When it comes to building better habits, small changes set the stage for much larger ones. However, once you’re moving and have a goal, small steps matter less and less—especially if they hold you back. In this post, we’ll look at when “every little bit” is actually beneficial, and when it’s more of a hindrance than a help.
It’s important to remember that with health, fitness, or diet, any change that improves your life is a good one. If you’re doing nothing, doing something is the first important step towards living a happier, healthier life.
For example, parking further from the office and choosing the stairs instead of the elevator won’t get you in shape, but if you’re sedentary and get no activity at all, they’re good starting points. Similarly, some changes, like getting a short walk in everyday or making sure you get a few extra hours of sleep a night can have huge benefits.
Here are some other examples of when those small, little changes really do help:
- When The Payoff Is Huge for the Effort You Put In: Sometimes those “little things” actually have a huge impact. For example, considering how much soda we all drink, a small change like switching to tea instead can make a huge difference. While there’s no guarantee it’ll be worth it for you, it’s at least worth trying. For example, we’ve discussed studies that revealed a little walking every day can have huge benefits, even if it’s your only activity. If you pick the right “little things,” their payoff can be huge—as long as you don’t spend more time looking for little things or combining little things hoping for a big payoff than you would spend on something more substantive.
- When You’re Getting Started: Motivation is important, and “little things” help build it. We mentioned this when we explained how to get into an exercise routine you’ll actually stick to. Too often we set our sights too high and make big changes for big results right out of the gate. If we don’t get discouraged immediately, we burn out, flip a table, give up, and return to our bad habits. That’s where small, manageable steps come in. Sometimes starting slow—even so slow that you’re dubious you’re doing anything at all—is just the thing you need start building better habits. After all, it might be one of those small steps, like a short walk after work or brown-bagging your lunch instead of eating out, that means the difference between having somehealthy habits to feel good about versus none at all.
- When You’re Building Momentum: Once you’re motivated, momentum comes next. Remember, “little things” don’t have to be fixed habits, like walking up the stairs or eating from a smaller plate. Getting even a 5-10 minute workout in at the gym may not sound like it’ll do much for weight loss (or gain, depending on your goals) but it’s the gateway you need to build a long-term, sustainable habit. Then the momentum kicks in. You’ll spend more time and energy in the gym, you won’t shy away from harder workouts, and you’ll see bigger results and feel your progress. “Every little bit” has a tendency to snowball into bigger, more drastic things, and that makes them infinitely more valuable than trying to jump into the deep end right away.
- When The Alternative Is Unacceptable: The other time “every little bit helps” is when the alternative is to do nothing, break a good habit, or give up entirely on a good thing. You know those days: When you take it easy at the gym and tell yourself that it’s better than having not gone at all, or have the salad instead of the fries. Those may be small, and they may not add up to anything significant in the grand scheme of things, but they’re still victories, and the alternatives are even worse options.
Long story short: “every little bit” does more to put you in the right mindset than it does to make measurable change. Will you lose weight, reduce your risk of inactivity-related diseases, or get in shape by choosing the side salad when you eat out, and then parking far from the door when you get back to the office? Probably not, but if it’s part of a pattern of healthy habits that cascade into one another, do it and feel good about it. At the end of the day, every small step—even if it’s minuscule—is one more data point in an ever-growing set of healthy choices.