Most of us have something in our lives we would like to change – an old habit, snapping at our kids or our partner, a feud with a family member, overspending, overeating. Yet to attempt it feels daunting. How in the world can we take on something that feels so overwhelming as changing ourselves?
The secret to making a big change is to take small steps. Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher poet, said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I have been rereading Dr Robert Maurer’s 'One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way', a little book that emphasises the transformational power of tiny changes. He points out that a small change bypasses the brain’s automatic resistance to change, by disarming the fear response. And it actually works.
I knew I wasn’t drinking enough water, but when I set a goal such as to drink eight glasses a day, it just felt overwhelming. So I decided to take one small step – to fill a glass or bottle with water and take a sip each time I pause or stand or walk around or get out of the car. As we take more water, our body wants even more, so soon I was up to several glasses a day. A big change for me.
“From little things, big things grow”, says Australian songwriter, Paul Kelly. “One day at a time” is the motto of Alcoholics Anonymous and is the only way any addiction can be overcome. Mark 12: 41 – 44 contains the story of the poor widow’s mite, in which the power of what appears to be a small contribution is treasured more than larger sums contributed by the wealthy. There is a Scottish parable that says, “If each before his own door swept, the village would be clean.” The Baha’i Writings say real change occurs “little by little, day by day.”
If you are in the habit of growling your children or your partner, try making one loving, positive comment a day. Ask one small question about their day with a gentle, patient spirit. Then – and this is essential – don’t analyse or advise; just empathise! If they say they had a great day, ask “What was great?” If they say “Someone hurt my feelings,” ask: “How did they hurt your feelings?” You will see their eyes shine with a new light.
A small step is truly the key to getting ourselves to change any bad habit, including addictions to junk food, cigarettes or alcohol, or hopelessness about exercising or losing weight. Rather than set an impossibly high goal, cut down by one cigarette a day, give or throw out the first bite of junk food (the last bite is too tempting). Spend one minute standing up or dancing instead of sitting. Increase as gradually as possible. Try it, and see what happens.
I believe what we need is the virtue of Contentment. Can we be content with little? Can we be happy with what God provides in a given day? Do we know that we have enough and we are enough? A friend I admire said: “No one needs to go hungry on this island. There are fish in the sea, crabs on the land, coconuts and fruit on the trees. They just need to reach out and take what they need.” Are we hungry in the midst of plenty? Unable to be satisfied with what we have? Let us practice Contentment by being grateful for every little thing, including our own simple steps toward positive change. Start counting your blessings. One a day would be a great start.