Like cheese, grapes and celery – shouldn’t all work together but they do.
In fact one of the hardest parts of my diet is giving up cheese and grapes six days a week but I have and if I do have cheese and grapes on a Saturday, they taste sooooo much better.
So I’m not only going to tell you all about how small changes can be powerful, I’m going to try to tell you WHY.
I’m going to tell you so that you can go out and make some well thought out small changes of your own and see some results from these changes.
Don’t underestimate the power of small changes. Small changes may be small, but they can be a catalyst for an entire movement.
Possibly the most important type of small change is the perspective shift.
I started following the slow-carb diet, not because I particularly wanted or needed to diet, but because I found the concept interesting and like to challenge myself. An interesting and unexpected side-effect of that has been a very slight shift in my thinking about food and nutrition which I describe in this article: A Very Simple Thought That’s Helping Me To Be More Healthy. That’s a very small but very powerful change for me just because the thought took seconds, changing the way I look at eating significantly. It was a change for me simply because I never thought quite in that way before.
In the previous article, ‘Why Habits Are Awesome…‘ I described how a small shift in my fathers thinking led him to give up smoking forever after years of trying, just because one day he decided to give up once and for all. That small change has led to a lot more too.
In a recent article over at The Sales Lion, ‘The Man With One Leg‘, Marcus shared how a small change in his perspective around a certain situation where children were being unruly on an airplane led him to see that event and those children in an entirely different light.
Perspective shifts are often by-products, happening accidentally or in unexpected ways…
… but they don’t have to be.
You can choose to change your perspective and get the same benefits.
Because when we change our thinking, we change our reality.
Olympic Success via Small Changes
In the recent London 2012 Olympics, Great Britain dominated the cycling events and sparked some controversy fueling suggestions in particular from the French that the British had “magic wheels”*1 that they hid after every race. This seems to come from a tongue-in-cheek remark by British cycle supremo Dave Brailsford who told a French newspaper that GB had “specially round wheels”.
In actual fact the success of the British team is “peaking at the right time, talented athletes, commitment and… brilliant coaching” – and within that, lots and lots of small changes.
Brailsford, the performance director for the Team GB cycling team, focuses on the aggregation of marginal gains as his key approach to success – in other words, lots of small improvements to achieve an overall result.
“It was attention to detail that gave us the advantage over the other teams. We considered everything, even the smallest improvements, to give us a competitive edge. It was the accumulation of these small details that made us unbeatable.” Dave Brailsford, Team GB
His approach cleverly combines the simplicity of two concepts I love:
1. What gets measured gets improved
2. The power of small changes (which are easier to manage than big changes)
Brailsford’s approach examines almost every detail, down to the pillows used by cyclists and how they wash their hands.
So it wasn’t magic wheels after all.
A similar small change was made by the coach of swimming legend Michael Phelps, Bob Bowman. What Bowman and Phelps figured out was that it was best to concentrate on tiny moments of success and build them into mental triggers. They worked them into a routine.
“There’s a series of things we do before every race that are designed to give Michael a sense of building victory.” Bob Bowman*2
The small change in this case was to introduce visualization into Micheal Phelps’ routine and take away the nerves by building a routine around that visualization and familiarity. The actual race then just becomes another step in the process which started earlier that day and has been nothing but a series of familiar victories.
Sound familiar? – once again the power of small changes and the forming of habits.
Why I Challenged You
I recently challenged you to give up one thing. Don’t worry if you didn’t read that article – if you want to take part in this simple challenge you still can – go and read that brief article now and just leave a comment stating what you choose to give up. To give you a free accountability partner and explore with you how you’re doing with the change, I’ll check back with you later based on when you left the comment.
In any case, the point of that article was really a pre-cursor to this one.
The challenge clearly leads you to make a simple change, and I’d like to see how that works out for you (sure you could have chosen your one thing to be something really complex, but the likelihood is you didn’t, you made a small change or a few small changes).
