Think Small: How a Subtle Change Can Have a Huge Impact

Woman with cup of tea, sitting at table in home, flowers in foregroundDo you resist change?

Do you work hard to maintain the status quo, regardless of its effect on you?

Is it possible that you might better tolerate change if you approached it in small doses?

All too often, when we think of bringing about change in our lives, we consider making choices that have far-reaching effects, with sweeping consequences for ourselves and perhaps others. These seemingly super-sized changes beget long to-do lists of follow-ups and follow-throughs that can leave us overwhelmed and exhausted before we’ve even begun.

Change often ignites fear within us, so much so that we talk about making things happen but do nothing, or we initiate the first few steps only to abandon our goal because things get difficult or we meet with some resistance or it just requires too much of our energy and concentration. Sometimes we pin our hopes and dreams on big change only to discover that the results weren’t as we had imagined.

Have you ever initiated a big change and then stepped back from it, feeling the need to protect yourself, barricading yourself against the discomfort associated with it?

Have you felt shame or embarrassment at not being able to move forward in the way you had hoped?

This is why it’s so important for us to consider the impact that implementing subtle or small changes can have on us. They, too, can have far-reaching effects.

Some benefits of small change include:

  1. It is easier to implement.
  2. It is less difficult to get others to be supportive of small changes.
  3. Less fallout—subtle changes may not necessitate other changes to follow.
  4. It provides an opportunity to test the waters and course correct if need be.
  5. You’re more likely to stay motivated. With small changes, you’re more likely to experience a sense of accomplishment, promoting your next steps (“Since I was able to achieve THAT, why don’t I now try THIS?”).

Here are some examples of powerful yet subtle changes and what their immediate, noticeable impact might be (in italics):

  • Take 10 minutes each night to plan tomorrow’s tasks/activities. This may enable you to go to bed more at ease than you would otherwise, feeling prepared and ready to face the next day.
  • Set your clothes out the night before. No scrambling at the last minute to find your favorite shirt! You know what you’re wearing, and it is waiting for you to put it on. As a result, you leave the house on time and feel good about starting your day on the “right foot.”
  • Begin your day with five minutes of gratitude, or choose to consciously set your positive intention for the day. Before facing the world, you orient yourself positively to it. You continue to notice the things that are going right and are aware of the things that support you in your mission.
  • Acknowledge your partner for things you formerly took for granted. Your partner ends up feeling validated and may begin acknowledging YOU for the things you do. Your relationship strengthens as a result of this new attention.
  • Wake 20 minutes prior to others in your household so you can peacefully drink your coffee with no distractions. You have a few minutes of quiet that can serve as the anchor to your day. You feel more equipped to handle the busyness that ensues thereafter.
  • Take an honest lunch hour, instead of snacking at your desk while you continue working. You feel refreshed and more ready to tackle the afternoon’s work. You honor yourself by giving yourself some time to recharge.
  • Delegate a task that can be done effectively by someone else. You may empower someone else by helping him or her discover what he/she is capable of handling. You free up your time and energy for more important or challenging items.
  • Make your bed each morning. This can provide you with a sense of order. Also, crawling into bed at night can be like unwrapping a lovely gift, making the process more appreciated and special.
  • Plan to meet up with friends twice a month. This gives you something to look forward to and ensures that you are devoting attention to the relationships that are important to you.
  • Learn something new because you choose to. You will ignite your curiosity, exercise your brain, and challenge yourself to grow.
  • Go to sleep a little earlier. Give yourself the opportunity to have more energy, more focus, less hostility, more patience, and improved overall well-being.
  • Clean your desk. Feel like the master of your domain. Instead of feeling overwhelm, feel in control. Save time by knowing where things are. Experience the clarity that comes with clearing the surrounding clutter.
  • Stretch, walk, or exercise for 15 minutes. Clear your head, release some stress, breathe fully, and become aware of the flexibility and strength of your body.

