Small Positive Changes Add Up to a Big Difference in Your Life

by John Soares on July 11, 2011

Small positive changes will add up to make a big difference in your life: better health, better relationships, more happiness, more money. I think we all know this, but have you actually identified your small changes, and more importantly, are you actually doing them?

Example: I Do a the Yoga Wheel Pose Every Day

Health and vitality are crucial for me, and staying flexible is a key component of that. I’ve been doing 10-15 minutes of yoga a day for my entire adult life. I do a series of poses that stretch my main muscles and my spine.

I occasionally take yoga classes in Mount Shasta from Amy Cooper. A few months ago Amy had us do the wheel pose, chakrasana, what most people call a back-bend. She told us that if we did this every day for the rest of our lives we’d always have a healthy back.

I took this to heart and set the goal to do the wheel pose every day (except when I don’t have access to a good surface for it, like when I’m camping or backpacking). My posture has improved and my back feels great.

Freelance writer John Soares does the yoga back-bend: the wheel pose, chakrasana.

Freelance writer John Soares does the yoga back-bend: the wheel pose, chakrasana.

What Small Things Can You Do Daily or Weekly That Will Have a Major Long-Term Impact?

I want you to examine the important areas of your life and identify small things that you know will make a big difference, things that you will do regularly and make important goals. Here are some examples…

Physical and Mental Health

  • 20-minute walk every day
  • 15 minutes more every day preparing healthy meals from fresh ingredients
  • 10 minutes of yoga a day, and perhaps one yoga class per week
  • losing 1-2 pounds per month
  • 15-minute nap in the afternoon
  • extra 30 minutes of sleep at night
  • more attention to proper posture
  • more attention to relaxing your muscles
  • more attention to deep, slow breathing

Relationships with Loved Ones

  • 30 more minutes a day with your kids
  • calling your mother twice as frequently as you do now
  • more quality alone time with your partner
  • reaching out more often to friends and family members

Finances

  • increased focus on winning high-paying clients
  • creating a detailed budget so you know where your money comes from and where it goes
  • find an extra $100/month (or $50 or $500) to put in savings, or spend on professional development, or put in a retirement fund, or use to pay down credit card debt

Freelance Writing

  • 30 minutes a week becoming a better writer — review The Elements of Style or any other quality book on the basics of good writing
  • contact 2 more potential clients a week
  • 30 minutes a week looking more professional on your website, LinkedIn, social media
  • 30 minutes a week networking with clients, potential clients, and other freelance writers in your freelance writing specialty
  • implementing ways to get more joy from freelance writing

Time Management

Here's me relaxing right after finishing the wheel pose.

Here’s me relaxing right after finishing the wheel pose.

 Your Take…

What small changes have you taken that have made a big difference in your life? What small changes will you make now that you know will make a big difference in your life? Share with us!

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    { 37 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Tristan July 11, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    Twitter: @tristanhigbee

    Man, I would love to get into yoga. My climber’s body seems to be aging abnormally fast :D I’ve been to a couple free yoga classes before and enjoyed them but never really wanted to pay for more. Would just searching for “beginner yoga routine” in YouTube be a good place to start?

    I’m a huge fan of these small positive goals. I do try to get outside every day, whether it be for climbing, hiking, or just walking around the neighborhood for a bit.

    Preparing fresh, healthy meals… That’s another one I’m absolutely horrible at. I eat out just about every day. It’s bad, but at the same time, I love it because I hate cooking! I need a girlfriend…

    Great post, John. It’s definitely got me thinking now of what else I can do…
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    2 John Soares July 11, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    Tristan, you’re an accomplished mountain climber, and I know you get outside a lot, so you’re well covered there.

    It’s really important to have quality instruction for yoga. Most yoga studios will offer a deal like 10 visits for $80, or a month of all-you-can-eat for $100. If you put in some initial effort, which means really paying attention and practicing at home, you could make a lot of progress in a couple of months, especially somebody like you with good body awareness.
    John Soares recently posted…8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing

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    3 John Soares July 11, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    Eating healthy isn’t always easy, but most food in restaurants is high in fat and salt.

    It’s easy to make salads and soups at home, and you can make enough for 3-4 days.
    John Soares recently posted…My Guest Post and Live Call on Carol Tice’s Make A Living Writing Blog

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    4 John Soares July 11, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    Here’s an easy and delicious soup:

    Chop up fresh veggies of your choice and boil in a soup pan with a pinch of salt. Put the toughest veggies in first, like carrots.

