The Power of Little Changes

Recently I saw this YouTube clip which shows the aging of a “person” (a computer-generated model) from a small kid to old age in under 5 minutes. Titled “Danielle,” you can check out the video here:

As you’re watching, notice how the second-by-second changes aren’t significant at all? For example, when you watch any part of the video for only 5 seconds, it looks like nothing’s changing. However, fast forward by a minute and the girl/woman is visibly older. Same person, but older!

Danielle - Child Comparison

Screen captures at 0:47 vs. 0:52 min. Looks almost the same actually. You’ve to be scrutinizing to see a difference.

Danielle - Comparison at different 1-minute marks

The “girl” at 0:47 min, 1:47 min, 2:47 min and 3:47 min marks (1 min difference each). See the difference now?

This got me thinking about the power of little changes and how we often underestimate their impact.

How “Little” Dietary Changes Affect Our Skin (and Health)

Meditation at the beach

Take for example, our diet. In 2011 I did a 21-day water fast. One of the biggest physical changes I got from the fast, besides weight loss, was a marked improvement in my complexion. As I already had a fairly good complexion pre-fast, I was pleasantly surprised to see it improving during my fast. By the end of my 3-week fast, my complexion wasn’t just “good” — it was extremely smooth and supple, like baby’s skin!

The funny thing is that this “baby skin” quality was exactly what my skin used to be like in my early teens. Years of eating junk food had caused it to slowly “deteriorate” to how it was pre-fast — occasional breakouts, zits, open pores, and oilier skin. Yet, I wasn’t aware of this “deterioration” — after all, the daily changes were too small to be noticed, just like how the frame-by-frame changes in “Danielle” are too small to be detected.

But oh they were there alright. Just because I can’t physically see the impact right after eating a junk food meal (or a healthy meal for that matter) doesn’t mean it’s not causing any changes to my body. It’s too small to be noticed by the naked eye but it’s there. Food affects our body at a cellular level, and when we choose the healthiest, freshest food, we give our body the best nourishment, which then adds up over time to create our best health (and skin).

Little Actions to Over 1 Million Pageviews/Month (2008 – Today)

The power of little changes can also be observed on PE.

When I started my blog, I did not have specific targets like to write X number of articles, create manifestos/e-books/quotes or create courses. I did have a big-picture vision of making PE the top personal development blog with millions of readers, but other than that I was mainly focused on getting started with my purpose and taking as much action as I could.

PE circa 2008 -  (Screenshot)

PE when I started in 2008

So every day, I would focus on creating content, marketing, and hitting my weekly traffic targets. Some days my “wins” would be completing an article or getting a media interview. Other days I would not have any tangible achievements, say only writing 200 words for an article (due to writer’s block), doing back-end site tweaks, or even discarding a half-written article after realizing that it wasn’t working out!

Regardless of whether I had a “win” or not, I would always focus on doing as much as I could each day. With this focus, PE grew quickly over months, then years. Today, 6.5 years later, PE has nearly 800 articles, over 700 inspirational quotes, 50 manifestos and infographics, 21 challenges conducted, and premium video courses on growth. Traffic-wise, we’re now at over 1.1 million pageviews a month! All these came as a result of constant hard work over many years.

Screenshot of PE in 2015

PE today

The interesting thing is that if you were to take a screenshot of PE now and ask the younger me to create a site like this, I would be overwhelmed. That PE has become such an expansive resource wasn’t a deliberate target per se but a result of little changes over time. I figured that as long as I’m doing something that helps at least one person each time, then I’m heading in the right direction. This led to the PE you see today.


Underestimating Little Changes

However, some people don’t care about little changes. They prefer to see big changes fast. When they don’t see big changes, they feel like they’ve failed and are ready to quit.

Take for example,

  • Weight loss: It’s common for people to feel disappointed about their weight loss when they hit a plateau. For some, they think that they’ve “failed” when they regain a bit of weight (which could be due to water or muscle gain). When this happens, many usually give up and revert to past, unhealthy habits, hence negating everything they had done.
  • Blogging: Many bloggers start their blogs with great enthusiasm as they prepare to make their mark online. However, when they see only trickles rather than massive surges of traffic after a few months, they decide that blogging isn’t for them. They give up and declare their blogs a failure. Hence, most abandon their blogs after a year. For some, they don’t even last past 3 months.
  • Dating: In love, it’s easy to get disappointed after a few bad dates / 1–2 bad relationships. Rather than celebrate what they’ve learned, many conclude that they’re not meant to find love. They feel they are doomed in relationships and close themselves off in love (as many of my Soulmate Journey participants can attest to).

