Thinking Small

April 22, 2019

Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash
If you’ve been reading Catching Happiness for a while, you know I’m big on baby steps and small changes. Small is less intimidating and scary. Like most people, I feel less resistance to small changes and adjustments than to big, sweeping reorganizations. And when I’m feeling resistant to change, or struggling with a big goal or project, one way to break through that resistance is to find the absolute smallest next step and take it.

On days when I find it hard to write, I sneak beneath my resistance radar by tackling one small detail, or setting my timer for 15 minutes and allowing myself to stop writing after it goes off. Instead of reorganizing my whole house, I clean out one drawer. (I love you Marie Kondo, but I can’t do it your way.) I’ve been practicing French with the Duolingo app for months because it takes less than 10 minutes to complete my daily goal. I probably won’t become fluent this way, but I’m learning and having fun, and certainly known more of the language than if I had done nothing at all. (And I know how to say, “There’s a cow in the living room!”* in French, for which I will be forever grateful!)

We sometimes make the mistake of thinking only a big gesture or major commitment will do if we want to make an impact. That’s not always true—often it’s a small thing that makes you stand out. The authors of The Power of Small, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, call it “going the extra inch.” And even an extra inch is something many people just don’t get around to. As Thaler and Koval write, “We often think about taking that extra step. A nagging thought crosses our minds as we’re racing to complete nine other tasks, worrying over how far behind we are on the day’s to-do list. Unfortunately, we don’t heed that inner voice. We forget. Or we get too busy and that mental Post-it note gets lost in the tsunami of other demands.”

There are plenty of tiny steps that will help us reach our goals and make us happier: If we want to give more to charity, start by donating $5. If we want to keep in better touch with friends or family, send a text message that we’re thinking about them. If we want to read more, pick up a collection of short stories or essays we can easily dip into. Don’t try to write a book—write a sentence.

Big dreams and new, improved habits are made up of many tiny steps. A happy life is made up of small, simple pleasures and everyday adventures—the cup of tea, the walk with the dog, the movie night with your spouse or best friend, the work project done well and turned in on time. Thinking small can make a big, big difference.

What small thing can you do today that will make you happier?

*Il y a une vache dans le salon, in case you were wondering…

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