    Once the veggies have softened to your liking, add in a half-jar of your favorite pasta sauce. That’s it. Now you have a yummy Italian vegetable soup.
    John Soares recently posted…How Multitasking Hurts Your Productivity

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    5 Tristan July 11, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    Twitter: @tristanhigbee

    Oh, another thing I try to do every day is read a book for fun/pleasure for at least half an hour. I love it. In general I just feel happier and more creative, and am even outlining my first novel right now :)
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    6 John Soares July 11, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    I also read for pleasure nearly every day, usually in the evenings before bed.

    Good luck with the novel, and I think it’s a very smart idea to have an outline.
    John Soares recently posted…House-Sitting and the Location-Independent Freelance Lifestyle

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    7 Cathy Miller July 11, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    Twitter: @millercathy

    Love this, John. So many good ideas. Thankfully, due to my passion of participating in the 3-Day, 60 Mile Walk for Breast Cancer, it kicks me out of my chair to train.

    Recently, I had to adjust my writing time to accommodate walking in the morning since it has gotten so hot. Last year I used the heat as an excuse not to walk and since the morning is my prime writing time. The funny thing is I am more productive now. I guess that’s not so surprising.

    Also, I moved from San Diego to Boise after my Dad died so my 88-year-old mother wasn’t living alone. Adjustments? Sure, but so worth it.
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    8 John Soares July 11, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    Having larger goals like walking 60 miles in 3 days is great for setting smaller goals, like walking 4 miles a day in preparation.

    I also live in an area near Mount Shasta that’s hot in the summer, up to 100 degrees. I have a daily tai chi practice, so I make sure I do that in the shade by mid-morning. And my partner Stephanie and I usually go for a walk at sunset.

    Speaking of Boise, we drove through there in late May on our way back from hiking in southern Utah. We stopped at the Starbucks. Pretty area!
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    9 Cathy Miller July 11, 2011 at 2:39 PM

    Twitter: @millercathy

    I’ve been to Mount Shasta–hot, hot! :-) You’ll have to let me know next time you hit that Boise Starbucks. :-)
    Cathy Miller recently posted…Business Writing Alternatives to Strangling the Critic Inside

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    10 John Soares July 11, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    Will do Cathy! It was an alternate route back from Salt Lake City to Mount Shasta by way of Burns and Bend in Oregon.
    John Soares recently posted…8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing

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    11 Felicia Brower July 11, 2011 at 4:10 PM

    Twitter: @feliciabrower

    I definitely need to start doing a lot of the things that you listed, especially the time management ones. I have a lot of free time right now, but I find myself watching TV or wasting time online. I need to get into some sort of routine to help me be more productive. The freelance writing tips are also really good ideas. If freelance writing is something that I’m going to pursue, then I need to practice writing and making connections.

    A couple small changes I’ve made lately have been making sure that I spend at least 30 minutes outside every day and going to bed at a reasonable hour. I am a lot less motivated when I don’t get enough sleep, so getting 7 to 9 hours is crucial if I want to get things done the next day.

    Reply

    12 John Soares July 12, 2011 at 6:42 AM

    Felicia, you’ve made two very important changes: you’re getting 30 minutes outside (hopefully walking), and you’re making sure you get enough sleep. Both of these will make you happier and healthier, and likely increase your net worth and your longevity.
    John Soares recently posted…My Guest Post and Live Call on Carol Tice’s Make A Living Writing Blog

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    13 Dave Doolin July 11, 2011 at 9:17 PM

    Twitter: @doolin

    Exercise. Bah.

    I am however, cutting code several hours per day now, and it feels good. Core competence is going up fast.

    Reply

    14 John Soares July 12, 2011 at 6:38 AM

    Dave, from what I know of your past, there was a period when you were likely one of the fittest men on the planet.

    And you still look fit now — despite all those hours spent coding.
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    15 Dave Doolin July 12, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    Twitter: @doolin

    That’s probably true. I used to be a monster. Oorah.

    Thanks for your encouragement, John.

    Reply

    16 Pinar Tarhan July 12, 2011 at 7:13 AM

    Twitter: @zoeyclark

    For me, it is much easier in the summer to eat more healthily. I also have the immense need to swim due to the really hot weather.

    I am hopeless at yoga though. I just feel a lot more comfortable when I dance:)
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted…Challenges of Writing A Novel & Some Great Resources for Tackling Them

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    17 Kate Frishman July 12, 2011 at 7:39 AM

    Twitter: @katefrishman

    Excellent suggestions. I fail miserably at the “get outside” part, though. Sigh.
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    18 John Soares July 12, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    Kate, with all the moving around you do with your work and your family, I’m sure you get plenty of exercise.

