Family & Education

The Best Way to Start: Super Small

BY Barbara Danza TIMEFebruary 12, 2020 PRINT

Habits play an interesting and powerful role in our lives. Once established, they become almost automatic behavior. They are hard to break and seemingly even harder to start.

The kinds of habits we want to institute are, of course, the good kind—the ones that support a healthy, happy, thriving life. Exercising regularly, saving money, keeping a tidy home, eating well, engaging in creative pursuits, devoting time to priorities, reducing screen time, and nurturing relationships are all examples of habits people commonly wish to establish.

James Clear, the author of “Atomic Habits,” touts the power of “tiny changes.” He says that aiming to be just 1 percent better every day can “add up to something significant.” Small choices make a big difference over time, he argues. “If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done,” he explains.

Another habit expert, Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” says we should celebrate and reward ourselves for what he calls “small wins.”

What makes a win small? Instead of trying to establish the habit of working out every day, for example, what if the first change was instead to put on your sneakers before you left your bedroom each morning. The latter sounds doable, and indeed doesn’t require any exercise at all, but it counts as a win and may be the beginning of the habit you’re looking for.

Once you’ve got your sneakers on each morning, perhaps the next habit could be to go to the gym. You don’t have to work out, you just show up. Showing up counts as a win. If you decide you may as well work out since you’re there, great. If you turn around and go to the ice cream shop instead, you’ve still won and you’ve made progress.

We tend to devalue such small changes. The examples above seem rather silly. You’re not doing anything, right? They have value, however, and over time can lead to sustainable habits that last.

What changes are you hoping to make in your life? What small steps can you break those new habits into so that you can start very small?

Saving Money

If saving money is a priority for you, rather than choosing a large amount each week that would be a challenge to set aside, save a very small amount. Set up your online bank to automatically transfer $5 to your savings account each week. Such an action requires no further action, and may hardly feel like a material loss, but you’ll watch that tiny amount accumulate over time.

Perhaps soon you’ll be enticed to increase that amount or consider investing your money to earn more. The idea of saving $5 may have sounded futile in the beginning, but it can come to be seen as a turning point in your life.

Tidying Up

If your home is an embarrassment or in a state you’re unhappy with, it can be challenging not to be overwhelmed at the thought of cleaning it all up. Rather than aiming to clean the whole mess, aim to tidy for 10 minutes each day. Set the timer on your phone or your microwave, and tidy as quickly as you can for 10 minutes.

When the 10 minutes are up, you’re done. Celebrate your win. You may be quite surprised just how big a dent you can make in 10 minutes. Do it again tomorrow.


Perhaps you’d like to improve your eating habits. Determine the crux of your dilemma. Perhaps you eat out very often and find making healthy choices a challenge. Perhaps you don’t have enough time to go food shopping and so grab fast food more often than you’d care to admit. Perhaps you snack excessively after dinner, late into the night.

Break down the problem and identify the beginning of a solution with a tiny step. What if instead of trying to find time to go to the grocery store, you placed an online order that included healthy food and snack choices? What if you simply ate an apple in lieu of a sugary sweet? What if you reduced the amount of sugar in your coffee from two lumps to one? Start small. Celebrate your win.

It is said that we overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. Know that even the tiniest change, if done consistently over time, can lead to big results.

Start small. Celebrate the tiniest amount of progress. Keep at it. Stay consistent. You can do it.

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Barbara Danza is a mom of two, an MBA, a beach lover, and a kid at heart. Here, diving into the challenges and opportunities of parenting in the modern age. Particularly interested in the many educational options available to families today, the renewed appreciation of simplicity in kids’ lives, the benefits of family travel, and the importance of family life in today’s society.
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