How To Make Small Changes For A Big Impact

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
Chinese Proverb

Science has demonstrated that all things in the universe most likely started as a speck smaller than we can even really conceive. Then, in an instant, commonly referred to as the Big Bang, everything rapidly expanded outward, creating what is the currently known universe.

As fast as the Big Bang events supposedly unfolded, it might seem that it was done all at once, a huge change all at once. Science has also explained that there has also been billions of years between then and now. Some of the Big Bang unfolded faster than is conceivable, while other periods during the creation of the universe have taken longer than we can really comprehend.

How does perception of the event change when we remove the concept of time from the equation? Einstein was awesome enough to share with us his amazing discovery that time is relative, and really, that all things are relative.

You’ve no doubt experienced the relativity of time yourself:

“Wow, where did the day go? It just flew by.”

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

“OMG, when is this meeting/class going to be over, it’s like the clock STOPPED moving.”

God’s Perspective of Creation

Let’s assume for this discussion that science has it right when it comes to the Big Bang. How amazing it must have been for God to set into motion and watch the creation of such an amazing and awe-inspiring thing as the universe.

If we imagine for a moment that we are able to experience the creation of the cosmos from God’s perspective, without the hindrance of time making it seemingly impossible to notice the details because they unfolded so fast (or slow), then we are able to watch the infinitely small changes happening at sub-atomic levels that lead to the creation of the universe.

We would be able to watch one hydrogen atom collide with another to create other elements. Which leads to the creation of more complex molecules, which leads to more complex products of creation (gases, solids, liquids, etc.), which leads to stars, planets, and eventually, life.

On a side note, I personally believe in the concept of a supreme intelligence as the behind-the-scenes contriver for the creation of the universe. I call that intelligence God. I believe our understanding of God is like a newborn’s understanding of the world. We know God is the source of our existence, just as a newborn knows that Mother’s milk is the source of nutritional nourishment needed to survive. Beyond that, I don’t think we really understand the magnitude of what God represents.

I also believe that the theories science has presented with regard to the creation of the universe (in terms of the events unfolding) are essentially undeniable. Bible dogmatists will argue with me and science about the timeline (you know, the seven days one). Again, time is relative. I believe God exists in time/space relationships that we won’t understand until we are dead (and even then we’ll be lucky to figure it out). This is obviously a point for later discussion, I just wanted you to know where I stand on the subject; and so ends my sidenote.

How To Apply Small Changes To Make Big Impacts In Life

So what’s the point of all this talk about the universe? Simply: Small changes that lead to big things.

If the universe started as a sub-atomic speck, and became what it is today, then we should be able to take that concept and apply it to our lives and achieve great, big things. Consider the creation of a child, starting as two halves of a whole cell, merging together, combining DNA, then one cell becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes eight, eight becomes sixteen, and so on leading to the creation of a complex human baby, which grows into a child, teenager, adolescent, then adult.

So, how do we apply this to our lives and success? Because I think just about everyone can appreciate the concept of health and wellness goals, particularly around the beginning of a year, I’ll use the following example to illustrate:

If you are not in shape, overweight, and eating poorly, asking you to switch to a no fast-food, organic-only, nutritional focused, holistic health mindset, and an every-other-day workout routine that is based on the same principles as P90X, history and statistics will show that 25% of you will stop within a week, and 92% of people will never achieve their resolution[ref]. This is easy to comprehend during the current craze that is what we call New Year’s Resolutions.

I believe most people would be hardpressed to NOT be able to give an example of a New Year’s Resolution that they didn’t stick with. We’ve all been there. Does that mean we are horrible people? Does it mean we are destined to fail? On the contrary, I think we just need to shift what we are putting our energy toward and success is all but guaranteed.

What if the challenge was different? What if, instead of telling yourself you are going to go the the gym every day after work and do some form of military-grade, bootcamp style training, you opted for intentionally small change on a regular basis? Making the focus of your efforts not actually on the activity itself, rather on the HABIT of performing the activity in an ever-increasing manner.

I have several outcomes I’ve planned for 2013. Here’s one of them:

By the end of 2013, I will be able to comfortably do 365 pushups/day, 365 crunches/day, and I will do 50 minutes of yoga or similar physical activity per day.

If I tried to accomplish this now, I would fail. So instead of trying, I will be focusing on the HABIT of performing these activities on a daily basis, while making small, progressive changes each day. Here’s what it will look like:

January 1 – 1 pushup : 1 crunch : 1 minute of yoga
January 2 – 2 pushups : 2 crunches : 1 minute of yoga
January 3 – 3 pushups : 3 crunches : 1 minute of yoga
January 4 – 4 pushups : 4 crunches : 1 minute of yoga
January 5 – 5 pushups : 5 crunches : 1 minute of yoga
January 6 – 6 pushups : 6 crunches : 1 minute of yoga
January 7 – 7 pushups : 7 crunches : 1 minute of yoga
January 8 – 8 pushups : 8 crunches : 2 minutes of yoga

and so on…

Here’s what it will look like half-way in:

July 2 – 183 pushups : 183 crunches : 25 minutes of yoga

6 months in and I will be in the best shape of my life – guaranteed. And the habit will be so strong that it will be as ingrained in my way of life as sleeping, eating, and breathing. Granted, I have a few other things I’ll be adding in later, like pullups, etc. But the point remains.

6 months may sound like a long time away, and I’ll concede that if you’re trying to look good for spring break or the beach this summer, then this plan may be a bit “slow” for you. If Isimply double the activity level, increasing pushups/crunches by 2 vs. 1 and increasing the yoga time after 4 days instead of 7, then I would be in the same place 3 months earlier – right on time for spring break and the upcoming summer.

Time is relative. Change is relative.

1 pushup may not sound like a lot, but there are people that can’t successfully complete 1 pushup to save their lives. I’ve seen it multiple times. There are others still that can do 1,000 pushups without breaking a sweat. Everything is relative. We are all unique in our abilities.

The trick is not in the quantity of the activity, rather, the FOCUSED effort on making the activity a daily habit, while increasingly making the activity more challenging in a way that seems trivial and therefore easy to perform.

I could easily do 20-50 pushups in a single effort right now, and 50-100 crunches for that matter. But, and this is critical, I am forcing myself to stick with the plan, focusing instead on making the pushups I do and crunches I do, and yoga poses I do are performed as perfectly as possible. I’m focusing on being disciplined both in actually performing the activities, and by restricting them to the plan, focusing on breathing at the right time, focusing on the muscle groups I want to see improvement with, and focusing on making the activity a habit. 4 days in, and I’m convinced that this FOCUSED effort is what is going to make this a success.

Today, on day 4, I woke up with a bit of “meh” or “blah” feeling toward doing the exercises. I’ve experienced this in the past, when attempting “resolutions”, and I’ve succumbed to those feelings, allowing myself to quit. Today, however, realizing that I only had to do 4 pushups and 4 crunches and 1 minute of yoga poses made it infinitely easier to use willpower to get out of bed and perform the activities, because, “seriously, it’s 4 pushups and crunches and some basic yoga poses, just do it.”

I’ve written about goals in the past. It should go without saying that I believe in the power of goals, especially SMART goals that are written down and reviewed on a regular basis. I’m not saying to ditch your New Year’s Resolutions in favor of daily habits. Rather, I’m saying that if you have SMART goals, you should be able to calculate a way of building up to the final goal in a reasonable time period by focusing on the habit of the activities required to achieve the goal on a daily basis. Focusing on the habit of the activity helps make the acitivity itself less daunting.