    Perhaps you can make a regular habit of taking a walk with the hubby and the kids?
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    19 Kate Frishman July 12, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    Twitter: @katefrishman

    Actually, you’ve sparked an idea there. I’ve been looking for a way to “schedule” alone time with each of the kids. I may try dragging them out one at a time. :)
    Kate Frishman recently posted…Ebook review: Make Sh*t Happen

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    20 Anne Wayman July 12, 2011 at 7:43 AM

    Twitter: @annewayman

    John, this is so true… when I break a goal/project into bite-sized pieces I tend to get it done… even 5 minutes a day can turn into something wonderful.

    And if a 20 minute walk is too long to start, start with 10. If you can’t double your rate, move it up by $5 or $10 an hour… in other words, just start…

    A
    Anne Wayman recently posted…What Does Your Freelance Writing Business Want to Be?

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    21 John Soares July 12, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    Anne, I have several long-term projects that only get about 10 minutes a week, but I’m still making progress. Just fleshing out ideas and outlines is important.
    John Soares recently posted…My Guest Post and Live Call on Carol Tice’s Make A Living Writing Blog

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    22 John Soares July 12, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    It’s the same with many things, including exercise. For example, even on a very busy day like today, I carved out 10 minutes for tai chi before lunch. I just finished and now my mind is clear and focused and my energy is much higher.
    John Soares recently posted…8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing

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    23 Eric Soares July 12, 2011 at 8:46 AM

    You offer a shipload of small, positive things to do. If I did them all, that would be all I do! But still, good ideas.

    My new small, positive thing to do: after I get up in the morning at 6:30, I now walk around and do small chores outside for a half hour or so BEFORE I get in front of the computer to work. The chores include working on the irrigation, pulling a few weeds, walking 150 yards uphill to get the paper, etc. Doing this makes my energy go up throughout the day.
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    24 John Soares July 12, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    Eric, I’ve also made that same recent change. Most mornings I make my coffee and go for a short walk, 10 minutes or so, near my house, usually down to the shore of Lake Shastina to watch the birds and the sunrise.

    I connect to nature and the outside world, I get clear on what I’m doing that day and why, and when I get back I’m rarin’ to go.
    John Soares recently posted…How Multitasking Hurts Your Productivity

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    25 Tom McGuire July 12, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    Ah, yes, the small, incremental things! That’s all it takes. I need to start saving pennies that turn into dollars. I need to rediscover the joy of spending 15 minutes a day studying Italian or Russian. I need to spend a few minutes every day reviewing the bedrock importance of understanding statistics. I need to love my wife evermore. Mother Teresa said, “We can do no great things – only small things with great love.” I’ll add, and with JOY in your HEART! Also, what Calvin Coolidge wrote is the sheer truth: “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” And all you need is 15 minutes a day of it! By the way, John, your backbend is lookin’ mighty fine!
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    26 John Soares July 12, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    Beautiful comment Tom!

    There can be such power in doing something for even 15 minutes a day: learning, exercising, connecting.

    And it turns out that I’ve always had a fairly flexible spine. Now if I only had flexible hips…
    John Soares recently posted…Freelance Writer’s Guide to Internet Research

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    27 Gene Burnett July 12, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    I love to focus on small doable changes in my life. All of my goals have the words “more” or “less” in front of them. I find that goals like “To become more relaxed” or “To become less irritiable” are much more attainable than goals like “To be relaxed”.

    I think slow incremental change is not only the healthiest, since it avoids shocking the body into counter reaction, but also the deepest, since it gives the mind and body time to adjust to and integrate the changes. I think that attempting major changes fast or “campaigns” to suddenly alter long standing patterns often masks or in a way actually expresses, real resistance to the desired change.

    I’ve seen plenty of T’ai-Chi students over the years with a real fear of slowing down and settling into their bodies. One of the interesting ways this fear can manifest itself, is through buying expensive weapons, praising my teaching skills to the Heavens, telling me they are fully committed to training for the rest of their lives, wanting special clothes, setting up dedicated practice areas…all done with a kind of ultra-excited zeal that usually tells me that there’s real fear and resistance to T’ai-Chi coming up. Generally, the more enthusiastic and crazed a new student is, the less likely they are to continue. I’ve had many students who hardly practiced at all when they first started but indicated that they knew they would eventually. They came essentially for a supervised practice session during their lessons. Over time many of these students do start to practice and develop into dedicated students. But almost none of the crazed “I’m going to practice 2 hours a day” types manage to be practicing at all in a few months.

    (John, I remember how slowly and carefully you “shopped” around for a T’ai-Chi teacher. You seemed in no big hurry. You knew you liked T’ai-Chi and wanted to find a more or less complete system that you could learn top to bottom. I think it was several weeks from when you first checked me out until you started formal lessons with me. I remember thinking that your slow and steady approach to finding the right teacher would serve you well in learning as well, which it has. Students who are crazy about me when they hardly know me usually make me wonder if they’ll even make it to their next lesson!)

