If you know me, you’ll know a favourite mantra of mine is that ‘baby steps add up’.
I don’t tend to succeed if I try to go for big shifts. Some people get a sense of momentum from big changes. Personally, they exhaust me.
So if you’ve tried the new year’s resolution, the big “right that’s it” moment and created a grand plan to change your life… and it hasn’t worked…
Hi. You’re in the right place. Welcome to my club. Grab a beverage and feel free to recommit, on a tiny scale.
So how does this work?
Well, in human thought processes, we often underestimate our small and simple actions.
One chocolate bar? Eh, it will hardly make a difference.
Five minutes spare? I can’t accomplish anything in that. Might as well check my phone.
However, looking at the research, and even thinking back to past attempts, small daily or weekly shifts DO add up. Those five minutes could be spent writing a story on your notes app, doing squats or practising your Gaelic vocabulary. Equally, that chocolate bar is 350 calories, which will take an hour of extra movement to burn off.
So if you’re hoping to change a habit or start a new routine; trying to improve your life, it’s worth considering the small steps.
A Time Travel Example
In time travel stories, a common theme is of going back in time, and changing one tiny, seemingly innocent thing; and then returning to a completely different world. It makes sense, in some way. That idea of a butterfly effect, of a tiny change sustained over a long period of time… it adds up. If you step on a dinosaur egg, that dinosaur won’t live out it’s life and had more dinosaurs…
Yet, when it comes to our daily actions, we think the same of the tiny changes we could make each day for our wellbeing.
This is one of the key focuses of my resilience training: We can radically change the future by small acts in the present.
My Lesson Learned
In 2016 I began working out 2 to 3 times a week. This was my first step to physical fitness. I used the Nerd Fitness approach, starting with “level 1” exercises.
I ‘levelled up’ to the next difficulty of workouts in about three months. It took another 6 months to level up again: reaching workouts defined as ‘level 3’ difficulty.
In 2017, I fell of the wagon and didn’t exercise for nearly a year. My mental health came first, and my priorities shifted to eating, getting dressed and finding something to smile about. Yay, mental health struggles. The baby steps shifted from workouts to just coping with the days.
In 2018, I’ve climbed out of that pit. I’m no longer in survival mode, and thus I recommitted to my health: exercise is good for mind, body and soul. I began to re-start my habit with a small step: exercise twice a week. Walking counts if I can’t face a workout.
Despite all my knowledge, my qualifications and life experience, I was still surprised to find that I was still capable of the second level up.
I didn’t have to start from zero again. After over a year without exercise, not even leaving the house for almost 3 months of that… I started at level 2. And after a month of just twice a week, gentle half-hearted-just-show-up workouts, I was back to level 3.
Why? Because I kept a few tiny habits. Because I hadn’t gone back to zero; I’d held on to a few small steps.
I still have some level of muscle mass because I keep my protein up, although I dropped from a ‘healthy diet’ to eating 2 packets of crisps daily, those were tiny bags of salt-n-shake crisps with only 3 ingredients.
When I wanted to binge on 500g of chocolate, I would make a vanilla milkshake (homemade, high in protein, lower in sugar than the chocolate) first to see if it fulfilled the sweet craving. Around 30% of the time it did; removing 30% of my chocolate-binge sessions across the year.
The Crucial Choice
I stayed with my beginning small healthy goal: oatmeal for breakfast 90% of the time. I kept it for a year, then let myself go back to cereals and now I still choose oatmeal around 6 days a week. Because I love it. Without any toppings/additions at all.
Genuinely, only those three things changed: milk before chocolate, healthier crisps, and oatmeal instead of sugary cereal. So as my exercise dropped, my diet was able to help minimise the damage.
I’m still at level 3, and of course, if I’d not fallen off the wagon, I’d be further along in my goals. But those tiny steps had a serious impact.
Think of Tiny Steps to Take
Especially those “this is so small it won’t make a difference” once.
They count. So make them carefully, with commitment.
What small step can you take today?