Small Steps can Create Big Change

           “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”—Arnold Bennett

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        “But, Mrs. Hill, if resolution is the end of the story, why do people make New Year’s resolutions?  It’s not the end of their life,” asked one of my 6th grade students–his face was earnest, sincere, and genuinely perplexed.

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        I was leading a class lesson regarding elements of a plot.  On the board was a triangular shape representing the parts of the plot.  We had already discussed other components of plot, such as rising/falling action and climax. Additionally, the students appeared to grasp that not all plot development looked like the classic equilateral plot-triangle illustrated on the board, but that plot development can take all shapes, depending upon the story, evolving more like the dips and darts of ocean waves. The student’s question, however, gave me pause.  Hmm . . ..

 

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        I suggested we look up the definition.  Pulling up the definition on my classroom computer and projecting it onto the whiteboard, the students and I observed multiple definitions for the word, resolution.  As so often happens with 6th graders, who are still willing to be openly curious in front of their peers, a class discussion ensued regarding all the meanings of the word, taking us way off the given subject of plot.  Still, it was a teachable moment that later led me into deeper thoughts regarding New Year’s resolutions and methods for successful change.

 

      

  I recently listened to a podcast in which the speaker was discussing ways to increase positive change.  It was his belief that many people fail to attain New Year’s resolutions because they see it as an all or nothing mandate.  Furthermore, many health programs, books, and/or businesses profit off our desire to change, by encouraging this all or nothing mentality; such as, “Buy all of our products.  Only eat what and when we tell you to eat.  You must exercise on these specific days and in this manner, and so forth . . ..” Thus, numerous people feel as if they have “failed” if they do not perfectly adhere to the book directions or company protocol at all times.   This speaker was onto something, just like my 6th grade student.

 

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        Changing one’s behavior is a lot like the plot—what works differs from person to person, just a story plots vary from novel to novel.  Unfortunately, many people hold the belief that change should occur the same manner from person to person like that of right triangle—you are either adhering to the straight line climb of established rules, or sliding down the long hypotenuse right back into the sea of old habits.

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        What if, however, change was viewed more as a jagged line of progression, like the rising and falling action of a story plot, which gradually leads towards the resolution?    Additionally, what if we attempted to change in small incremental steps towards a specific purpose or direction, rather attempting to change everything all at once? After all, those negative habits we desire to change most likely developed slowly and over time–just like the plot of your favorite book or movie!

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        Why not divide habits into those in of need of increasing, and those in need of decreasing.  Perhaps, this might lead to multiple opportunities for feelings of success rather than one.  For example, if your the goal is to eat cleaner and exercise more in order to lose a few pounds and/or increase health, rather than declaring to strict adherence to the latest, greatest diet/exercise plan, why not look for ways to gradually increase and decrease parts of that plan.

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        One such example might be,  “This week, I’ll focus on increasing the amount of vegetables I eat at dinner, and decrease the number of times I eat ice cream to a twice-per-week treat.”  Then, the next week, continue the previous week’s habits, but add-in another “increase” and “decrease;” such as, “This week, I’ll increase my activity level by walking (or any other type of exercise) three days, and decrease my consumption of soda from two-per-day to two-per-week.”  If there are moments, days, or even weeks, where you fall off the proverbial wagon, and we all do (Heavens knows I do!), just start all over the next hour, the next meal, or the next day.

Maybe try committing to rolling out that dusty yoga mat 2-3 times per week and practice either a 20-minute yoga session or meditation practice using a youtube video.     

 

  Even if your resolution to change has nothing to do with diet and exercise, it doesn’t mean the “what can I increase, what can I decrease” notion cannot be applied.  Trying to improve your faith life?  Perhaps, consider decreasing time spent on social media each day for 10 or so minutes, and use that time to increase the time spent in prayer/meditation.  Trying to spend more quality time with family, friends, or loved ones?  Then, maybe try decreasing screen time or work time by 10-20 minutes each day, and increasing time spent in face-to-face conversation, or at the very least a phone calls, with those dear ones.

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        Whether contemplating a New Year’s resolution or seeking some form of change for 2018, there will inevitably be some drawbacks, discomforts, or mistakes made along the path of change.  It is often the dread and/or fears of these perceived negatives that often prompt us to give up, or even avoid attempting to change at all.  However, by working on small changes, implemented over a long period of time, the likelihood of success just might increase as the pain of change might be decreased.  Furthermore, each triumphant step can potentially induce the desire for the next positive step, and the next, and the next.

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Small step by small step, you can create positive habits as you create and climb your own ladder of success!

        Why not try the  “small steps of increase and decrease” approach for your desired change in 2018?  Then, perhaps, shifting habits will become more like riding a boat on the waves of an ocean—riding up, falling down, and yet, ultimately, reaching the shore of success in whatever form it takes.  Even increasing one healthy habit and decreasing one negative habit can go a long way to overall better physical, spiritual, or emotional health!  

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