Take Small Steps

Often what we want can feel so overwhelming that we never get started at all. If that’s true for you, here a secret: One tiny step at a time. And it often doesn’t matter which step. Just take one. Then take another. Repeat until you’ve gotten where you want to be.

Want to lose 50 pounds? Concentrate on losing one by cutting out fried foods. (A male client of mine lost 17 pounds by doing just that.) Or switch to light mayo. (A woman who lost 43 pounds began that way.) The successes each met with that first small change allowed them to keep on going and up the ante to reach their goal. Want to change careers? Take one class or read one book or have one conversation. Then figure out your next small step. Want to write a book? Commit to writing one line a day.

This technique has a name–kaisen, a Japanese strategy for change that relies on tiny, continuous improvements. It actually originated in the U.S. at the beginning of WWII, and was introduced to Japan after the war. Why it works has to do with the brain structure I wrote of in Week 1. Whenever we initiate a change, even a positive one, we activate fear in our bunny brain. If the fear is big enough, the fight or flight response will go off and we’ll run from what we’re trying to do. The small steps in kaisen don’t set off fight or flight, but rather keep us in the thinking brain where we have access to our creativity and playfulness.

And when they say small, they mean small. Practitioners such as Robert Maurer give assignments such as flossing one tooth to someone who wants to create the flossing habit, or marching in place for 1 minute for a person who wants to learn to exercise. Want some scientific proof? Researchers at the University of Bristol divided 78 people into two groups. One was told to take 10,000 steps per day, the other 2,500. Which group hit their target more often? The 2,500 group succeeded twice as often as the other.

Breaking it down into small steps gives you the chance to experience success, which provides momentum to keep on going. It’s also a great antidote to procrastination. You don’t have to do it all, just one small thing. The success you create will give you the courage and enthusiasm to persevere and perhaps even up the ante. Once you’ve done step one, put step two in place. As the great basketball coach John Wooden once said, “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur … seek the small improvement one day at a time.”

To try: What’s the first small step to what you want? Go ahead–underwhelm yourself by making it really tiny. When and how are you going to do it?

Ready to get started? Post your intent and find community support and content to help you achieve it!

In this monthlong learning series, M.J. Ryan, author of the best-selling book This Year I Will…: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True, will take you through four steps, each lasting one week, to help you figure out what your most important intentions are and give you the tools to make each a reality. Just joining the learning series? Go here to start at the beginning. Intent.com provides content and community for who you aspire to be–personally, socially and globally.


K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

gail d.
gail dair7 years ago

thanks for post

Anne F.
Anne F8 years ago

Well, LOL, my next small step is to walk away from this computer keyboard, so I can do the physical acts of housekeeping and musicmaking and family loving!

Vural K.
Past Member 8 years ago


Dwight B.
Past Member 9 years ago

By Dwight Baker dbaker007@stx.rr.com Chairman Grass Roots Coalition

Faith is from GOD. We access our HOPES and lean on HIM to provide us the FAITH to go on-----yet some think today that is all about money. WRONG ----- GOD has a perfect plan for the converted man and woman to rule and reign over ALL in HIS personal earthly absence.

And when we accept that as our earthly destiny right now ---- then all the FAITH that its takes from our GOD to energize those efforts on HIS behalf will begin and not end.

As we turn another leaf on our American History let us all beware of the need for all to be in actions toward in inclusions instead of exclusions. So red or white----democratic or republican in GODS eyes he just sees us as one individual at a time. So do right not wrong, think instead of worry, be busy instead of being asleep at the wheel, YES THAT IS ALL RIGHT all are needed to get busy.

MukundaValli C.
Mukunda C9 years ago

hi..Thank you for the great advice. Really, by using the simple steps and patience we can reach our goal.

Amy H.
Amy Hubbard9 years ago

Thanks for the great ideas. Baby steps, I could live with that.

Sr Clarefrancis A.
.9 years ago

Thank You for this very valuable advice. Will implement it. It sounds so very simple and logical.Iam grateful to you for this advice.I have 2 lose approx 50-60kilos (not sure how many lbs that is, but its a lot)and was feeling somewhat overwhelmed. This method could be adapted to any given situation. Its certainly a useful life skill tool.

Sis. from OZ

Tanya Jablonski
Tanya Jablonski9 years ago

good to know-and such a coincidence,too,because I was starting with my plans for thi year with small steps.

Jeanne Macdonald
Jeanne M9 years ago

I will get back into walking outdoors - tomorrow, a five minute walk to the post office.