It’s the little things

One of my favorite Insights is: “Embrace the little things; they may become really big things.”

I like this Insight because it reminds me of the importance of even our smallest actions—because actions become habits and habits, over time, define our lives.

Little changes often add up to big differences in health outcomes, for example—even though at first glance they seem almost trivial. Stay hydrated. Buckle up. Eat more vegetables. Drink less alcohol. Wear sunscreen. Get more exercise. Brush your teeth. Manage your stress.

These recommendations are so mundane that people often overlook them. After all, no one gives out anniversary chips for eating more vegetables. Also, small acts don’t inspire us the way big ones do, like climbing Mt. Everest or running a marathon. Yet, taken together over time small changes yield major benefits: reducing your risk of disease, and literally adding years to your life. Even focusing on any one of these changes—managing your stress or getting more exercise—can yield major transformations over time.

Little changes yield big results in other areas of life, as well. Saving $100/month at 3% interest might not seem like a very exciting way to get rich. But if you had set aside $100 every month for the last 20 years and earned just 3% annually, you’d have $32,830.65 today, rather than the original $24,000 you set aside. (Obviously, you’d have more if you chose an investment with a higher yield.)

I described this financial example in the past tense because it’s usually only in retrospect that we can appreciate the difference small changes have made. Looking forward, it’s easy to dismiss a small investment ($100), a 3% yield (that’s nothing!), and having to wait 20 years for the payoff. But looking back, who among us wouldn’t be thrilled to have an extra $32,830 today–especially as the result of an action that, for most of us, wouldn’t really require much sacrifice? Maybe it meant bringing your lunch once a week instead of eating out; or maybe you cut back on meat or alcohol to have an extra $100 every month.

In fact, another easy lifestyle change that most people ignore is this: pay yourself first! That’s right. Before the other bills get paid, pay yourself by making a deposit into your savings account. That way, whatever economizing you do over the month will come from somewhere else—not your nest egg.

One of the most consequential “little things” in my life that turned out to be a really big thing was this: As a young man I had lunch with a friend and his uncle, who encouraged me to go to medical school. I was working as a pharmacist at the time and really hadn’t considered medical school at all. To be honest, I didn’t think I was smart enough.

The encouragement I received from an older man, however, got me to reconsider. I applied to medical school, got in, and used my pharmacy degree as a way to put myself through. “The rest,” as they say, “is history.” That one conversation changed the direction of my entire life.

Interestingly, this same gentleman came into my office one day as a patient! He didn’t remember me, but I remembered him—and was able to tell him what a difference he had made in my life. He was delighted to learn that I’d taken his advice, and he became a lifelong friend.

Looking back on your own life, you can probably spot many small instances that had a big impact: a chance invitation to a party where you met your future spouse; a class you took to fulfill a general education requirement that became a lifelong passion; a person you sat next to on the plane who ended up offering you a job; a loan from a friend when you really needed it that enabled you to take the next step; a bad grade in a class that prompted you to change your major—and your career.

This Insight is also a reminder to embrace even our smallest daily tasks because, done with care, they can transform the quality of our lives. Setting the table with care, for example, can beautify a meal. Brushing our daughter’s hair with tenderness can communicate how much we love her. Carefully sewing on a button can make the difference in how our clothes fit. Leaving unexpected little love notes for our family members can brighten their day. When we bring attention to the manner in which we perform our daily activities we get more out of each moment. We also help to reduce our stress because we prevent our minds from rushing ahead to the next thing. Instead, we slow down and attend to this particular thing right now.

Of course, nature is full of little things that become really big things–from atoms that become molecules; acorns that grow into oaks; buds that blossom into flowers.

Probably my favorite “little things that are really big things” occur in the arena of kindness. I like them because they’re something we have control over: we can almost always be kind. We can give a stranger a compliment, comfort a child who is struggling, listen to a friend who is down, or even say something kind instead of reacting to another in anger. Although we may never know whether our small kindness had a larger impact, we usually will reap a reward in the moment—even if it’s just the smile of another human being and the good—and stress-reducing!—feeling we get for ourselves.

So, pay attention to the little things in your life. They may become really big things!

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider, who should also be consulted with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.


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