Find the Smallest Step To Your Success

A woman in repose writing in a journal. photo by Photo by  Ana Tavares  on  Unsplash

A woman in repose writing in a journal. photo by Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash

I find it comforting to think of humanity (and my place in it) as the smallest unit that connects us all. Everything here is comprised of atoms that mix with the atoms of everything else, which has been here since matter existed.

Smaller still are the protons and electrons within, bouncing around and attracting—as opposites do—to each other, and thus creating stability. The fact that we are all energy is both exciting and explains why nothing ever stays the same.

We are stars, dinosaurs, the belch of smokestacks, the burp of a baby’s breath, and the swish of a puppy’s tail…all at once and forever.

And where there is comfort in the smallest unit, I’ve been thinking a lot about living in the smallest increments of action as well.

Like most everyone, there are things I want to do that I don’t get done. Nowadays, however, I’m on a new mission to achieve more by thinking and doing small. Through the transparency of this blog and my rekindled habit of journaling, I’ll detail my examples of “doing small” in the hopes you’ll find actionable direction to your successes, too.


This past week I’ve been reading “The Bullet Journal Method” by Ryder Carroll, and Stephen Guise’s book “Mini Habits.” Each complements the other in a surprising way. For starters, Guise is all about helping people understand the power of creating mini habits as the means to making larger goals happen.

Fifty pages in, Guise has provided an overview of the human brain and how it works, as well as details about motivation versus willpower. He explains why and how to use each to tap into the way the brain operates for desirable outcomes.

Some of my big takeaways thus far include:

·         Motivation is transient and NOT the right foundation for exacting new habits.

·         Willpower is a limited force. If we rely on it as a means of building new habits, it’s power will be diminished.

·         Our basal ganglia (back part of our brain) seeks and latches onto repetition and routine. To create new habits, we need to understand and utilize our brain’s “software” to create new small behaviors that override the brain’s resistance to those currently-established routines.

·         We shouldn’t slay ourselves for our past failure at establishing habits, but rather regroup and realize we’ve been working against our brain’s natural tendencies.

·         Creating small and attainable goals is another way of allowing ourselves permission to NOT look at the end result (which seems insurmountable), focusing on mini successes instead.


Similarly, Ryder speaks to the topic of willpower and how we can exhaust its limited supply. He describes Bill Gates who always wore black turtlenecks and jeans so as “not to use energy thinking about wardrobe” as an example. We tap into our mental energy every day for so many decisions. How can we reduce that drain? Ryder suggests that the answer lies in evaluating where we spend our mental energies and time.

In Part 1 of his book, “Decluttering Your Mind,” Ryder invites the reader to create a mental inventory, and differentiate three lists by:

·         what we are doing

·         what we should be doing

·         and what we want to be doing

The second step of the exercise is to review those lists and evaluate the choices of each list and ask the “why” of each. Why is this choice important to me, and what would happen if it didn’t get done at all?

I made my lists and then rewrote them once I realized I hadn’t truly drilled down to how I spend my time in the what I do list. For example, I sit with a cup of coffee and watch maybe an hour of news in the morning. Now, to be fair, I’ll usually clean the kitchen during that time and eat some breakfast as well, BUT that is still a huge chunk of time.

Not only is the news usually covered in the first 20 minutes, but by watching a repetition of the bad news I’ve been starting the day in an emotionally diminished frame of mind. The morning is also prime real estate of uninterrupted time when I don’t have my toddler grandson with me, which I’ve been spending feeling frightened for the world. 


Once I realized where I spend a good chunk of time in my daily to-dos, and how it doesn’t serve my other lists, I recognized a space where I could insert a new mini habit or two.

One thing on my want list is to incorporate regular stretching into my day. I’ve decided to focus on my morning routine and see how I can change this up with the aide of a small incremental action. For now, before I even get out of bed, I’m going do some stretching for two minutes. I took the liberty of finding a good list here thanks to Zehra Allibhai of “6 Stretches You Should Do Before Even Getting Out of Bed.”

I also want to incorporate “brain dump” journaling time and reflection in the morning. I’m gifting myself a 2-minute span to write in my trusty journal before I even leave my bed. So, there it is, two mini habits I’ll start now that I’ve written about them in this blog post and in my journal (hello, accountability). I’ll report back to you next week with my experience of these two activities and share what I learn.

Creating the foundations of action helps make the journey of life sweeter. So long as we’re breathing in and out (think all those atoms in motion), we are crafting our life story. How about you? Where do you spend your time, and how does it align with what you should and want to do? Can you step back and evaluate the smallest step you could take to begin creating a new habit?


Alexandra and Sherry, 2016

Alexandra and Sherry, 2016

Sherry is the founder of Storied Gifts a personal publishing service of family and company histories. She and her team help clients curate and craft their stories into books. When not writing or interviewing, Sherry spends loads of time with her grandchildren and lives in Des Moines, Iowa.


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