Thoughts on: The Power of Small Changes

I live my life through small changes. Every moment is a chance to traject the course to destinations anew. Wanting to make change can be disheartening, if expectations are misguidedly unrealistic. It’s easy to view change as a beginning and an end. The tendency for most is to skip over the middle. Thus, embarking on a journey towards a lifestyle shift can feel, at times, as if you’re going nowhere. Trust me, I know after making $84,000 in student debt repayment and just barely reducing the initial principal by $34,000. More importantly, trust the process, and never underestimate the power of small changes.

The tried truth of the matter is, there is a middle that we never see. Success stories aren’t as cool when we linger on the drudgeries. Passions aren’t so epic when we highlight the failures. No one is EVER going to sit through a TV interview of a millionaire explaining that he became a millionaire by being frugal. None of those are exciting stories, so none of them sell. But these stories are more helpful to those that are pursuing a dream, because they are closer to the truth. So when people ask me how I got to slow living, how I woke up from zombielike reverie and jumped off the hamster wheel, they expect me to say that some point in my life, some experience, led me to where I am now. But that isn’t true. I simply started to watch a lot of documentaries, read a lot of books, reflect on my experiences, and it wasn’t one particular book or documentary or even moment in time that resulted in an epiphany. It was the slow accumulation of knowledge that little by little, moved me in the direction of making small changes towards slow living. Even today, the journey continues. I can’t give you a one word Hollywood answer, a simple solution to your own search for a slower life. But I can stress the importance of the middle.  

We cannot expect results to be instant. More importantly, we cannot give up when they are not. Trusting the process means that we understand that by doing something (anything!), we are by definition, never standing still. I had a friend once ask me to explain how I seem to get so much done. “Do I have a to-do list? Is it made daily, weekly, or monthly? Do I set goals?” Every question was focused on an end. The answer is, I do create a to-do list. I create a monthly one at the beginning of every month, and I create a daily one for the days that I do not have to go to work. The monthly list gives me a general direction, but more importantly, allows me to reflect on what I want for myself in the near future. The daily list is only made on my days off, when I have so much free time that I want to make sure I do not idle away too much of it.

The same friend returned to me about two months later. I asked how his progress was with some of the goals and dreams he shared with me a few months ago, and his answer was “slow”. He placed a lot of them on hold, because he felt too much overwhelm. He reported that he had tried to make a list every day and to check it all off, but he could never finish as much as he wanted. The result was a lot of frustration at his inability to make change. This frustration then led him to take a break.

What I failed to mention to him, which I clarified at this later conversation, was that the list is there to serve as a light. I jam pack my list with all the things I want to accomplish, but I hardly ever get to check all of them off. The mindset differs in the fact that I look at the ones I did check off, and think to myself, “Look how far I’ve come.” As for the rest, they are re-written again for the next list on another time, another day. The ability to do this lies in the non-expectation of an end result. When I want an end-result right away, I too, feel frustration, stress, anger, and insufficiency. I’ve been there, many times! But that does no one any good. So instead, look at it from a place of gratitude. You were gifted with one additional day, and you added to your life in different ways. Forget that you didn’t get to the end. There is so much joy to be found in the anticipation of an end result, that more often than not, the end seems a bit underwhelming when we DO reach it anyway.

So here is a short, quick guide on how to implement small changes in order to achieve even larger ones, at a slow, steady pace.

  • Start with a list. As mentioned above, I write a list in the beginning of the month that I want to see myself accomplish. Something as simple as “Read Two Books” or something more complicated like “De-clutter my Life”. Obviously, the latter requires a bit more work. These more difficult ones, I break down into steps on my daily lists. For example, I would have on my to-do list “De-clutter the closet” on one day, “De-clutter the pantry” on another day, “De-clutter relationships” on yet another day, and so on. The most important thing is to act on these small changes, without expecting to accomplish the big change. Eventually, the small changes add up, and you’ll soon realize that you’ve accomplished the big one, even if it IS a few months down the road.
  • Let go of the list. Give yourself the space to NOT accomplish, and that will be more helpful than locking yourself in with the pressures that cause you to give up completely. Sometimes, we don’t finish, which simply means that there’s another time and place for that change to occur. Let it go, and revisit later.
  • Create mini challenges. I absolutely LOVE mini challenges. I do them ALL the time. Sometimes I call them my own personal social experiments. When I wanted to stop contributing to plastic waste, I started with the challenge of bringing a reusable bottle all the time. I then moved up to not using plastic grocery bags. And then I challenged us to not buy any plastic grocery shopping. Eventually, we graduated to the challenge of not buying take out foods which use plastic. We created the challenge of not using a straw whenever we order a drink. The funny thing is, all these mini experiments are small changes that end up sticking with us and changing our habits. We now hardly introduce any plastic into our lives, through the slow process of adding in one small change at a time. Imagine if we embarked by cutting out all plastic completely, and at once. Would we have been able to push through without feeling despair? Probably not! Creating mini challenges are an absolute fun, easy, light-hearted way to change a lifestyle.
  • Be Optimistic. I don’t believe in the word negligible. I am very optimistic about how far our actions can take us, as well as how we can change a world. Be optimistic and trust that the small changes you are making do have an effect, even if you can’t quite see it yet.
  • Let Go of the Expectations. Expectations could be the most detrimental part of the journey. It makes us feel as if we aren’t enough. Let all that negativity go, and just go with the flow.
  • Slow and steady. But mostly, steady. This is another way of saying, keep it going. Small changes are great in that they are akin to a snowball. Once you make a change, the next change becomes easier, and easier, and easier. Once we see the world in a different way, we become more open to different perspectives. Once we question how society raised us, we find less fear in questioning everything. When you ask the question, “Which is stronger, a rock or a river?”, it is easy to say a rock. But when you look at the way a river forms a canyon, and you can see how the steady flow of some small force can be strong enough, over time, to change a larger structure. Slow and steady wins a race, but mostly, steady.

 

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