The Power of Starting SmallFebruary 20, 2020 · Aaron Burr
When we think of the world changing we picture massive leaps in order to do so. We see others making big changes to help the earth. They must be some sort of superhuman making these huge leaps! This seems so much more exciting and impactful than starting small (yawn), so isn’t it the best way?
First off, big leaps tend to make headlines so this is what we end up seeing and therefore believe that everyone is making them. Almost always the reality is real and long term change starts from taking one step at a time.
The issue with giant leaps
When we’ve been living a certain way for however many years it’s difficult to completely change everything instantly. It can also create some massive instability, discomfort, and ultimately make us revert back to our original lifestyle anyways.
I mean picture it: imagine tomorrow you have to give up something huge or start doing something that you’ve never done before. And on top of that, you have to continue it forever.
This sounds crazy! But hey, if you prefer it this way then good for you, really.
The rest of us less-than-perfect human beings have limits to change, or rather, limits to change that we can maintain for a long time.
Big changes are useful in emergencies. If we have something huge and catastrophic that is about to happen, we more than likely need big changes to solve it. This of course will be difficult, but what other options are there?
When our health is in major jeopardy we probably need big changes and we need them now. This can be thought of as the diet mindset. We need “diets” in order to solve immediate problems as quickly as possible. But what about the long term?
Why small steps?
The funny thing is, a lot of emergencies can be prevented by shifting our lifestyle mindset for the long term. A lifestyle mindset is what’s needed to make serious long term changes.
It’s tough for us mentally to go from no exercise at all to exercising an hour per day, six days a week. We end up missing a day, falling short, then giving up all together.
Maybe, if we are coming from no exercise at all, it’s better to do five minutes per day. Doesn’t that sound way too easy? Almost like no progress at all? Well, 30 minutes total of showing up to something every week (5 x 6) is a heck of a lot better than zero minutes (6 hours x giving up). I know, I know...rocket science.
On the same note, it’s probably better to start with a zero waste alternative for things like cotton swabs, water bottles, or bags instead of selling our car and going vegan starting tomorrow. Although, if this is the preferred strategy you take, then go for it!
When we make simple changes in our lives by reducing our waste we’ll find the rhythm and motivation to continue doing more. This is a lot like when we show up to do our five minutes of exercise.
We get into this idea of mindset and lifestyle in the article The Hidden Impacts of Zero Waste Solutions. In the article we discuss how zero waste alternatives for something like a cotton swab or even a tissue can have such a large impact on our lives.
Not a large impact in the sense that by reducing them we are instantly saving the entire world, but in the sense that we are changing our mindset for future changes to come. Changing the future?! What?! Not to mention, there is a pretty substantial footprint that these things have on the earth.
We hear a lot of financial experts saying momentum and time is key. When we are talking about paying off debt we hear a lot about building momentum and starting small.
When we are talking about investing we hear how time is our greatest asset. The earlier we start investing the more money we will make.
We are in debt with the earth. We need to pay that debt off and then start investing in it. The earlier the better, no matter the amount.
Alright alright, enough of the (seemingly) unrelated examples.
To wrap things up
- Diet mindset is for emergencies and the short term (big changes).
- Lifestyle mindset is for sustainable progress in the long term (small, consistent changes).
With the issue of climate change and harming the earth, it feels like we don’t have time to take small steps. It feels like we need big changes right this instant. In ways, we absolutely do.
It’s tough for our human brains to think long term. This is why financial advisors and physical trainers exist. This is why it’s so tough sticking with new routines, saving, investing, and making small, manageable changes.
Big leaps of course have their place. But If we are deciding between making changes which won’t last or making changes which we can continue forever, the ladder will have the most impact in the long term.
It’s easy to look at others making changes and get discouraged. At the end of the day we need to come up with plans that are best shaped to fit our needs. They also need to be manageable to a point where we can continue them forever∞ and then build off them when we feel ready.