Home | Human Flourishing | Personal Development | Major Life Changes
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2016 (edited 1-3-2022)
We don't magically transform. Major life change is often slow and methodical. Slow down, watch yourselves, and let small choices create major changes.
Major events impact our lives and force change—loss of a loved one, a major illness, unemployment. Tragedy shocks our system, exposing us to different realities and compelling adjustments; we change. We are adaptable—for the most part. We meet the challenges of life and survive. Our tendency (when not confronted with a life-changing event) is, however, to maintain balance, allowing the trajectory of our life to continue uninhibited. We want better but fail to change day to day decisions. Major, positive, life changes are within our reach. We just need to make a few minor tweaks to our lives, allowing the subtle changes to make major differences.
Life Mindlessly Follows Habits
We believe we are in charge, pulling the strings of choice, but in the normal flow of living, we mindlessly give way to the same habits, behaviors, and thoughts. Life often unfolds without interference of intelligent choice. Until, of course, we encounter a major event; but we don't have to wait for tragedy to change.
We can intercede, experiencing self-efficacy over the unfolding of our lives. Mindful exploration opens new possibilities, exposing hidden secrets, and bringing to light our blind obedience to habitual patterns. We can create magnificent change with seemingly insignificant choice.
Small Successes Motivate
Persistent constructive small behaviors continued overtime inspires major transformations, slowly molding futures and smoothing rough edges.
In a Harvard Business Review article, Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer present the progress principle. The explain that making progress in meaningful work can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions more than any other single ingredient. "The more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run" (2011).
The point is we don't need huge breakthroughs; but we do need a series of small successes. The crowning great achievement fails to motivate day to day activity.
The notable achievement of a graduate level degree is comprised of thousands of small achievements—completing assignments, getting up early for class, reading a chapter. We can't forget the overall purpose but these much smaller leaps can provide necessary motivation for the next small progression.
We need to give attention and enjoy success of these much smaller achievements.
Small Changes Accumulate
Through positive gentle changes, our relationships deepen, and wisdom expands. Small changes may seem insignificant but often are instrumental in larger revolutions of the soul. Behaviors don’t occur in a vacuum. How we act nourishes or infects others. Others respond to our behaviors and we respond to their behaviors. Each little behavior creates ripples, flowing outward, creating changes to the self and to the larger whole.
"Small acts of decency ripple in ways we could never imagine."
When we focus small behaviors on changing underlying character, these movements alter much larger trajectories. Shifting the possibilities of the future. The positive changes add color and richness to previously bleak hopes and dreams of an under-lived life.
Life doesn’t transform immediately. We need more than a fleeting desire motivated by the ache of the moment; but the first stirrings of dissatisfaction may be a starting point. If we follow-up with structured goals and designed measurements, we keep the motivation alive and begin a much greater work.
Our first successes give confidence. We begin to believe in our power to change. We begin the flow of transformation by adding to these first positive movements knowledge, skill and external support. The new engine of change begins to pick up speed, moving with greater momentum towards a better future.
"Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance."
But all is not done. Previous destructive habits are patient, waiting for opportunities to return. Once we believe we conquered the past, in a moment of fatigue, the poisons powerfully leap back into our lives, disrupting new successes and damaging self-confidence.
Beware of these moments of weakness, for when anxieties, fears and disappointments accumulate, they tear apart resolve. Kindly recognize momentary slips, avoid debilitating guilt, and reengage in the healthier desired paths.
See Ego Depletion for more on this topic
Small Changes We Can Make
The list for small improvements is limitless. Yet, sometimes we need a small boost to begin our own thoughtful creativity. Here are a few suggestions for improving your well-being:
We become great through small insignificant moments—the small swings of the sculptor’s mallet shape our lives. Slow down, decide on a few small changes to implement today that when continued lead to major life changes. Add a little compassion and a little work to begin the transformations that lead to the major life changes we desire.
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Amabile, T. M., Kramer, S. J. (2011). The Power of Small Wins. Harvard Business Review. Published 05-2011. Retrieved 2-19-2021.