Start Small

December 14, 2019

Categories: Change

We are getting close to the season of New Year’s Resolutions. It’s that time of year when we begin to think about the changes we want to make in our lives. It’s an exciting, hopeful, and optimistic time.

But here’s the hard reality: Most New Year’s Resolutions fail. Most people don’t even last until the end of January.

There are a lot of things you can do to increase your chances of making a lasting change in 2020. But today, I want to share one tip I think is very important. Most people don’t get this right, and it usually trips them up. Here’s the tip: When beginning to work on your New Year’s Resolution, Start Small.

Too Many Changes

When people try to change their lives, they often try to make several changes all at once. Or, they try to make a massive change right away. For example, if you want to improve your health this year, you might buy a gym membership and commit to exercise one hour every day. If you need to work on getting a better job, you might send out 50 job applications in a rush of adrenaline. If you are anxious and want to feel less stressed, you might sign up for a week-long meditation retreat.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those actions. The problem is the bar for change is set unrealistically high. The pace that is started on January 1 is difficult or impossible to maintain. And when you have a setback (and you probably will), you may feel like a failure and quit working toward your goal.

4 Ways to Start Small

One strategy to avoid this problem is to start small. Here are 4 tips:

  1. Start with something you know you can do. Let’s say eventually you want to exercise 30 minutes per day. But right now 30 minutes seems really difficult. Don’t start with 30 minutes. Start with something you know you can do. Maybe you know you can do 5 minutes per day. Start with 5 minutes.
  2. Be consistent with the small thing before increasing. Do the small thing every day for 30 days. Don’t worry about increasing just yet. Instead, focus on being consistent with the small change. After a month, the small thing will become a habit and you can think about increasing the change if you want.
  3. Celebrate the small change. It’s really difficult to change anything in life. If you are able to consistently do something different, even for five minutes; this is a huge success.
  4. After a month, decide whether you want to make another change. After one month of doing the small thing every day, you can reevaluate and decide whether you want to make another change. Maybe you want to increase your exercise to 10 minutes per day. Or, you can decide to stick with what you are doing. It’s up to you.

Example: 10% Happier

A few years ago, I read the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris. The book is about meditation and its positive effects on the mind and body. I thought he made a good case, and I wanted to try meditating for myself. Dan suggests exactly what I said here: don’t make a huge change right away, but start with 5 minutes of meditation per day. I tried that, and it worked well. Meditating for an hour would have been overwhelming, but 5 minutes felt doable to me.


What is one thing you would like to change in 2020? What is one small thing you could do as a first step toward your goal?


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