As you make small changes to take better care of yourself, you’ll eventually see that the results compound over time. Begin by taking small steps that you can consistently take and build on those. You’ll see that the little things become the big things.TheExceleratedLife.com
The Little Things Are The Big Things
“Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut
One day, you’ll realize that the little things are the big things. That is relevant to all the Excelerated Life™ practices, and especially true for the practice of Excelerated Selffulness™, the practice of taking excellent care of yourself. Here’s why.
Success, Jeff Olson tells us in The Slight Edge, comes from doing a few simple things, every day, over time. And failure comes from not doing those simple things, every day, over time. Simple daily disciplines repeated consistently over time lead to success. [Olson]
“Remember, it’s easy to do the little things, every day. It’s also easy not to do them.” [Rohn] That’s the stumbling block. The small actions that lead to success are easy to do. They are also easy NOT to do. If you do them or don’t do them, you won’t receive much immediate feedback. You’ll feel pretty much the same at the end of the day whether you do them or not. But as you make small changes to take better care of yourself, you’ll eventually see that the results compound over time. So begin by taking small steps that you can consistently take and build on those over time. You’ll see that the little things become the big things.
Let’s examine these components of self-care: the fundamentals (eat, move, sleep), reserves, relationships, positivity, organization, and habits – and consider some small steps you can begin to take in each area. We’ll look at some little things that can become the big things.
The Fundamentals – Eat/Move/Sleep
We’ll start with the fundamentals because if you get these right, the other factors will be easier. And if you don’t, they won’t.
When we focus on the basics of caring for ourselves — proper nutrition, adequate activity, and plenty of sleep — a synergy develops and we begin an upward spiral. So look for ways you can make small, daily, incremental improvements in all 3 areas together.
Here are some little things to keep in mind about eating.
- Eat more whole foods and fewer processed “food-like substances”.
- If it doesn’t need a label, eat as much as you want. If it requires a label, eat as little as possible.
- Don’t eat anything with more than 5 ingredients or with ingredients you can’t pronounce.
- Do the majority of your grocery shopping around the perimeter of the store where the fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh meats are found.
- Add raw foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts) to your diet. Put simply, foods that are cooked are dead and foods that are raw are alive. The more live food we eat the more alive we feel.
It is better to add small amounts of movement throughout the day rather than moving 30 or 60 minutes once per day and remaining sedentary the rest of the time. Remember, the little things are the big things, so start small. You can add more activity as you develop the habit of movement.
- Instead of sitting during meetings, hold stand-up meetings where everyone stands.
- Use part of your lunch break to take a quick walk outdoors.
- Park farther away from the store and walk.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
- Stand up when you talk on the phone.
Decide when you want to get up and count backward from there. And realize that 8 hours in bed is not the same as sleeping eight hours. If you want to get 8 hours of sleep, you need to be in bed for about 9 hours. Then begin to incorporate these small steps to improve the quality and the quantity of your sleep.
- Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day – even on weekends.
- Keep the room dark.
- Keep the room cool – between 60 and 68 degrees F.
- Limit your exposure to blue light in the evening. Blue light comes from electronics – computers, cell phones, TVs. Turn them off at least 1 hour before you go to bed.
- Limit caffeine to the mornings and early afternoon – none after about 2 PM.
When we lack basic necessities, an inordinate amount of energy is spent in survival mode. Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – physical, safety, & emotional needs must be met before one gets to self-actualization. If you are always thinking (consciously or subconsciously) about not having enough of what you need, you have little capacity left to grow and prosper. The wise person ensures she or he has more than enough time, money, supplies, love, competence, self-esteem, freedom, and so on to free up psychic energy for creating one’s best life. By building and keeping reserves, you free up the energy that you spent to survive and use it to grow and thrive.
Begin now to think about actions you can take to start building your reserves. Use this list as a starting point to begin identifying personal areas where you need to have reserves.
- Have one shelf in your home or in a closet that you keep completely empty. The empty shelf (or it could be a drawer, etc.) symbolizes room and space for growth.
