The Power of Little Changes

Recently I watched this video of a young girl aging into an old woman in under five minutes (it’s CGI). Check out the video here.

As you watch, notice how the second-by-second changes aren’t significant at all? For example, when you watch any part of the video for just five seconds, it looks like nothing’s changing. But fast forward by a minute, and the girl is visibly older.

Comparison five seconds apart (Video: Danielle)

Screen captures five seconds apart. Looks almost the same — You’ve to scrutinize to see a difference.

Comparison at different 1-minute marks (Video: Danielle)

The girl at different 1 minute marks. Notice how big the difference is?

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

How Little Diet Changes Affect Our Skin

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

Yet my skin was exactly like this in my early teens. Years of bad eating slowly deteriorated to how it was pre-fast — occasional breakouts, zits, open pores, and oilier skin. But I wasn’t aware of this “deterioration.” My day-to-day diet regressions were too small to be noticed, just like how the frame-by-frame changes in the video are too small to be noticed.

But they were there alright. Just because we can’t see the impact right after eating a bad meal doesn’t mean it’s not damaging our 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 the kind of food we eat each day add up over time to either give us our best health (and skin), or our worst health (and skin).

Little Actions to Over 1 Million Pageviews

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

When I started my blog, I did not have targets like to write X number of articles, to create manifestos/e-books, or to 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 (Image: Personal Excellence)

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, many years later, PE has over 700 articles50 manifestos, 21 challenges conducted, and a selection of premium courses on personal growth. Traffic-wise, we’re now at over one million pageviews a month! All these came as a result of constant hard work over many years.

PE New Layout - 2016 (Screenshot)

PE today (Image: Personal Excellence)

The interesting thing is that if you are to take a screenshot of PE now and ask my younger self 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 do something that helps at least one person each day, then I’m headed in the right direction. This led to the website 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: Many people 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 retention or muscle gain). When this happens, many give up and revert to past, unhealthy habits, hence negating everything they have 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 traffic surges 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 or 1-2 bad relationships. Rather than celebrate what they’ve learned, many conclude that they’re not meant to find love. They feel that 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. 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 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 in the beginning, but creates a big impact over time:
    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 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-hateissues embedded in me as a child — before I naturally shed off my excess 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 negative body image issues which I’ve since overcome. More in How To Love Your Body (series) (Image: Vadim Pacev)

With blogging, it didn’t take me long to see initial results, though this was because I knew I was in this for the long haul. So instead of busying myself 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 helped me cut through the clutter online. If I was hung up on earning money or getting many clients right away, which many new bloggers are, I would probably 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, and at one point toxic connections. I never gave up nor shut myself off in love though. Even though I was disappointed at times, I knew that everything was helping me grow as an individual and become a better partner.

As it turned out, I eventually attracted my husband into my life — who turned out to be someone I already knew, just that we didn’t get together because we weren’t ready for each other yet.

Rethinking Little Changes

Don’t get me wrong — big changes are important. After all, I’m always talking about setting big goals and taking big 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 the best outcome.

But it’s a totally different thing when you focus on big changes to the point that you constantly feel disappointed when you don’t get big “enough” results; where you don’t recognize the small successes you are getting; where you constantly beat yourself up for your “lack of results” and hence stop taking action.

Not only is it self-defeating, but it’s silly because what’s really causing your “lack of results” isn’t your lack of results per se. It’s your inability to recognize the little results you are getting, that “little” to “no” changes could well be results (because your goal is in incubation), 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 this is simply part of its natural blooming cycle? (Image: atiger)

So here’s my note to you today:

  1. Is there something you’re 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? 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 actions 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 appreciating the little results you have achieved, if you aren’t 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 that you do get, be it little or not. Soon, the greater path will reveal itself to you.