I’ve read a few books on small steps, joined the wonderful Tiny Habit program by Professor BJ Fogg (3), and tried a few others on my own. I thought I wanted to see for myself whether it is true that tiny steps can lead to big changes. But as I reflected on myself, I didn’t have to look any further!
My reading a quote or a short story a day has led to reading full length novels and nonfiction. My thinking about a positive thought a day has resulted in thinking positively about life in general. And many others.
How is this possible—one baby step at a time leading to big changes? With this question in mind, I did research and here’s what I found.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Lao Tzu makes it so simple for our sophisticated mind (sometimes, so advanced we forget the basics). I can’t think of any exception.
The statement does not explain how (in fact, the statement is complete on its own.) but Newton’s First Law of Motion does.
“A body at rest stays at rest, and a body in motion stays in motion, unless acted upon by an external force.”
According to Newton’s First Law of Motion (4), a single step taken leads to another and another… till you reach a thousand miles.
Ten years ago, I set out to read a quote or short story a day. I did so out of the blue, after all the pain from countless failed attempts. Ever since, it has been a success for me day in and day out!
Success begets success.
Success for me then was reading a quote or short story a day. Clearly defined. So easy to achieve.
Success (reading a quote a day) begets success (from reading a quote a day to reading full length nonfiction, and writing). How? Tiny successes activate the part of my brain that reinforces my reading behavior. Makes me want to get bigger successes.
These theories also explain how tiny steps lead big changes.
Ripple effect and tiny steps
A ripple effect is a spreading effect or series of consequences caused by a single action or event (5).
A pebble dropping in water causes a ripple effect. The ripple effect of reading a quote a day is reading full length novels and nonfiction.
Every action and event, how small, has a ripple effect.
Domino theory and tiny steps
Similar to the ripple effect, the domino theory refers to a situation in which one event causes a series of similar events to happen one after another (6).
According to the theory, a single action initiates a succession of similar actions. This explains how my reading behavior has evolved into writing.
A single action, how small, initiates similar actions.
Reward Pathway and tiny steps
The brain is divided into several distinct regions responsible for different functions. In the center of the brain sits the Reward Pathway, which is responsible for driving our feelings of motivation, reward and behavior (7). It strengthens brain circuits that control desirable behavior.
Anything you do that activates the Reward Pathway will be likely repeat over and over.
A baby step is super easy to achieve. It could easily activate the Reward Pathway making sure you will repeat it day after day.
The Power of Tiny Steps: Over to You
Every journey begins with a single step but the single first step could be the most difficult part.
Now I’m telling you it does not have to be difficult! Tiny steps make getting started super easy. And yes, the power of tiny steps is how it leads to big changes! Don’t ever underestimate it. Some part of your brain would try to tell you it won’t work. Calm it down and tell it, “Let me try just for a week.”
Now… ask yourself: What have you always wanted to do? What tiny steps can you take today and stick with for a week?
Read one quote a day, for example, if your goal is to read full length novels and nonfiction, or even writing.