Make Big Changes With Small Steps

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on December 16, 2022
2 min read

When we’re ready for a change in our lives -- lose some weight, get in shape, organize the family garage -- we want it to happen fast. But change takes time, and new habits take a lot of practice before they become routine. In fact, experts agree that it’s rarely a good idea to jump head first into any big transition.

A better way to make a change stick? Take baby steps toward your goal. Here’s how and why slow and steady action will make you more likely to succeed.

Take it easy.

Our brains are hardwired to resist repeating difficult, complex, or painful events. As a result, a “no pain, no gain” approach actually makes it easier for us to give up on our goals. Instead, relax a little. Make sure to bring playfulness, fun, or at the very least, ease into each little step you take towards your mission.

Set yourself up for success.

Ditch oversized, vague ambitions -- for example, “I’m going to lose 20 pounds” -- with specific, manageable actions you’re confident you can reach. Maybe the first step you take towards slimming down is to cut back on the amount of soda you drink. Once you’ve succeeded, you can then add another easy step that takes you closer to your weight loss goal.

Know yourself.

Many times, we wreck our plans to improve by making a change harder than it needs to be. Will expensive software you don’t know how to use really help you keep better track of your finances? Are you likely to stick with an early morning running group even though you usually sleep through your alarm? If you honestly note your strengths and weaknesses, you can set goals that are doable.

Look for “micro-moments.”

Be mindful of tiny ways you can get closer to your goal throughout the day. Even a few seconds counts. If you’re hoping to improve communication with your partner, try looking up from your smartphone and making eye contact when they speak. To get more exercise, try taking the stairs instead of the escalator at work.

Be consistent.

New behaviors take about 3 weeks to become a habit, so be patient. You won’t see big changes right away. Keep a journal of what you achieve each day to stay on track and chart your progress.

Don’t forget to celebrate.

We’re quick to criticize ourselves when we fall short of a goal, but a pat on the back for our successes -- even the small ones -- is crucial to staying motivated. Splurge on herbal tea and a new mug when you’ve cut your coffee intake. Download new music after you walk with friends a few days in a row. When we’re rewarded (even by ourselves), our unconscious mind drives us to these healthy behaviors again.