One small change may be all it takes

It’s easy to be defeated before you start: to look ahead at the size and scope of whatever you want to change in your life and despair. But even a single, small change can be the catalyst for a personal revolution.

I’m sure that many, many people want to reduce the stress that they suffer, and get a better balance in their lives between the demands of their job and employer and all the other things they want to do. Maybe they would like to change other parts of their life too: become a kinder person, worry less, enjoy the moment more.

Why don’t they do it?

It’s often the apparent size of the task that defeats them. They never even make a start. The potential problems, upsets, criticism, difficulties with the boss or their colleagues—all of these make them feel so daunted that they give in and continue with the status quo.

“Big picture” blues

This is one of the rare occasions when nearly everyone considers the “big picture,” and when doing so really does not help.

That broad overview of what you want to achieve, and the likely problems to be overcome, packs everything into a single picture that is guaranteed to put almost anyone off. You may see all the potential benefits, but you’re also considering every drawback and difficulty you can imagine at the same time.

For a start, a good many of those problems will never happen. Your overview will contain what’s likely, what’s just possible, and what’s downright silly—the product of fear instead of reason—all jumbled together. Even when some parts of what you fear do come about, they’ll do so in a random sequence with gaps in between. They’ll virtually never attack you all at once.

When I was at university, one of my teachers had the annoying habit of calling us together at the start of each new year and setting out in minute detail all the work that we were to do for him. I never failed to leave these sessions depressed, anxious, and terrified. I was absolutely certain I could never do all that work—and he was only one of the professors who gave us tasks to complete!

Not only did I manage to complete his schedule (and the schedules for the other professors), I also found, to my surprise, I had time over for rest, socializing, and plenty of other activities. He made me realize how much studying I would have to do, but I was quite unable to see it in the context of 365 days of living. He presented it all at once, so that was the picture that I responded to.

The amazing power of one

All you really need do to start out on a path that may change your life is take a single step, then another and another. Keep doing that and you’ll accomplish all you wanted—and more besides.

Make one small change, then follow it with another. Tackle one problem at a time. Don’t worry about what might happen. Wait until it does. If you have many tasks in front of you, just do them one at a time.

Look for the next thing that needs doing and do it. Repeat that again and again.

Here are some ideas to get you started on the path to living a slower, calmer, more balanced and enjoyable life:

  • Set aside one period during one working day (maybe one hour) when you make sure that you can’t be interrupted. Repeat as needed.
  • Each week, keep one day totally free from work-related activities.
  • Excuse yourself from going to one useless meeting.
  • Choose a single activity you really love and do it for one hour, without any concern for anything else.
  • Choose one random act of kindness and do it.
  • Pick a day and leave work early, regardless of what’s hanging over you.
  • Look down your list of to-dos and do one thing that you’ve been putting off.
  • Pick a person who needs it and tell them how much you appreciate what they do for you.
  • Give your nearest and dearest one single hour of your absolute, undivided attention.

That’s it. Do one thing and see what happens. If you feel good, do another. Don’t try to go any faster. Don’t rush ahead in a burst of enthusiasm and crash into a wall of problems and exhaustion.

One step at a time. When you think about it, there’s no other way to walk or run without falling on your face.

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