It can be easy to not realize the big impact small actions can have. If you think about that changes that have the biggest impact on your life your thoughts may first go to things that cost a lot in terms of effort, cost, or time. Renovating your whole office to make it easier to work, working out six hours every week, reading five books a month, buying all the kitchen gadgets you might need in order to cook more at home.
But small actions can have just as important and lasting impact if you take the time to identify the actions. Before jumping into a large money or time commitment, take a look at your life right now and identify the small actions that have the biggest affect on your life.
Sometimes in order to understand how big an impact a small action can make we first need to look at the small actions that make up our day and how our life would be impacted if we no longer did them.
Your life is already made up of small actions
We often look at our day as a series of grouped actions: get ready for work, work, eat meals, exercise, do hobbies, sleep. But these can easily be broken down into smaller actions. Getting ready for work entails waking up, changing clothes, brushing teeth, eating breakfast, etc. Even those tasks can be broken down further. Breakfast could involve heating water, getting a mug from the cabinet, getting a teabag, pouring water into the mug, getting a bowl from the dishwasher, pouring cereal into the bowl, etc. Each of those small actions you do are vital to the larger action of having breakfast.
What you can do – Make a map of your day
Break your day into large sections. Think of your day as consisting of chunks of time and list out all the large chunks of time that make up your day (e.g. sleeping, morning routine, morning commute, work, etc.). You can choose to focus on a work day or a non-work day. Even if you don’t have a fixed schedule you can still list out the chunks of time where you either want or need to do something and keep it broad (morning routine, exercise, lunch). You don’t need to account for every moment of the day and you don’t need to list things out in chronological order especially since your schedule may change from day to day.
Choose a section and break it down further. Take any one of the chunks of time that you identified and start to list out the broad actions involved in that portion of your day. Don’t worry about going into too much detail.
Take one of the actions identified in the previous step and break it down once more. This is where you can go into detail and think of everything that needs to be done for that one action to occur. Think about each small step that needs to happen in order for you to brew a cup of coffee, walk the dog, meditate, or drive to the store.
By mapping out your day you can start to see how many small steps make up your whole day. Maybe you’ve identified some steps you can skip or combine. You have likely also identified many steps that are crucial to your day and if you were to remove them entire parts of your day would be completely different.
Realizing the importance of small actions
There are multiple small actions throughout your day that have a big impact on your life. You may not realize it because you have incorporated them into your everyday life. They were important enough to continue doing and have now become routine.
You may not realize how important they are because they are so routine, but if you stopped doing them you would realize the difference they make. Some of the smallest actions that take the least amount of time are the ones that can completely set the mood for a day or enhance your life.
Small actions that have a big impact
Brushing your teeth. Twice a day you take around two minutes to clean your teeth. If you were to stop brushing your teeth there could be health impacts, both physical and mental. By taking that time you are prioritizing your health and wellbeing.
Taking your medication. Many people are on medications for any number of reasons. A pill, injection, inhalation, or however else you take medication helps make your life more manageable. The few minutes you spend taking medication impacts how you live your daily life and not taking them would likely completely change your life.
Saying I love you. Whether you are saying this to a friend, family member, partner, pet, or yourself, those words matter. Taking a few short seconds to let someone know you care impacts both your life and the life of others. If you were to stop letting people know you care about them, even though you do, it would affect your relationships and mental health.
There are small actions you do every day that help make you happier, feel more connected, and make you healthier. If you were to stop doing certain actions you may have a few minutes back in your day but the impact could be huge.
Incorporating new actions
It’s easy to dismiss adding an action to your everyday routine because you don’t think it’s worth it. Building new habits takes time and mental energy and it makes sense you want to feel it’s worth it to make a change. You may be asking yourself: what difference could adding a five minute walk actually make? Or adding flossing to my nighttime routine? Or doing a minute of intentional breathing before starting work?
Small actions feel insignificant until we realize our lives are a series of small actions.
Once you start to see the true impact of small actions it can make it easier to incorporate new small actions into your day.
What you can do
Make a list of the small actions you want to start incorporating into your life. Maybe you want to make your bed daily, start the day with a short meditation, or have afternoon tea. Keep track of the actions you want to bring into your life to help remind you.
Choose one action. Look at your list and choose an action to start including in your life. Your reason for choosing a particular action is completely up to you. Perhaps you feel it will have the biggest impact, it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, or it just might feel right.
Make a plan. It can be easy to choose a new action to take on but harder to actually take it on. Make a plan for how you will incorporate it into your day. What time will you do it? Where will you be? Do you need any supplies? How long will it take? What impact do you anticipate it will have? Making a plan can help you follow through and do the action.
Resist taking on too many new actions at once. It can be easy to want to try and incorporate many small changes at once. In your mind you may think that five small changes that only take two minutes each is only adding 10 minutes to the day, that feels very doable. But it’s not about how much time it takes it making these actions fit into your life and everyday routine. Trying to keep track of multiple things can be cumbersome and you may end up giving up on all the new things you are trying to incorporate.
Small actions can grow over time
The beauty of a habit is that once it is incorporated into your life you can change it or make it grow as you want. A daily five minute walk may stay as a five minute walk or may grow to a 10 minute walk or a half hour walk over time.
Starting small helps make the new activity achievable. Once you have gotten to the point of consistently doing the action, take the time to reflect.
What you can do.
Check in with yourself about your new actions. As important as it is to build a habit, it is also important to check in with yourself on how it is impacting your life. How have things changed since starting the new action? How does the action make you feel?
Think about what changes you want to make. Think about how you have incorporated the new action into your life: when you do it, where you do it, how long it takes? Is the way you are doing the action currently working for you? Do you want to increase how long you are doing it for? Do you want to change the time of day you are doing it? Asking yourself some questions can help you figure out if anything needs to change in order for the new action to continue having a positive impact on your life.
Remember it’s OK if you don’t want to change anything. Maybe you’ve incorporated a new action into your day and it’s working for you. You’ve asked yourself some questions and can’t come up with anything you feel needs to be changed, that is completely fine. The goal isn’t to continuously be changing your actions but instead to get in the habit of revisiting your actions to determine what is working for you and what is not.