Small actions, done consistently, pay off huge dividends. It’s an effective way to get better results whether we’re talking about working out, increasing happiness, or fostering healthy relationships.
Getting in shape
My little brother is a beast. He is incredibly in shape, and it’s not genetic luck. He’s put in the years of hard work to figure out his optimal nutrition, and he puts in serious time at the gym. He’s experimented enough that he knows what to eat and how to workout to increase strength or cut to show off definition or bulk up, whatever. He’s a whiz at sculpting his physique.
I, on the other hand, try to be active but, like so many, struggle to be disciplined. In my head, I believe wholeheartedly that strength-training is critical for health and wellbeing. My actions, however, speak the truth – that I’d rather do anything but. Besides, I get overwhelmed sifting through all of the advice out there to figure out what I actually should be doing to get the results I want. Should I do tons of reps with little weights? Fewer reps with heavy weights? Functional training? Isometrics? Kettle bells? I don’t even know where to start!
My brother is also one of the most inspiring people in my circle. I always leave our conversations feeling ready to take on the world and to be a better version of myself. For these reasons, I was really looking forward to asking his advice when we were together in Fort Worth a couple weeks ago for our nephew’s graduation.
“Hey, kiddo. I want to get buff fast. What should I do?”
His answer blew my mind a bit.
I was looking for a plan, detailed instructions on what to eat and how to exercise. Instead, what I got was actually beyond useful.
“Honestly, Ash, the best advice I can give you is ‘whatever you can do consistently’.”
His advice was like a light bulb going off. Duh! Of course, consistency is the highest priority. I could have the optimal fitness plan, but if I can’t (or won’t) follow it, for whatever reason, I’m not going to get results. It was freeing to cut through all of the noise and feel good about focusing on one top priority: just be consistent. Walk, yoga, run, dance, regret catching the occasional HIIT class. All of these will move me toward my goal.
That conversation helped me realize that I was letting the pursuit of the best get in the way of progress.
It got me thinking about how many other places and in how many other ways this mindset might apply. Where do we tend to seek out the best, the perfect, the right, the big pay off, or the grand gesture to our detriment? Where does focusing on big moves lead us to be ineffective or, worse, take no action at all?
The Danish secret to happiness
Right around this same time, I stumbled across the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”). Denmark consistently ranks as one of the happiest nations on Earth despite having long, dark winters. I’d venture to say that a culture based on hygge is one of the main reasons.
Hygge is cozy, warm, connected moments. It’s candlelight instead of harsh overheads. It’s snuggling up with a warm blanket in a welcoming nook to read or board games with your best buds. It’s comfort food and comfortable silence, laughter and intimacy. It’s coffee shops with close friends over bars with strangers. And it’s a priority, built into every day.
In the U.S. (where I live), I think we often look to big, noticeable outside things to bring us happiness – shopping, vacations, dream dates and jobs, promotions or achievements – and we underestimate the cumulative effect that little moments of cozy pleasure may have on us.
What if we took that same “whatever you can do consistently” mentality and applied it here? What if we made efforts to design our daily experience – our activities and our environments – to promote hygge? I can’t help but think that would pay dividends in terms of happiness.
The foundation of strong close relationships
Similarly, small things often trumps grand gestures when it comes to relationships. John and Julie Gottman are psychologists and the world’s leading experts in couple relationships, with about 40 years of research under their belts. They can predict with near-perfect precision which couples will stay together happily and which will not simply by observing them talk for a few minutes. Based on all of their research and knowledge, the Gottmans advocate for small things often.
It’s the little moments that build – or break – your relationships. A grand gesture of rom-com proportions might make for a good story, but it won’t erase the damage of speaking unkind words or ignoring your partner’s bids for attention on a daily basis. When it comes to healthy, happy relationships, it’s the small things, repeated frequently – a habit of relationship-boosting interactions, if you will – that matters most.
Life design and positive habits
At Peak Mind, we’re big proponents of life design – a process for experimenting your way toward a life aligned to you. A key aspect of life design is iteration – designing an experiment, testing it out, then tweaking. It hinges on a bias toward action. Take the step, have the experience, let that experience be your guide, then take another step. Let’s carry this attitude and my little brother’s wisdom forward to every domain of life.
- Consistency matters most if you’re looking to change habits and get better results.
- Small changes are easier to maintain than big ones.
- Small things, repeated often, pay off with big results.
Can you imagine what life might feel like if we did that?