Small Steps to Change
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." -- Lao Tzu
More and more people are discovering what Jeff Munn describes in a recent article--that we produce the greatest results in our lives, by making the smallest changes. This strategy of small change typically goes by the name of Kaizen. It's a practice that developed when the United States was ramping up production to fight World War II, and it blossomed when we taught it to the Japanese to help them in their post-war reconstruction. (Hence, the name.)
Kaizen tells us that if we want to make changes in our lives, we need to start as small as we can, and then do that small thing every day.
Think about New Year’s resolutions. Why do we fail so often 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? There are a number of good reasons.
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.
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. Deep inside, we think we’re losing something valuable, when we try to give up a habit, or replace one habit with another, and so deep inside, we're ready to put up a fight when the idea of change comes around.
Our usual strategy of big changes to get where we want takes up that fight head on, and what's deep within us usually wins. It has the advantage. It's embedded. But what if we were crafty, instead. What if our idea for change flew in under the radar, or infiltrated the forces for the status quo that reside deep within us? What would that do and why?
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 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.
“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens— and when it happens, it lasts.” —John Wooden
“Small things with great love. . . . It is not how much we do, but how much love we put into the doing. And it is not how much we give, but how much love we put into the giving. To God there is nothing small.” —Mother Teresa