The majority of the above examples are relatively small behavioral changes that are within your power to execute.

If you have super-sized changes in mind, consider breaking them down into more manageable phases so you stay the course. You can make subtle shifts and adjustments along the way.

Choose what YOUR small change will be and then experience the impact it has. Share your results in the comments section below!

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC, therapist in Denville, New Jersey

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 11 comments
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  • Leigh

    Leigh

    July 16th, 2015 at 8:33 AM

    When you want to make some substantial changes in your life, it is good to start small. Small steps are a whole lot easier to implement and make a habit than those where we try to do too much all at one time.

  • Joanna

    Joanna

    July 16th, 2015 at 12:45 PM

    Very Good article. This is really a useful strategy to follow when you want to make some positive changes in your life. Gradual and in small steps, so it’s not too overwhelming.

  • Kiarah

    Kiarah

    July 16th, 2015 at 3:49 PM

    One small step for you at a time, that can eventually lead to something huge and magnificent. Do NOT doubt the power of the small stuff!

  • Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    July 17th, 2015 at 4:26 AM

    Yes Leigh and Kiarah! There is so much power in the small stuff. And thanks so much Joanna! I wonder what new small changes each of you will implement.

  • workingMom

    workingMom

    July 17th, 2015 at 9:04 AM

    I am a working mom. when I read things like this I think good idea but also feel mad. Reality is I’m tired and sick of the world saying I should be doing things better. I’m already at my full point. Why don’t the other in my life do more?!

  • Calerie

    Calerie

    August 19th, 2015 at 6:46 PM

    I can so relate to being a very busy mum, working full time, running the kids around sports like mad. Saddest part to this is the fact that now they are all grown up and 20+ years old, my marriage fell apart. Much to my sadness. Always feeling guilty that I couldn’t hold it all together. Was always cranky with everyone because I was always feeling like I had to do everything. Totally overwhelmed me and became a horrible person to the ones I lov the most. Terribly sad now lonely too.

  • Luther

    Luther

    July 17th, 2015 at 10:54 AM

    The mantra really should be to think big but start small

  • rex

    rex

    July 18th, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    A few years ago I decided that it was time for me to get in shape.. I knew that that sounded like one huge goal but I started looking at it in small parts and determining what small things had to be done along the way to obtain that. I knew that eating better and cutting back was key, and I also understood that I needed to add some exercise into my life. For me it also involved changing a lot of my habits like not just what I ate but when and who I hung out with. I had lots of toxic people in my life when it came to meeting my health goals. They are great friends but sometimes the very ones who would enable me to eat like I did. So something that starts out as one thing can so easily morph and change into other new things that you have to work to achieve.

  • Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    July 20th, 2015 at 4:52 AM

    Rex, thanks for sharing your experience. Like you said, it’s so important to break big goals into smaller ones that are more easily achievable. And you make a great point – subtle changes beget other subtle changes, making it a bit easier to adapt and allowing you to see the kinds of things that might be necessary to support the change you’re trying to make for the long haul.

  • Catrina

    Catrina

    July 20th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    My dad was always that father telling me to put up or shut up, go big or go home. It’s funny how I might know that this is not always the wise thing to do but I can still hear my dad preaching that to me so it is hard to know if I should take the small steps or if I should always just jump right in. I think that even though I feel more comfortable taking things slow, I grew up with a man who wouldn’t have any of that so I am compelled to do it all at once.

  • Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    July 20th, 2015 at 1:44 PM

    Catrina, interesting how we carry others’ messages within us. This article isn’t meant to have you steer clear from big goals but to see if there are tiny things you can do to support yourself along the way. Those tiny things can obviously be very powerful. Also, it is always up to us to evaluate how things are working for us. Overall, has “jumping right in” served you well? Have you met many of your goals that way? Or looking back, do you think that taking smaller leaps would have served you more efficiently? See what evidence you have to support EITHER way of approaching your goals and let that evidence guide you as you move forward.

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