When we walk into our bathroom, we are now greeted by a lovely bright light that makes the room feel about one third bigger than it did before. This is a significant quality of life improvement given that the room is windowless and is used at least 12 times a day.
How did we achieve this miracle? We replaced a dim light bulb with a brighter one. How long did this change take? About 5 minutes. How long did it take us to realize we wanted this quality of life improvement? 1 year and 10 months.
In our previous lives as green home remodelers we became acutely aware of how small improvements can have big quality of life impacts. We had clients who remodeled much of their house but it took them another year to finally fix the squeak in the bedroom door so they didn't wake each other up at night. Other clients were contemplating a costly bathroom addition when we suggested they simply put a lock on the bathroom door to deal with their kids barging in. They bought a lock and took their children travelling around the world with the money they saved.
The fact is that most of our lives are made up of lots of small stuff. While any one niggling annoyance is no big deal—it may not even register as more than an itty-bitty blip on our consciousness—when you multiply it by the number of times you actually focus on it (or avoid focusing on it) over the course of a year, it can really put a ding in your quality of life. Remove this annoying thorn of pain, and it is amazing how deep the sigh of relief is and how enjoyable the new found ease feels.
This point was brought home to us in a new way as we watched the British TV program, The Supersizers Go... Over the course of a week, a restaurant critic (Nigel) and a comedian (Sue) ate the food from a particular period in history. As in the documentary Supersize Me, Nigel and Sue had medical exams before and after their food adventure to see how the cuisine of the French in the court of Louis XIV, for example, affected their health. What really surprised us was how these relatively small acts of changing their diet for just one week dramatically impacted their test results at times. For example the low-fat rations of WWII Britain made them notably healthier in just 7 days. Conversely, consuming lots of alcohol and meat as an Edwardian gentleman put the relatively young Nigel in gout territory after a mere 21 meals. He predicted that had he continued eating this high-fat diet he would be dead in mere 15 years!
It is in fact small acts like eating a meal, thinking a particular thought, or acting in a certain way which accumulate over time to create the contours of our lives and shape them in profound ways. While there are moments when we make big shifts-"Will you marry me?," "I quit!," "Let's run away together!," etc.- the direction of our lives mostly results from our more modest daily acts.
What this means is that if you want to make a real change in your life, it will most likely happen when you focus on the smaller steps along the path. We felt like our bathroom was cramped and dim, but until we actually brought our awareness to it we didn't realize what step we needed to take. Wonderfully, that was a single step improvement; in other cases making a change requires a number of steps taken over time. However, the size of each step isn't much different regardless of the size of the change. Rather, the challenge with big changes is to continue to bring your awareness to the small action again, and again, and again. This awareness-action combo ideally becomes a kind of dance in which your awareness reinforces your action which reinforces your awareness moment by moment.
It's interesting to note how one change can lead to another. Our new bathroom light led us to installing a quieter fan, and a new faucet (now that we could see it so clearly!). Before we knew it, we had created a much nicer space which now we enjoy many times a day.
Option 1: Make a list of the little irritants in your everyday environment and life. Highlight those you can address with a minimum of effort and money.
Option 2: What's a bigger positive change you want to make in your life? Can you identify daily steps that would help get you there? What will help remind you to bring your awareness to that step every day (a bracelet?, a notice on your calendar?, a call from a friend?, etc.).
Don't forget to have fun watching The Supersizers Go... for free on Hulu or Youtube. Here's the episode about WWII Rations.
Option 1: Plan to change one irritant every week for a month. Alternatively, go crazy and create a whole life improvement weekend during which you make a slew of small changes!
Option 2: Try taking small steps toward your bigger goal for a week, creating reminders as you need them.
Whether you selected option 1 or 2 (or both for you over-achieving slow lifers) reflect on the results of your small steps and the impact on your overall quality of life.
Here's to slow and small for a winning quality of life!
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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