Why do I want to see how that works out for you?
Well, aside from helping you in any way I can via this little experiment, it’s because when we pay attention, some interesting things tend to happen…
1. You Get Some Accountability
We already mentioned this little nugget:
so the fact that we’re paying attention, the fact that you (if you did) wrote down in the comments what your small change was going to be means you are creating some accountability for that change – this accountability will almost certainly make you more successful with that change than if you made the change in secret.
I plan to talk about accountability more later so I won’t elaborate too much here but you get the idea.
2. You Get Some Momentum
One of the best things about small changes is that they give you momentum.
This is not to be underestimated.
My son recently started at a new school.
Well big for him given our current lifestyle.
He was moving from our village primary school which has a total of 41 pupils (yes, 41 pupils in the entire school, across 4 years) to a secondary school in the next village with over 700 pupils. He has to get there himself with the bus rather than walking there every day with the family and he has gone from being the oldest year in school back to being the youngest.
The school is actually really cool. We like it a lot.
Day 1 – They have this thing where the very first day is just for the new joiners, just for year 7, so everyone in the entire campus is new, gets to feel their way around the school and facilities and the teachers are all there on hand to help the new children settle in.
I really like that.
Then Day 2 the rest of the pupils (the big kids) arrive.
My son told me that he was worried about Day 1 (new school) but much more worried about Day 2 (lots of strange big kids to prod him and make fun of him).
So what happened?
… because Day 1 was just for new kids, he was relatively calm on Day 1. Of course he was not the only new kid worried about Day 2. The majority of them were and on Day 1 they all got to talk about it, whilst getting used to their new surroundings.
By the end of Day 1, Day 2 didn’t seem so scary anymore.
Day 2 passed by effortlessly in the end and according to my son, both days were ‘awesome’.
We’re now at the end of week 1 and he already feels at home with his new morning routine (he doesn’t want us to speak to him or acknowledge him if we pass him and his friends at the bus stop whilst we’re taking our daughter to primary school) and his new school. In fact he seems to have aged another 5 years in just the last few days.
Day 1 gave him momentum.
Rather than putting off a big change until tomorrow, make a small change that you can make today and that big change will become much smaller.
3. It Could Just Be A Catalyst
Small changes really can alter the course of the universe.
Or your universe.
In its fullest extent, this is known as the butterfly effect:
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before.*3
Now I’m not asking you to go out there and start a hurricane.
I’m not even asking you to change the world.
I’m just saying that it’s entirely possible that any small change you make could be a catalyst for much greater changes in your life.
It could even have started with the small change you made taking up my simple give up one thing challenge.
No, really, don’t mention it.
in 2006, two Australian researchers, Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng conducted an experiment which was later published in the Journal of Economic Psychology – in this experiment they found that when they got participants to make changes in either their fitness or money habits, good habits seemed to spill over into other parts of their lives.*3
In other words, these changes were a catalyst for further changes.
There are plenty of high-profile examples, perhaps you can think of one of your own or that you have found particularly interesting, in which case I’d love you to share it in the comments below.
Over To You…
Now that we’ve discussed habits, making changes (giving up one thing) and the power of small changes, I’d really like to know for those of you who accepted my little challenge how you’re finding the change and if this has led to anything else, whether thoughts, challenges or other material changes.
Annie wanted more time so gave up cooking on certain days, Anshul committed to give up potatoes, Allie gave up sandwiches, Amy is giving up malls and movies every weekend, Jeevan gave up eating too much, Vicki gave up having a messy room, Razwana gave up speaking in English constantly (as she’s in France) and eating sugar – I’d really love to hear how these changes are panning out, particularly in the context of the last few articles.
Whether or not you took the ‘Give up one thing’ challenge, let me know what small changes you can make right now to give you some momentum in your life or your work. Is there a change you need or want to make in your life that would be easier to tackle if you made a related small change first (like my son’s school example)?