“If you want to change the world, you’ve got to think smaller.”

Yes, I know that’s terribly counter-intuitive, even counter-cultural. Our world says think bigger and better. Even the Church gets caught up in this thinking. Chicago architect, Daniel Burnham, has been famously quoted by many Christian leaders, myself included, ”Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men`s blood…” 

Bigger dreams and plans may stir men’s blood, to be sure. But it begs the question: What exactly do they stir? Envy? Competition? Pride? A search for significance that will never be found in achievements? 

I realize that big plans can also stir some positive things: teamwork, community, sacrifice, etc. But the older I get, the more I’m focused on smaller things. Because, smaller things, over time, become much bigger things, for better or worse. Jesus put it this way, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” (Luke 16:10-11, NLT) 

Focusing on smaller things now leads to bigger things later.

By the way, you know what’s missing in that statement? Probably. (No, I mean the word, “probably.”) Jesus didn’t say probably. He didn’t say if you’re faithful in little things, you’ll probably be faithful in large ones. He said you will. Period. And he didn’t say if you’re dishonest in little things, you’ll probably be dishonest in bigger things. He simply said you will be.

In other words, it’s a law. The Law of Smaller Things. (Think Law of Thermodynamics, in a spiritual sense.) 

It’s the little things, the tiny habits, that shape our lives, and determine what bigger things we’ll be a part of later. So as we think about making progress this year, about the importance of routines, I want you to think smaller! In fact, think tiny.

Tiny Habits

After 20 years of researching human behavior, Stanford researcher, BJ Fogg PhD, wrote a little book called, “Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything.”  He argues that only 3 things will change your behavior in the long term:

  • Option A:  Have an epiphany
  • Option B:  Change your environment
  • Option C:  Take baby steps
  1. Have an epiphany. I can’t tell you how many times I had an epiphany. You know, where I had a clear sense that God wanted me to do something, or change something. But rarely have those epiphanies changed my life…or anyone else’s, unless I actually did something with it. (More on that in a later blog post.)
  2. Change your environment. We’ve all either tried this, or at least fantasized about it, where we pursued a change of environment–a new job, a new house, a new city, a new spouse–in hopes that it would change a bunch of other stuff, typically turning negatives into positives. And while it’s true that environment can change behavior, sometimes it’s not an option. Which leads us to the final option.
  3. Take baby steps: I think this is the realm where most of us will experience true progress. If you watch Dr. Fogg’s YouTube videos, or Ted Talk, he gives examples of tiny habits, tiny changes in his routines that led to long-term behavioral change. Progress. 

Here’s one example he gives: He wanted to get into better shape physically, so he added a tiny step to an existing routine. He started doing a single push-up right after he used the bathroom. You heard me. One push-up. After using the bathroom. Every time. Over time, one push-up became two, two became five and so on. Now he regularly gets in 50-65 push-ups every day! By adding a tiny habit, he saw big change over time.

My Tiny Habits

So here’s some of the tiny habits I’ve been incorporating lately:

I want to get into better shape this year, and at my age, mobility is a big deal. But instead of going out and buying a gym membership (change of environment), I added a tiny habit to an existing routine. I already take a shower every morning. But now, I do a series of stretches right before I get out of the shower. (It’s already easier to touch my toes!) I made a good routine an even better one. After this routine becomes, well, routine, I’ll add another tiny habit to my fitness regimen.

I don’t know about you, but Marlina and I struggle to keep up with the dishes at our house. In fact, it’s tempting to go out to eat sometimes just because the prospect of cleaning the dishes seems so daunting. Well, I told you about my coffee routine in my last post. It’s a really good routine. But I’ve made it even better by adding one tiny habit to it. Every morning, while the coffee is brewing, if there are any dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, I wash them. We now come home to a clean kitchen every night. A really good routine is even better now!

On the writing front, I’ve started thinking smaller, but getting more done. I added the small routine of writing 500 words, five days a week. To some of you, this might seem like a BIG change, but it’s actually pretty small for me. I can write 500 words in 60 minutes or so. I used to get overwhelmed when I would set a big goal of getting a book written in a year. Then I’d procrastinate. Or I’d try to find a week where I could do nothing but writing and plan to get 10,000 words done. Didn’t happen. But by adding a small routine of 500 words a day, I’ve already written 5,500 words in the 14 days since I established the routine! Multiply that by 52 weeks, and you get 130,000 words a year, the equivalent of 2.5 non-fiction books. (The .5 is really important because I’m over halfway done with one book project!)

One small routine can change the course of a year. Then a lifetime. So where do you need to think smaller? Where can you eliminate one small thing, or add one small thing?

And change the world.