Tiny Changes to Improve Myself—and Help the World

Lately I’ve been feeling terrible about the problems in our country and helpless to make a difference. I wrote my senator and made a couple donations, but they seem like feeble gestures. These are complicated, divisive issues and real change is hard on any level.

It’s challenging enough to change my own behavior, and I’m 100% in control of the factors. I want to exercise more, eat better, send thoughtful notes and birthday cards, stick to a budget, read actual books and stop biting my nails. But I don’t. Or won’t. Maybe I can’t? As I was pondering the latest unthinkable events in the news, I realized my sense of despair is compounded by my lack of confidence in being able to change—not just public policy—but basically anything.

To get in shape for the big things, I need to start with myself. I wrote in my journal last week: “I need to commit to one small change, just to show myself I can do it. One teeny, tiny, bite-sized, confidence building change! Something enjoyable even!”

Then I came across this profound and perfectly timed quote from Mahatma Gandhi:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”

Changing the world one face wash at a time.

Inspired, I decided to (drum roll please) wash my face before bed every night. I know, you already do this. But I don’t, okay? It’s the perfect positive habit to adopt—quick, easy and feels good. It positively reinforces itself! I bought some new face cleanser and set it on top of my bathroom sink faucet. After a week, not only does my skin feel fresher, my new habit delivers other benefits. Like, I dab on other other skin care stuff after cleansing and my complexion is rosier. I take out my contacts earlier, which gives my tired eyes an extra break. I swear I’m even sleeping better. And I feel empowered from sticking with my new habit. See what’s happening? One small change leads to several small changes and soon it’s going to add up to something BIG.

Face washing is working for me, but here are some other pleasurable, good-for-you nuggets you might try:

  • Do 10 jumping jacks as soon as you get out of bed.
  • Read a motivational quote before starting your work day.
  • Eat 10 blueberries or half an apple with breakfast.
  • Smile at a stranger at the grocery store.
  • Balance on one foot when waiting in line/on elevator.
  • Text something positive to a friend at lunch.
  • Walk to the corner and back after dinner.
  • Play a favorite tune when doing dishes and dance around the kitchen.
  • Kiss your partner good night.

I promise, not only will you feel good about your new positive habit, you’ll experience bonus benefits as well. For a further discussion of what is sometimes called The Butterfly Effect, read this interesting article by Justin Thomas Miller. Or go see the movie Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. Liam and I saw it yesterday and the implications of our small actions and choices is mind blowing! Since I’ve started my bedtime face washing routine, I’ve been seeing connections all over the place.

It’s still important to donate to causes you believe in and reach out to your elected officials. But if you’re looking for something tangible and immediate, join me in starting with personal change.

And here are a couple good resources about things you can do to help the world:

This piece by Anglican priest and New York Times columnist Tish Harrison Warren:

And this excerpt from Katie Couric’s interview with Rabbi Steve Leder:

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