When we want to make a big difference, we often think big, too. Big ideas, big goals, and big solutions. When the time comes to execute, we go for big actions and we get overwhelmed.
However, the bigger we think we need to act, the more likely we set ourselves up for failure. And then comes the feeling of defeat, being overwhelmed, and losing the motivation to try again.
If you want to make a huge difference in life, try another approach this time. Start with small actions. It is these small steps that will take you there.
Can Small Actions Make a Big Difference?
It’s okay to have a dream or vision that is anything but small. In fact, human beings are created with the ability to think big. Our minds are designed to be limitless.
But it all boils down to how we execute what’s in the mind. And so many wonder, why are some people so successful? Were they simply born that way? Or is it sheer luck?
It’s actually how they reached their success: through small, repeated actions. And whether it’s a personal goal or something as great as changing the world, it’s all about starting small.
CB Bhattacharya, a world-renowned expert in business strategy and author of the book titled “Small Actions, Big Difference: Leveraging Corporate Sustainability to Drive Business and Societal Value”, found interesting results in his years of extensive research on sustainability movement among companies. He said that a company fails not because of its goals, but because of how these goals are pursued.
Bhattacharya further mentions in his book that if a company wants to create a difference in the world through sustainability, it must start with small actions.
Today, he is one of the many people who have proven that one small action can make a big difference.
How Can Small Actions Make a Big Difference?
Committing yourself to small acts can be demanding. It tests your patience, determination, and dedication towards your goals. And sometimes you will feel as if all your efforts are futile.
Believe it or not though, you are gradually setting yourself up for success–one small act at a time.
1. Great things come from small things.
More often than not, we only see a great basketball player, a beautiful painting or a well-known actress. And it overwhelms us, thinking that we can never possibly accomplish such wonderful feats. But if you knew what goes on behind closed doors, you will realize that great things do not just happen overnight.
For instance, it takes daily gruesome physical and mental training to be a great athlete. It takes hours of small, repeated brush strokes to create a beautiful painting. It takes patience and perseverance to wait in line for auditions and to attend continuous workshops to become a prominent actress.
As Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” To achieve big things, you have to pay attention to the small stuff. Put your focus on the smaller actions.
Do you want to grow a forest? Start planting tiny seeds. Do you want to make great music? Pay attention to the elements like tempo, melody, and rhythm. Do you want to be a great business leader? Develop the same tiny habits possessed by successful business leaders.
From the little things, great things grow.
2. Small actions are more achievable.
Have you ever wanted to learn how to do a handstand? How about building your own business? Or maybe even saving the planet?
We all have goals, whether big or small. They often push us beyond our comfort zones. Sometimes, we manage to extend and create new comfort zones. More often than not though, doubt, fear, overthinking, procrastination, and perfectionism start to kick in before we can even take one step forward.
As a result, we end up with much fewer goals than we originally planned. We settle for less in our dreams, purpose, and life. And it’s a bitter pill to swallow when you see people with huge amounts of potential, abandon their ambitions for a mediocre life.
Nelson Mandela, one of the best leaders the world had ever seen, shared the same sentiments when he said, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
So, how do you avoid settling for less? Start breaking down your big goals into smaller, actionable steps. They will look more achievable and less overwhelming. This simple step will help you reach your goals easier and faster.
In his book, Bhattacharya talks about the same strategy for every company that desires to be sustainable. He stresses the importance of having concrete sustainability goals, because it results in a list of achievable targets.
Once targets start to become within reach, it’s easier to take ownership of them, and build a goal-setting habit that is sustainable.
Read my related post on goal setting.
3. Small actions keep you motivated.
Hitting big goals requires patience, focus, and determination. You must stay fully committed, because the process is long term. When adversity, or big, unforeseen challenges occur, they often lead to frustration, loss of motivation, and eventually, giving up.
On the other hand, small goals are short term. You can accomplish them through smaller actions, which take less effort. And there’s a lot to be said when you accomplish a task.
That shot of satisfaction you get from crossing one more thing off your to-do list. Or how about that sense of fulfillment when you know you are one step closer to your goals? Well, you’re not alone. And better still, there’s even a scientific reason behind all of this.
When we achieve success, no matter how small, our brains release dopamine. This chemical gives us a feeling of motivation and pleasure. And when an action makes us feel good, we are more likely to repeat it.
If you want to accomplish something for the long term, break down huge goals into smaller, bite-sized chunks. It will help you stay focused and motivated throughout your journey, plus you get to feel good about it every step of the way.
4. They build habits in the long term.
Habits are mindless behaviors. They happen automatically, which lets people do things with little to no effort. Have you ever wondered how you can carry out the same daily routine flawlessly?
If your brain had to focus on your daily tasks, it would go into system overload. Your brain can only handle so much. So, habits free up the brain and allow it to focus on more complex tasks such as coming up with new ideas or solving problems at work.
But what builds habits? And why are they incredibly powerful?