- Plug any leaks that are draining away reserves you have already accumulated. Building a reserve is only part of the process. The second part is to eliminate unnecessary drains and protect against losses.
- Use this “zero-sum” exercise to re-evaluate all your commitments, roles, and obligations. Take each of your commitments, your roles, or your obligations and ask yourself, “If I were to take this on today, knowing what I now know, would I still accept it?” If your answer to any commitment, obligation or role is “No. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t start this today”, then begin making plans immediately to hand it off or give it up or otherwise get out. Of course, you do this in a way that is fair to all concerned.
- Do something radically different today to start building a reserve in one area of your life. Sometimes you can get your momentum going by making a radical change. Do one thing completely different and act on any ideas that come to mind.
Two “big things” regarding relationships are (1) making deposits into the emotional bank account and (2) how we respond to good and bad news from a friend or loved one. Let’s look at these two ideas and identify some little things that can become the big things.
Making Deposits Into The Emotional Bank Account
In The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey describes the Emotional Bank Account. [Covey] We have an emotional bank account with the people we are in relationship with. Just as we make deposits and take withdrawals in a financial bank account, we can make deposits and take withdrawals from our emotional bank accounts, too.
Here are ways to make small deposits into the emotional bank accounts of those we love.
- Respond to good news actively and constructively. (See next section.)
- Make the effort to stay calm during disagreements.
- Show kindness to your partner.
- Put the focus on the other person when things go well.
- Engage in open, honest, loving communication.
Responding To Good And Bad News
Most of us assume that being a supportive partner means lending a shoulder to cry on in times of disappointment and heartache. And in general, we are pretty good at providing that support when it’s needed.
But the closest and most trusting relationships are defined by how partners respond to each other’s good news. [Desmond]
As we’ve discussed before, there are 4 distinct ways to respond to good news: active constructive, passive constructive, active destructive, and passive destructive. And although it doesn’t come naturally to most of us, we can improve our relationships by learning to respond to good news actively and constructively.
Does positivity really matter? Why be happy? Well, a number of studies show that it is possible for positive emotions to increase personal resources, both physical and mental. These studies show that increases in positive emotions result in improved immune functioning, reduced inflammation from stress, increased resistance to infections, improved resiliency, and lowered cortisol in the body. Plus, increased positive emotions improve thinking ability, including increased cognitive flexibility and improved speed and accuracy in thinking and reasoning.
Here are a few small positivity boosters. Remember, when it comes to increasing your positivity, the little things are the big things.
- Anonymously assist. This means to do something for someone without any chance of recognition. Maybe you’ve heard this stated as Random Acts of Kindness where you do something good for a stranger – such as feeding a parking meter that has expired or sending a cheerful – but anonymous – note to a friend.
- Say “Thank you!” An attitude of gratitude keeps you open to the abundance that is available for all of us. Imagine that you are standing at a pool of clear, cool water and that you are extremely thirsty. If you grab a fistful of water, how much water do you get? But, if you cup your hands, even though some water spills out, you still get a good drink from the water that remains. You cannot grasp your way to abundance. But when you are grateful for what you have, you open your self to receive more.
- Give something away. This could be money or material goods but you can also give away a hug to a friend, a smile to someone who is lonely or unhappy, or dignity to one who is downtrodden.
- Give yourself small rewards. What is something you enjoy tremendously but never seem to allow yourself? Perhaps it’s spending 15 minutes catching up on the news, taking a short walk, reading a chapter in a good book, or leafing through a magazine. Maybe it’s taking a luxurious bath, or spending some time in meditation, or playing with your dog. Begin making a list of small, pleasurable rewards with which you can treat yourself throughout the week. Then when you’ve finished a tough task or just need a boost to get going again, select one of the rewards from your list and give yourself a treat.
- Take a walk. So much good can come out of the simple act of walking . . . just walk. Our bodies are made for physical exercise, not for sitting in front of a TV or computer terminal for hours on end. Going outside and having a walk gets you in the fresh air and sunshine, and clears the head and the senses. Walk with no other purpose in mind — no expectations, no ulterior motive . . . just walk.
