A small action is an activity that takes little time and effort to perform, that can be repeated consistently. These actions can be positive or negative; like eating an apple or smoking a cigarette.
So, why are they so powerful?
The secret lies in the age-old expression, ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ … When you do something consistently for a long time, its effects on your life can be huge. If that apple was a replacement for a chocolate biscuit that you used to snack on instead, then by the end of the year, you will have eaten 365 less chocolate biscuits than the year before (and 365 more apples!)
Unfortunately, these small actions are often underappreciated. Our primitive brains value instant gratification. The flip-side to a small action requiring minimal effort is that the results are imperceptible! So it doesn’t feel like we are achieving anything. Secondly, we have always been told that results are the product of hard work and massive action, so when we plan to do something, 5 minutes feels like a waste! We schedule an hour, because oddly, doing less feels like it’s not worth our time?
I was inspired to write this article by the work of James Clear. He presents an interesting idea:
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them” – James Clear
Be inspired by the best: The 1% Factor
In 2003, Dave Brailsford was hired by the British Cycling Team to improve their performance. The team had been facing disappointing results for almost for a century, so even though it seemed like a battle already lost, Brailsford went to work, and came up with an idea. It was an idea that resulted in huge gains, but was based on small actions! Instead of looking for big game changers, he proposed they focus on 1% improvements in a wide range of areas that affected the team member’s performances.
These small adjustments were as humble as learning to wash one’s hands to reduce the risk of illness, or painting the track white to spot dust that could damage the bikes. They implemented as many of these seemingly insignificant improvements as they could find, and the results were stunning. The team won 178 World Championships and 66 Olympic and Paralympic gold medals between 2007 and 2017. They also won the Tour de France 5 times in 6 years.
All of this sounds incredible, but you might be thinking, this is not applicable to my life: ‘I am not an athlete, Mr. Brailsford is not my coach, and my hands are always spotless!
In that case, I want to share with you how it has worked for me. I was inspired by these stories, even though they didn’t directly apply to me, so I thought a little outside the box and gave it a go.
isn’t Reading for 10 minutes worth doing?
For the last however many years, I have felt completely overwhelmed when it comes to reading. At university, I spent hours in the library, but when life got real and I started working, I didn’t know how to organise my time to read every day. My reading list was accumulating but at the same time, turning pages for less than an hour felt so insignificant and worthless compared to my days in the library, so I never picked up a book. I felt frustrated, however after reading Clear’s blog, I thought it might be able to help me.
I decided that instead of checking emails, or scrolling through my phone with my breakfast, I would do a tiny bit of reading. Each day, I would pick up my spoon for my porridge, and turn a page or two. It was such a small action that as long as my book was on the breakfast table I rarely failed to get through a few pages.
I started 6 months ago, and today I finished my 12th book
isn’t a sun salutation better than none?
3 months ago, when the books were finally coming off the bookshelves, I decided to try another experiment. When I was living in Australia I started practicing a lot of yoga, I would do 2 hour-long classes and I felt amazing, but coming home, I stopped. Yoga was no longer as accessible as it had been and even though I had my own mat, without a teacher and a dedicated time space, I never felt I could get enough out of it on my own, so my mat collected dust, and the tension in my back returned. I decided that while my porridge was cooking, I would do a couple of sun salutations. It felt like nothing, but slowly the tension eased off a little, and more importantly, through this small action, I rediscovered my love for yoga and started to practice again!
Now, I often do a full hour of yoga, but every day, I do two sun salutations.
A Reflection on Teeth Brushing
If you are still unconvinced, I invite you to reflect …
I would never propose you to stop a positive habit that you have already internalized just to see how much good it is doing in your life, but sometimes reflecting upon one can be powerful. Let’s pick a common small action that we all do. Teeth Brushing. It takes two minutes, doesn´t require much effort and the results are difficult to see. Now
Imagine, how would you feel if you hadn’t washed your teeth for the last 2 days? The last 2 months? The last 2 years?
Tiny habits that we take for granted are doing us so much good, because even though they are small, they have a massive impact on the long term.
Imagine, just imagine, how your life could change if you add positive intellectual, creative, social, loving actions to each day?
¿Ready for a Challenge?
I hope by now you are ready for a challenge.
I would like you to pick something you want to be (a runner, a writer, a musician). Remember, identity is important, so pick a goal that aligns with who you want to become.
Then, divide this goal into multiple small actions, brainstorm all the things you could do to get closer to it, and pick just one to start with.
I would like you to create a small action that does not take you more than 2 minutes a day, and start incorporating it into your life.
- If you want to become a runner, start with a stretch
- If you want to become a painter, start with a circle
And then in a couple of weeks tell me how you feel!
If you want to learn more tactics and strategies to make this challenge work, come to the next Blog Club this weekend in Superchulo
We will talk about it at length and I will share with you the best tools I know to incorporate positive habits into your daily life, and feel more satisfied overall! Isn’t that the end goal?
(and if you are not in Madrid, buy Atomic Habits by James Clear)
You don’t know what small action to pick? I propose you a simple beneficial one, download this free meditation audio to make peace with anxiety and listen to it once a day, you will soon feel much better!
Love and Satisfaction,