Such a fixation with big changes is actually debilitating. Why?

  1. There’s an incubation period for everything, including our goals. Just because we aren’t seeing big results right away doesn’t mean that things aren’t working. For what it’s worth, things could well be going the way they should.
  2. Little changes pave the way for big changes. You have to layer a road before you can drive on it. By focusing on getting big changes only, you may well miss the big picture and jeopardize your own success.
  3. Little changes add up to become big changes over time. As you can see from the graphs below, a small difference may look like nothing at the beginning, but over time it creates a big impact:
    Graph: Insignificant difference from taking action today

    A small angle X amounts to an insignificant difference at first

    Graph: Significant difference from taking a little action over time

    … However, this insignificant difference becomes substantial when extended over time (Graphs from my post 5 Procrastination Lies We Tell Ourselves, Debunked)

For example with weight loss, it took me 10 years before I was able to achieve and sustain my current, ideal weight. During this time, I had to work through my root issues of stress eatingnegative body image and self-hate — issues embedded in me as a child — before I began to naturally shed off my weight. Had I fixated myself on fast weight loss (which I was doing initially and it didn’t get me anywhere), I’d still be stuck with yo-yo dieting today.

Girl alone

I used to have body image issues which I’ve since overcome. More in How to Develop a Positive Body Image (series)

With blogging, it didn’t take me long to see initial results actually, though this was because I knew I was in this for the long haul. So instead of busying with short-term actions (like worrying about traffic count or how to get my first client), I focused on long-term actions (like pouring myself into writing highest quality, timeless material). This incidentally helped me cut through the clutter online. If I was hung up on getting massive money and traffic right away, I probably would have given up long ago. I probably wouldn’t even be writing this to you today.

Last but not least with love, I only met my soulmate after 28 (nearly 29) years of being single. Before that, I had met many guys, gone on many dates, and experienced ambiguous, at one point toxic, connections. I never gave up nor shut myself off in love though. Even though I would be disappointed at times, I knew that everything was helping me grow as an individual and become a better partner. At it turned out, I eventually attracted my husband into my life — who turned out to be someone I already knew 9 years ago, just that we didn’t get together before because we weren’t ready for each other yet.

Engagement shoot: Kissing in the sea of people

My husband and I, “reacquainted” and finally together after 9 years of first crossing paths (How we met and how you can find love: How to Find Your Soulmate (series))

Rethinking Little Changes

Don’t get me wrong — big changes are important. After all, I always talk about setting big goals and to go for the highest impact actions. To loosely quote Einstein, to do the same thing over and over again despite little to no results is insanity. One should learn to adapt their actions to achieve their best outcome.

However, it’s a totally different thing when you focus on big changes to the point where you constantly feel disappointed when you don’t get big “enough” results; where you neglect to recognize the small successes you are getting; where you constantly beat yourself up for “lack of results” and hence not take action. Not only is it self-defeating, it’s silly because what’s really causing your “lack of results” isn’t your lack of results per se. It’s the lack of recognition and appreciation of little results that you are getting, that sometimes “little” to “no” changes could well be results, and that sometimes little changes are really progress.

Lotus bud

This lotus bud has not bloomed yet. Does it mean it’s doomed to rot, or that this is simply a natural part of its blooming cycle?

So here’s my note to you today:

  1. Is there a goal you’ve been stalling in? What is it and why?
  2. What little action steps can you start with?
  3. What little results should you watch out for as you work on your action steps? (As I mentioned in The 21-Day Incubation Period, these are success easter eggs that tell you if you’re on the right track.) Watch out for them and be thankful as you receive them.
  4. What can you do to stick to the actions in #2 over time? (E.g., if one of your action is to create a weekly video for your vlog, how can you ensure that you produce a video on time each week?) These actions should be small enough for you to commit over time yet challenging enough such that you are pushing your boundaries.

Remember, the universe rewards consistent and great work. If you aren’t even appreciating the little results you have achieved, if you aren’t even following through with little action steps for your goal, then how can you expect the universe to send bigger stuff your way? Get started with small actions first. Commit to them. Appreciate the results you do get, be it little or not. Then perhaps the path will reveal itself.

This is part of the Skills Development series:

  1. Skill Building 101:
  2. Add-on tips:
  3. Obstacles you’ll face:

Images: Danielle video, Meditating at beachPE screenshotsGraphs © Personal Excellence, Girl alone, Ken and ILotus

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