Be well-enough organized. That doesn’t mean you have all the items in your pantry sorted and alphabetized or all your books arranged on the shelves by color and size. It isn’t having your shoes lined up in neat boxes. Nor is it having all your stuff stored in matching, color-coded storage bins.
Well-enough organized means you know what you have and you know where everything is. Every thing. Well-enough organized means you know when bills are due and you get them paid on time. It means no more missed appointments. It means you don’t have to go out and buy a tool or an implement or household supplies because you can’t find the one you know you have . . . somewhere. And it means “all your things have places” and every family member knows where that place is.
How do you begin to become well-enough organized? Here are the basics:
- Take everything out of the space. Spend a few minutes thinking about how you want to use this space.
- Sort the items into categories. As you do this, get rid of anything that is obviously trash. Also decide what to do with the things you no longer need, use, or love. DON’T put them back into your clean space.
- Now decide what will live in this space. How will you store these things neatly?
- Finally, find a home for the remaining items. This doesn’t necessarily mean your home so continue to purge items as appropriate. Put the items you will keep here back where they live.
I have a belief, based on personal experience, that when you perform one positive action, it leads to another, which leads to another, etc. These actions build upon one another so that as you do some positive things, it is easier to do more.
One explanation for this is the concept of “habit stacking” – tying a new habit that you want to develop onto a habit you already have. For example, expressing gratitude when you get out of bed in the morning, doing some stretches after you make coffee, or flossing your teeth after you brush.
I know that if I exercise in the morning, then I am more likely to follow a healthy diet during the day, and take better care of myself in other ways. Research in positive psychology bears out this belief. Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson developed a theory she calls “broaden and build” and she has proven in study after study how adding positivity practices to one’s life builds psychological strengths, social connections, good mental habits, and improved physical health. One of the findings I find especially interesting is the “upward spiral”, the idea that as you practice adding a few positive experiences into your life, you are more inclined to add others. [Fredrickson]
Which brings us to The 10 Daily Habits. The idea behind the 10 Daily Habits is to come up with 10 things you love to do and that contribute to your better life.
Think of activities that bring you joy, peace, a feeling of accomplishment, or that improve your mental or physical health. Don’t select activities that are merely pleasurable. Eating a pint of ice cream or drinking a six-pack of beer each day might be pleasurable, but these are not gratifying and they certainly don’t contribute to taking better care of yourself. Don’t make them too elaborate or difficult. Look for ten activities that leave you feeling good about yourself, which are easily done and which don’t require a lot of your time.
I’ve provided a chart you can use to track your progress each week. Feel free to make as many copies as you need. Don’t get too hung up on how many days you’ve done it. Just concentrate on doing them each day, then check them off (or stick on a gold star!) on the chart. As you see the checks or stars accumulate, it encourages you to continue the behavior.
You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have
Why not take the time to reassess how well you are caring for your most important asset . . . you? Taking excellent care of yourself isn’t selfishness but selffullness . . . filling yourself up from the inside. You must care for yourself if you are to be able to care for others. Remember the command to “love your neighbor as yourself”? This presumes that you have love for yourself in the first place. You cannot give away that which you do not have.
If you are to give your best in Service to the world, you have to be at your best. Excelerated Selffullness™ is one of the steps to help you be your best. And it’s one of the steps for embracing your Excelerated Life™!
Excelerated Selffullness™ — taking excellent care of yourself — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.
Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.
Desmond, Msc., Brad. “The Positive Psychology Of Successful Relationships.” PositivePsychology.com. PositivePsychology.com, 14 February 2017. Web. 23 November 2019.
Fredrickson, Ph.D., Barbara, L. Positivity. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2009.
Olson, Jeff. The Slight Edge. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2005-2013.
Rohn, Jim. Leading an Inspired Life. Lake Dallas, TX: Success Books, 1997.