Updated: Jul 23
It can be tough to make meaningful life changes. Some of the most impactful changes can take years of hard work and persistence. That said, there are a few things that you can do right now with minimal effort that can start a snowball effect, ultimately leading to other positive changes that will add up to make a massive difference in your life.
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This concept is sometimes referred to as the "aggregation of marginal gains." In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about the classic example of the British cycling team that dominated the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
The British cycling team had been embarrassingly bad for over a hundred years. But in 2003, a new coach, Dave Brailsford, took over and changed the course of British cycling by introducing a series of small, seemingly insignificant changes that eventually added up to significant improvements.
Brailsford's revamp culminated in the British cycling team winning nearly 60% of the gold medals at the Olympic Games in 2008! You can click here to read more about the story, see the sources, and get James Clear's take on it.
The moral of the story is that minor changes can make a surprisingly big difference over time. Almost like compounding interest: if we make small changes that add up over time, or if we make small changes in areas that will impact other parts of our life, we will eventually look back and be shocked by how far we've come.
Below are some of the changes you can make that I think will give you the biggest bang for your buck:
1. Get your phone out of the bedroom.
When we keep our phones beside us at night, we tend to stay up later checking the news, responding to emails, or scrolling social media. If you keep your sound and notifications on at night, you'll also be affected by those. You may think they don't bother you because you don't remember the noises waking you up. But your phone may still be pulling you out of a deeper stage of sleep whenever it goes off. By getting your phone out of your room, you'll improve the quality of your sleep and give your mind some time to relax fully. Both of these changes can result in significant improvements for the rest of your life.
2. Get rid of the clothes that don't fit.
We hang onto clothes that don't fit (or clothes we don't like) for so many reasons. We may feel guilty for getting rid of something that we paid good money for. Or we tell ourselves we will lose weight and fit in that dress in a few months. Or we force ourselves to wear clothes that don't make us feel confident. Letting go of clothes that aren't serving you anymore will feel like a weight lifted off your shoulders. When you dress in a way that makes you feel good, you start to exude more confidence, altering the trajectory of other areas of your life.
3. Put an inspiring note on your bathroom mirror.
When I was plagued with worry and self-doubt, one thing that kept me going was a little post-it note on my bathroom mirror that said, "You are stronger than you think." It was such a minor thing, and I don't even think I consciously noticed the note most of the time. But what we tell ourselves influences the way we live, even if we don't believe what we are saying at first. Our brains despise being wrong, so they will work overtime to look for evidence to support whatever position you've decided to take. If you tell yourself that you are stupid, your brain will look for evidence that you are stupid. If you tell yourself that you are creative, your brain will look for evidence that you are creative. Even if you don't believe it at first, repeatedly seeing an inspiring message could still prime your brain to look for success.
4. Write down your values.
Values are the guiding principles in our lives, and every little action we take (or don't take) can move us closer to (or farther from) our values. But to make choices that are in line with our values, we must first figure out what those values are. You can do this by thinking about the achievements you are most proud of, what you would want to be remembered for, or the times when you've felt the most fulfilled. Notice any common themes, and these may point you in the direction of your values. Once you figure out your values, write them down and read over them on occasion. Doing this can help you stay focused (consciously and subconsciously) on what matters and avoid getting distracted by the things that don't. For more guidance on determining your values (and a list of examples), read my previous blog post on the subject.
5. Call and make that appointment.
You know which appointment I'm talking about. We all know we are supposed to have regular checkups with our doctor and dentist. But many of us avoid these appointments until our doctors refuse to refill our medication without a visit, or it's impossible to ignore that aching tooth. If there is one thing I've learned in my medical training, it's that many health issues are much easier to prevent than fix. If we can catch things early and intervene, you can change the course of your life. Aside from the obvious benefits of potentially getting ahead of health issues, making your physical health a priority also sends a message to your brain that you deserve to feel happy and healthy. This mindset can drive you to make other choices that can improve your life.
6. Get a fancy water bottle.
They may seem silly or frivolous. But water bottles with time markers (like this one), electronic ones that glow to remind you when it's time to take a sip (like this one), or really any water bottle that you like, can inspire you to stay hydrated. This can be life-changing because many of us are more dehydrated than we think, and that dehydration affects us far more than we realize. Losing just 1.5% of your body's water can lead to significant symptoms like decreased strength and stamina and problems with focus and thinking. Staying hydrated can give you a boost in all these areas, which, as you can imagine, can improve the rest of your life too.
7. Get a plant.
And if you already have a plant, get another one. Repeat ad infinitum. Not only are plants good for the air you breathe, but research has shown a myriad of other benefits as well. Studies have suggested that plants may boost productivity, decrease stress, and improve mental health. Indoor plants, outdoor plants, green spaces, gardening, and even just looking at a plant have all shown benefits. We aren't meant to be indoors as much as our modern life requires, so a little bit of "green time" can make you feel refreshed and ready to make even bigger changes in your life.