Tiny Changes Make a Huge Difference

Heart-shaped bowl with berries, lychee, and tomatoes amidst fitness gear and orange juice on slate background
How thinking small makes a major impact. Oh well, my diet starts tomorrow, I say with a laugh, joking… but also not really. I bet this line sounds pretty familiar. Sure, I can have pizza tonight because tomorrow I’m starting my strict paleo plan, I’ve thought. Better make sure it’s all gone tonight, though, so I’m not tempted. It’s a lovely thought, sure, but it’s hard to go from a pizza pie for one to uber healthy overnight. Whether you want to eat healthier or go to the gym more, making a big change may seem like it’s the way to go—but you’re probably setting yourself up for failure. Here’s a better way to change your habits.

Start Small

BJ Fogg, PhD, says the reason for starting small is simple. People are more successful taking this route, because in general small changes are easier to enact than big changes.

What does this mean for you?

What are you working toward? Weight loss? Eating healthier? Reducing stress? First, decide what you want the outcome to be, then figure out behaviors that will help you get there. The more specific you are, the better. For instance, if you want to have a healthier diet, start by eating an extra serving of green veggies at dinner. The next step: Make it as easy as possible to achieve (e.g., by batch cooking veggies at the beginning of the week.) Finally, trigger the new behavior you want. Try piggybacking it onto a behavior you already do every day. (Every time I brush my teeth, I’ll do 15 air squats.)

Success begets Success

“Success leads to success,” says Fogg. “So when you succeed at something small, it has the effect of getting people to change other habits.” Over time, your ability to change increases. Plus, when you feel successful, your motivation to continue increases. When people change small things, they start to see themselves in a different way. Shifts in their identity and can lead to other positive changes, because they begin acting in a way they believe their new identity would behave.

Change Is a Skill

The most common outcomes people want are weight loss and stress reduction, says Fogg. It can be tempting to take a short-term view (hello, fad diets), but for real success you need to look at it long term. “Start with a new habit, something you actually want,” says Fogg. Focus on practicing and making it a skill. If your goal is to learn to play the piano, start with songs you like. If you want to eat more veggies, don’t force yourself to eat Brussels sprouts if you hate them; choose a veggie you actually enjoy. You’ll be more successful this way. “The best way to view it is some of these changes are long-term endeavors, and change is a skill.” It all goes back to starting small. Practice the skills of change and you’ll be an unstoppable, goal-crushing, ninja-warrior mermaid in no time.
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