Many years ago, when I first began considering the idea of changing my life, I went through some emotional mood swings. I would get very high on an idea of who I could be, and I’d set out to change myself overnight.Then my old habits would pull me back to who I used to be, and I would become demoralized and depressed for weeks, thinking I didn’t have what it took to change. As the weeks went by, I finally caught on to the idea that great things are often created very slowly, so why couldn’t great people be created the same way? I began to see the value in small changes, here and there, that led me in the direction of who I wanted to be.
If I wanted to be someone who was healthy and had good eating habits,I would introduce a salad here, a piece of fruit there, and take the creative process very slowly. Now I almost never eat red meat, but it didn’t happen by simply ruling it out one night. (All the times I tried that, my stomach, which used to far outrank my mind in my internal chain of command, would rule it back in the first time I smelled a barbecue in the neighborhood.)
Pyschotherapist Dr. Nathaniel Branden is known for the effectiveness in his therapy of using sentence completion exercises. By asking his clients to write out or speak six to10 endings, quickly, without thinking, to a “sentence stem,” he allows people to explore their own minds for their hidden power and creativity.A typical sentence he might ask you to complete six to 10 times would be, "If I bring five percent more purposefulness into my life today…."Then you, the client, give your rapid endings to the sentence. That’s how you find out what you think and secretly know about your own power to add purpose to your life. One of the fascinating aspects ofBranden’s sentences is the “five percent” part. It seems like an awfully small amount of change when you look at it, but think of how it would play out. If you brought five percent more purposefulness to your life each day, it would only be 20 days before you had doubled your sense of purpose.
Huge things can be accomplished by focusing on one small action at a time. Novelist Anne Lamott recalls an incident in her childhood, the memory of which always helps her “get a grip.”“Thirty years ago,” she remembers, “my older brother, who was 10years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out a tour family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my fathers at down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ ”
When we stay the same, it’s not because we didn’t make a big enough change, but rather because we didn’t do anything today that sent us moving toward change.
If you continue to think of yourself as a great painting you are going to paint, then wanting to instantly change is like wanting to finish your portrait in 10 minutes and then put it up in the art gallery.
If you see yourself as a masterpiece-in-progress, then you will relish small change. A tiny thing you did differently today will excite you. If you want a stronger body, and you took the stairs instead of the elevator, celebrate. You are moving in the direction of change.If you want to change yourself, try making the changes as small as they can be. If you want to create yourself, like a great painting, don’t be afraid to use tiny brush strokes.