    Personally, I distrust a powerful urge to change. In myself and in other people. When I feel the urge to make a big change, I often do the opposite and start by recognizing that this is probably a reactive urge that covers up resistance and fear of the change at hand. I then see if there is some small doable thing I can do that moves me in the direction of the desired change. This usually works much better.

    Example: Recently my wife and I have started to hang on the monkey bars at our local playgrounds as a way to increase our upper body strength and stability. The idea is to hang with just enough pulling up to keep the head and neck free. It’s a lot of fun, but as experienced middle-aged movers, we both know better than to push it too hard. Her goal is to do one full slow complete pull-up by the end of the Summer. I’m just working on hanging for longer periods of time and on easing into one-handed hanging. I’d like to be able to do 10 full long slow pull-ups at some point, but I’ve had some neck and shoulder injuries in the past and I’m going to approach this very slowly and patiently…So far it’s feeling great, I’m able to hang longer and longer and no injuries to either of us yet….

    I love the idea of setting up small doable goals…Good post.

    Reply

    28 John Soares July 12, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    For those of you who haven’t quite figured it out, Gene is my long-time tai chi teacher in Ashland, Oregon. (We’re about at our six-year anniversary.)

    I agree that people who try to switch to something new with too much enthusiasm will flame out quickly. I used to study Danzan Ryu jujitsu. Over the course of two years I methodically made my way to third-level brown belt (sankyu = lowest ranking brown belt). There was a white belt who show up for two classes in a row about every two months. Each time he would tell us how he planned to become a sandan, which is a third-degree black belt and takes a minimum of 5 years of intense training after reaching the first-degree black belt. I remember thinking “Dude, make it to blue belt first…”
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    29 Kristi Hines July 12, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    Twitter: @kikolani

    Awesome tips! I’m guessing that since I keep reading articles about life – work balance, that’s a healthy reminder I need to get back on track with my own. :)
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    30 John Soares July 12, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    Life-work balance is tough for many of us. There are times we need to work hard and the rest of life has to wait. I’m to the point where I’m tilting the balance in favor of more life.
    John Soares recently posted…8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing

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    31 Ramona July 15, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    Twitter: @ramonaiftode

    These are great tips. I should actually do something like this too, since my back is already been ruined by my sedentary job (web designer). I will start this too and hope to improve

    I do agree with the overall idea of making small improvements in our lives. Sometimes the biggest changes come in small bits. If I try to do something totally different I’d resist it and won’t be able to go through with it, but, if it’s a bit here and a bit there, the chances to better the lifestyle are bigger.

    Reply

    32 Eric Soares July 15, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    Now, for the other side of the coin. Sometimes BIG changes are needed and you have to jump through the ventana. For example, if you have always lived in a small town and yearn to visit foreign countries, taking the small step (literally) of going to the fair in the next county won’t cut it. If you live in Stockton, California, and visit Sacramento, that’s nothing to write home about.

    Now, you could take an intermediate step and visit Mexico or Canada. If that worked out okay, then you could go to Hong Kong or Sweden or New Zealand or Timbuctu, or wherever strikes your fancy. Make sense?

    The trick is to know when to take a small step and when to take a GIANT LEAP for mankind.
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    33 Karen July 16, 2011 at 7:41 AM

    Twitter: @writeandchange

    Loved this post. Alot of these (including the 10-15 minutes yoga) are already a part of my daily routine, but a few significant ones aren’t. You’ve definitely given me some extra things to work on.
    Karen recently posted…Productivity Tips For Writers: 15 tasks you can do in 10 minutes or less

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    34 John Soares July 18, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    I’m glad it helped Karen! I’ve found that even that short amount of yoga has made a huge difference for me.
    John Soares recently posted…How Tai Chi Makes Me a Better Writer

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    35 Jerry Clifford October 20, 2011 at 4:00 AM

    Great wheel pose! :) I don’t think I can do that, but I do take yoga occasionally just to keep track of how my body is doing. Got to take care of our bodies, right? And speaking about changes, it’s always good to start within ourselves. We pay attention to the little things and before we know it, we have already made a huge difference not only in our lives but in other peoples lives as well.

    Reply

    36 Gail Rehbein January 23, 2012 at 11:18 PM

    Twitter: @gailrehbein

    Thanks John. I enjoyed reading this post as it’s a particular focus for me at the moment – many small steps make the journey! It’s the end of the working day as I write this and I’m going for a walk right now :-)
    Gail Rehbein recently posted…An essential to business success: your inner circle

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    37 John Soares January 27, 2012 at 6:19 PM

    I frequently end my work days by taking a walk, usually to the top of a nearby hill.
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