Small actions, when done repeatedly, form habits. And little things always grow into big things, which means your habits are bound to result in something, whether you like it or not.
For instance, the small simple habit of letting the tap run while you brush your teeth wastes 30 litres (8 gallons) of water each day. That’s about 11,000 litres (2,920 gallons) of water wasted each year! And if everyone else is doing that simple habit, there will be a big water shortage problem sooner than predicted.
If you don’t have good habits, it’s not the end of the world. Through small, repeated actions, you can actually form new ones to override the old ones. Simple!
5. Anyone can do it.
One of Bhattacharya’s favorite sustainability proverbs states, “We don’t inherit the earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children.” If we don’t already, then we have a chance to share one of life’s purposes, and that is to leave a great impact on the planet and the people living on it.
It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s not impossible. You can achieve it by starting small. In fact, Bhattacharya suggests in his book (can you tell I’m a fan!) that the best approach to becoming sustainable is through small actions. That way, anybody can do it.
Once more people start committing to small sustainable acts, then more people will take ownership of sustainability. The sustainability movement no longer seems so far-fetched, or only done by people somewhere else on the planet, but not here.
How Can Small Actions Change the World?
Our tiny actions change the world because of one simple logic: we are taking action. When we act, we open ourselves up to the possibility of change. When we don’t, we remain stagnant.
In fact, in the book, Bhattacharya mentions that inaction has more dangerous consequences than action. This applies to everyone, everywhere and it doesn’t matter if we are the CEO of a company, a newly hired intern, or even a student.
As long as we are taking action, then we are changing the world in our own small ways.
Still not convinced??
Here are some examples of well-known people who have changed the world in their own ways, one small action at a time.
Great Stories of Successes that Started from Small Actions
Father of the Nation
Mahatma Gandhi was both a spiritual and political leader. He fought for the civil rights of Indians against the British rule which is why many look up to him even today and remember him as the “Father of the Nation”.
Like any other revolution, what Gandhi started wasn’t easy. He was part of the oppressed, and completely powerless against the British. However, being at a disadvantage could not keep Gandhi from what he envisioned for India.
To accomplish his vision, he knew he had to take action no matter how small. And his resolve to fight without violence made things more complex. But even so, he knew small acts could make a difference.
In the words of Gandhi, “Every revolution begins with a simple act of defiance.”
Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, along with his climbing partner Tenzing Norgay, was the first ever to reach the peak of the world’s highest mountain: Mount Everest. But before this historical undertaking, many believed such a feat was impossible.
Mount Everest, which is found in the Great Himalayas between Nepal and Tibet, is more than 29,000 feet high (and still continues to grow!). It was considered unclimbable due to the cold weather that can cause frostbite, the dangers of ascending to a high altitude, and the climbers who have died trying to reach the peak.
All this changed when Hillary and Norgay took on the challenge of reaching the summit. They prepared for months, setting actionable plans to make everything possible. And when the time came for them to climb, they successfully reached the top.
Not only did Hillary and Norgay prove the world that it was a possible feat, but they also showed that you can achieve big goals through (literally) small steps.
The Mother of Modern Physics
Marie Curie was the founder of the science of radioactivity. Her passion and hard work led her to discover the radioactive elements radium and polonium, including the power of radium to treat incurable cancers. Apart from this, she had many other astounding achievements in life.
For instance, she was the first female professor at Sorbonne University in Paris. She was also the first female in Europe to ever earn a doctorate degree.
And she was the first person to win the Nobel Prize. To top it all off, she was the first one to win it twice.
Being a woman of many firsts is incredible, but these awards did not just fall into her lap. She had to earn them at a time when women were heavily discriminated against – even more so than today.
Back then, many believed that women were weak and better off as homemakers. They thought that women had no right to higher education, let alone a Nobel Prize.
Marie Curie thought otherwise. And she defied the social discrimination against women through her own small ways: by staying focused, having a positive attitude, and working hard continuously, among others.
Eventually, her exemplary habits helped her accomplish many things, which paved the way for social change. She opened many doors of opportunity for women. Today, her memory lives on as her life’s story continues to empower women.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was famous for his speech called, “I Have a Dream”. It was a speech on equality and justice among men, because he dreamed of a united America one day.
It was a huge ambition, but Dr. King believed it was possible. He did it in the small way he knew how: by educating people constantly.
As a result, he planted seeds of encouragement and helped others to realise the power of small actions as part of their nonviolent resistance. The small actions of the many, made the big difference we experience today.
Small Actions, Big Difference
So can small actions really make a big difference?
There is no guarantee that every small act can leave an impact on a person or a nation. At the end of the day, we have no control over what others do or how they feel. But we shouldn’t let that discourage us.
As Bhattacharya mentions in his book, no action is small enough. By taking action, no matter how small, we are allowing the possibility to spark change. That change can be done at social or environmental levels, or even something more personal.
Keep in mind: small actions, big difference.
And remember, always have a Big Life Mindset.