Why it’s better to make tiny changes

Are you planning drastic, far-reaching new year’s resolutions? Stop! Making tiny (almost stupidly tiny) changes will be more lasting in the long run. Follow Oliver Burkeman’s easy steps…


Why it's better to make tiny changes

There’s something intoxicating about the idea of making a completely fresh start in the new year. You tell yourself you’ll wave goodbye to your old self, with its bad habits and mood swings, and replace it with a gleaming, new version instead – someone who eats well, never procrastinates, and skips joyfully to the gym five times a week.

But as you've probably realised long ago, that rarely works – it makes you feel virtuous for a few days but then much worse when your grand plans inevitably collapse.

That’s not really your fault. Some psychologists believe willpower is a limited resource, so if you use some on one major change (like cutting out junk food, say), then you’ll have less remaining to make any others (like saving more of your pay cheque each month).

A much more effective plan is to make a few small changes – so small, in fact, that they might even strike you as silly at first – such as eating your dinner from a smaller plate if you are consciously trying to maintain a healthy weight, which has been proven to work in research by the food psychology expert Brian Wansink.

Psychologist and innovator BJ Fogg from Stanford University in the US calls these ‘tiny habits’, and defines them as anything taking 30 seconds or less per day – so, if you want to begin flossing your teeth for example, he recommends that you start with one tooth. Not all the changes we'll look at in the coming days are quite that tiny. But they are some of the very best, scientifically proven ways to become happier, healthier and more productive in 2015 with only the smallest investment of time and effort.

If you are planning any of these, we can help:

1. Take a daily five-minute dose of nature

2. Nudge yourself towards more sensible spending

3. Kickstart a meditation habit with 10-second mindfulness

4. Get fit with a tiny exercise routine

5. Pick up a pen with your morning coffee

6. Improve your love life for free

More inspiration:

Read What you most need in 2015 is energy not time by Jackee Holder on LifeLabs

Sign up for our Life Labs Practical Wisdom online course Achieve Your Goals here

Read Don't hug a tree by Jane C. Woods on LifeLabs for more on unhelpful and helpful thinking

Photograph: iStock

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