The Power of Small Actions

Humans are always impressed by size.

The bigger, the better. Go big or go home. Size matters.

This may be why we spend so much money heading out into the enormity of space, while spending only a fraction on exploring the small dark crevasses of our own planet.

Big is beautiful, right?

And it’s true that big things are amazing, dinosaurs, for example, are way cool, but their smaller versions-lizards- aren’t considered quite as sexy, let alone their other descendants, chickens.

If an asteroid wiped out all of the chickens, do you think anyone would spend years digging up their bones and putting them in museums?

GIANT chickens, yes, but good old bantams? No.

Unfortunately, this predilection for large over small means that little things like little actions and little gestures are often overlooked. It also means that getting something massive done is seen as having more value than getting a lot of small things done.

One person donating one thousand dollars seems much better in our minds than 1000 people all donating a dollar each. In the end, in both scenarios, one thousand dollars was donated, right? So why is a 1000-dollar donation lauded, but not a 1-dollar donation given 1000 times?

Why do we praise the few who do something BIG once in a while, and ignore the many who do what they can on a regular basis?

The admiration for ‘grand scale’ can also lead to problems when the sheer enormity of something becomes overwhelming.

Losing 24 kilos in a year seems like a lot. Losing 500 grams per week for 52 weeks is exactly the same thing, but seems more manageable, even if it sounds a lot less impressive.

And this is the problem with our ‘bigger is better’ fixation.

When an obstacle seems too big to handle, we can often stop dead in our tracks, unable to know where to start or how to begin. The stress of potentially missing our target, of somehow failing the task because it just seems so massive can lead to self-doubt, fear of failure, negative self-talk and procrastination. This can then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“See, it was too much for me to do, I couldn’t do it, therefore it can’t be done, why even try?”

The secret is to start small. Really, really small if you have to.

Where our mental health is concerned, Psychologists recommend breaking things down to the place where it is not a burden, even if this means taking micro-actions.

Let’s imagine you are feeling totally overwhelmed by something in your home. A cupboard that needs sorting out. Papers that are piled up. A freezer filled with God knows what. Dishes that need doing. An overgrown garden.

You can spend a few hours going through things, and if you do and you get the task done, bravo.

But who said you needed to get it all done in one hit?

You can do all of these things in a microscopic way over time and still get it done.

Set a timer, 3 minutes, and 3 minutes only. When the timer goes, stop. If you don’t want to stop, start it again for another 3 minutes, and then stop. You can stop anytime, and you can start again when you are ready.

Over time, and that time is set only by you and you alone, your seemingly enormous, onerous task will be completed.

One thing that is very important is to record what you have done on the day you do it. Write it down somewhere or take a photo. You need to do this so that one day you can look back and see what it is you have achieved.

It’s too easy to forget all the small things we do, so we think we are doing nothing, but of course, everything we do matters.

Do you need to eat healthier? Add one vegetable or piece of fruit to one meal a day. Just one. Or add a teaspoon of chia seeds to something once a day. Just once. Remember to record it.

When you are ready, double the amount, and record it.

Over time, your own time, you will see your progress. Do not underestimate these small changes.

The old cliché about not being able to carry 600kg at one time, but managing to move 1kg 600 times is true.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and small actions have a big impact.

That wave you give your neighbour on your way to work may be the best thing that happens to them all day. Is it going to be on the front page of the paper? No. Does it make a difference? Yes.

Changing your pillowcase, even if you can’t handle changing the whole bed, will be just enough to make you sleep better.

Reading one page of a book a night for a year is 365 pages of a book you wouldn’t have read otherwise.

Putting moisturiser on your elbows once a week is 52 times in a year you soften your elbows.

Saying thank you to service staff, not by bashing pans at them or big public displays, by looking them in the eye and saying “thank you, I appreciate this” and meaning it.

Just you and one other human knowing that you care.

None of this is to say that big actions are meaningless. Being part of something BIGGER is a good feeling.

When we look at the things we do things that appear as a BIG picture, we feel empowered.

Most of us are either wired, or trained, this way. For many of us, it’s human nature.

However, we need to recognise, and we need to encourage, support and applaud, all the little actions that keep us moving forwards.

Your small actions have enormous power, and it’s up to you what you do with it.


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