A Small Guide to Big Changes

Posted on 09 February 2012

Tiny Steps

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” ~Proverb

I recently made a discovery that massively increased the amount of change that I have been able to take on. Good stuff, too, like my eating habits and the amount that I exercise.

By this time last year, and the year before, I would have already dropped my New Year’s resolution. Maybe you have, too.

But there’s still a chance. There’s still time for some big changes this year.

With this small change, I’ve not only taking on big changes, but I’ve been able to sustain them. And add to them.

I’ve deepened my meditation practice. I’ve lost weight. I’ve reduced the amount of sugar I eat. I’ve dropped caffeine. I’ve increased the amount of yoga I do. I’ve started running again. And writing.

This has all happened since adopting one small trick that I had never heard about (and that frankly, I had never even read about).

It’s made change fun.

Here it is:

Start as small as you can. And do that small thing every day.

If I could see your face right now, chances are pretty good that I would see someone who looks a bit underwhelmed.

But let me explain. Let’s go back to New Year’s resolutions, a favorite topic of mine.

How is it that we fail so often at trying to incorporate changes that we know are good for us, and that we know would make us feel better if we were just able to stick with them?

I’ve had resolutions that haven’t lasted a day, let alone the whole year.

How is it that I’m so weak?

This question has bothered me for years.

Well, it turns out that there are a lot of good reasons why people can’t change quickly.

We spend most of our waking lives on habits and routines. When we eat and how much, when we have our first cup of coffee (or our fifth), and when we get our best work done are all driven by routine. Our bodies get used to those routines. They become quite sticky in fact.

And our minds think that because “that’s what I’ve always done it,” that our routines are the right way to live.

So when we try to change our routines in any kind of massive, resolution-warranting kind of way, our minds and bodies put up all kinds of defenses to stop it. Because we think we’re losing something, something valuable, when we try to give up a habit, or replace one habit with another.

Even if all we’re giving up is eating nachos.

Our bodies literally crave what we once had but have now lost. Every time I start a diet, I find myself wanting what I am now missing more than I ever wanted it when I had it. That ice cream has been in the freezer for months and now I can’t stop thinking about it!

Have you had the same experience? Maybe once or twice?

The answer is to start small, and, most importantly, to be consistent. What does this do?

1. Small is easier to start.

If you’re trying to make a big change, that can be pretty daunting. But try to find one minute a day to meditate, or change your plates from dinner size to salad size, and chances are you can sneak up on that pretty easily.

2. Small means less resistance.

Almost any time you’re adopting a new habit, you are also dropping an old one. This is especially true if the change you’re adopting is a big one. Going from the standard meat and potatoes diet to raw food overnight is probably going to be difficult, for example. You may not think of yourself as an addict right now, but just take that nightly steak away and see what happens.

3. Small builds momentum.

The most important part of starting small is the consistency part. It’s much easier to meditate for one minute every day than it is to meditate for 30 minutes every day. And you’re more likely to notice how you good you feel with that small change because you’re not thinking as much about some big thing you’re giving up.

4. Small turns into big.

As you establish your new habit, or your new way of thinking, you’ll see it’s much easier to expand on that than it is to start from zero. To take the meditation habit again, if you’ve meditated a minute a day for awhile, it’s pretty easy to find another minute. Soon, you’re up to 30 minutes a day, even though you could never have done that starting from zero.

We all have an idea of a better self, an ideal self that is so much different than who we are right now. And we think we’ll be happy once we get there, once we’ve lost 50 pounds, run a marathon, and written that book.

But weight loss comes one meal at a time. Marathon training happens every time we put on our running shows. Writing is one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time.

Change is not a destination, or a switch to be flipped. It’s a process—and a never-ending one at that. With this mindset, you can do anything.

Start small. Be consistent. And watch massive change take hold.

What small changes have taken hold in your life?

Photo by Abhijit Kar Gupta

About Jeff Munn

Jeff Munn is a coach, writer, and speaker on using meditation as a platform for personal transformation and professional success. You can read his blog at http://jeffmunncoaching.com.

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