The Power of the “Little Things”

My guess is that January is a time when goal-setting is at an all-year high.  While many of us have dropped off the resolution train at this time of the month, we still have high hopes and excellent intentions for the rest of the year.

Here’s where we (unintentionally) shoot ourselves in the foot: We set huge goals that are non-specific.  While we already talked about how lack of specificity hurts our chances of sticking to a goal (click here to read that post), I want to talk a little about how the size of our goals affects our success.

You can probably intuit what I’m getting at: Don’t set goals that are too big. Again, this is simply an opinion, and some of us have found success doing the exact opposite.  But many of us are simply not equipped to handle a giant goal in the midst of other time-consuming priorities in our lives – families, jobs, other obligations we can’t avoid.  If you then add to those priorities a huge goal like “lose five dress sizes this year” or “eat completely vegan” or “meditate for one hour every day even though I’ve never meditated in my life” – then you might struggle a little.

Too often, we underestimate the power of the little things.  Things like…drinking an extra glass of water in a day. Politely saying no to that mini Snickers bar that a friend offers us.  Intentionally parking far away from the grocery store so we have to walk a few extra steps.  Eating carrot sticks with hummus and ditching the tortilla chips for the moment.

We dismiss these small actions as not very impactful – but they can add up in a huge way over time.  The beautiful thing about these small and seemingly pointless habits is that they have a snowball effect.  Once you get used to drinking that extra glass of water each day, you may willingly drink even more – and we’ve all heard that drinking more water is one of the greatest tools in staying healthy, hydrated, and at a healthy weight. Once you get used to slowly decreasing your sugar intake, then you may find that you don’t need as much sugar to feel satisfied, and your diet may naturally change for the better.  Building in very gradual increases in your physical activity each day will burn a few extra calories and help habituate your body to more movement.  And so on.  In this way, the ripple effects of the “little things” can have a huge cumulative effect on our health over time.

To be clear, I don’t mean to discourage anyone from setting big goals – they are the primary vehicle for moving us forward, no matter how much or little progress we make.  I am merely suggesting that we not dismiss those smaller everyday changes simply because they may not seem as impactful as larger actions towards our goal (like going to the gym for an hour a day).  The fact is, you will probably have to miss a day here and there, even if you are super committed.  Things happen and life gets busy.  For that reason, it can help to develop smaller habits that work to support your larger-scale efforts towards your goals.  Every little bit counts 🙂

And most importantly, no matter how many days you might “miss” or “mess up,” always be proud of the fact that you’re trying to commit to improving yourself.  It takes a great deal of courage to simply try to make positive changes in our lives.  The bumps in the road are part of the journey, so try not to be hard on yourself.  Just do your best and, in the words of Rainbow Rowell, “let your pile of good things grow!”