your evening or morning to make it happen. 15 minutes, however, you know you can do.
So start there, 15 minutes week one, another 15 the following and within two months you’ve made a massive change that will: 1) leave you feeling more rested, 2) increase your mental acuity, 3) improve productivity, 4) increase motivation, 5) boost your performance at the gym, 6) help you lose visceral fat (even if you’re not going to the gym), 7) lower your chances of depression and anxiety, 8) improve your skin, not to mention 9) make you less of an irritable jerk. All that with just 15 minutes of extra sleep a week for eight weeks. Small change, big impact!
How about this one: You feel constantly overbooked; work, friends, colleagues, family, by the time you’ve done it all there’s no time left for you. “I’m so busy,” “I’m exhausted,” and “I’ve got no time” are a regular part of your lexicon. “Take more time for yourself!’ your friends say. “Don’t do so much!” you’re mother urges. But where on earth are you supposed to find the time to do nothing?
You could quit your job, become a hermit, or give up Game of Thrones, but seriously???? How about taking five, or even two, minutes every hour to yourself? You don’t realize it, but those two minutes of selfish, private me-time could change your life.
Consider leaving your phone at your desk when you go to the bathroom, or on your lunch break. Say no to one social event a week (give up those events you guilt yourself into because you can’t handle FOMO). Take 10 minutes every morning to check in with yourself. Don’t answer that text, phone call, or email if you don’t feel like doing it right now. These small changes can make a huge difference. Don’t believe me? Try one of them for a week, and if it doesn’t work email me and I’ll send you a gift.
Real life, real changes
Whether the examples I gave speak to you or not, the fact is it is often far easier to progress when you start small than when you aim big first. If you find yourself struggling to create the changes you want in your life, start by identifying what that change will bring you (i.e. why do you want to make the shift in the first place), then try to figure the smallest way in which you can nudge the needle in that direction. You’ll be surprised how easily small actions can lead to big shifts.
Need some inspiration? Here are some universal goals clients and patients of mine have worked on, and the small changes they made that had amazing results.
1. Want to detox from your screens?
Leave your cell phone out of the bathroom
Turn your phone off (or to do not disturb) after 9PM
Stand in line at the store or in an elevator without checking your phone
Turn the TV/Computer off 15 minute before you plan on going to bed
Make the first 15 minutes of your day screen free
2. Need more sleep?
Go to bed 10, 15 or 30 minute earlier for a full week
Use blue light canceling glasses after dark (think orange or yellow lenses)
Install an app like f.lux on your devices
Go to bed on weekends at the same time you do during the week
Put blackout blinds/curtains (cardboard paper…) on your bedroom windows
3. Want to be more productive?
Create a three item to-do list for the day
Break your work time into 25-minute increments then take a 5-15 minute break. Rinse and repeat throughout the day
Take a real lunch break where you don’t work
Outsource the things you suck at and focus on what you’re really good at
Don’t work when you are tired (get more sleep)
4. Need to get healthier eating habits and lose some fat?
Eat off a smaller plate (humans hve a tendency to want to fill the container they are given, so larger plates have us over-serving ourselves)
Get more sleep
Practice deep breathing, stress management, mediation, anything to reduce your stress
Don’t eat after dinner
Eat with another person and have a real conversation over the course of the meal
If ‘not hungry’ is a 1 and ‘hangry’ is a 10 plan your meal when you are at a 5 (just starting to think about food).
The bigger picture
The goals and the changes in the previous section are pretty common and honestly, simple ones, but the same process works for complex changes. Improving your relationships, figuring out a way to indulge your wanderlust or shifting your career can feel daunting, but even these goals can be achieved through smaller changes.
To get there, however, you’ll need a bit of insight into why you want what you want. Start with understanding the ‘W’s’ of your goal. Why do you want it? What will it change about how you feel, think, act? What is it about reaching that goal that will improve your life? Then use that information to create small, simple and achievable mini goals.