The astounding power of small

Never underestimate how valuable a small change can be. You don’t need to do a massive overhaul to better your life. Sometimes success is just a hairbreadth away

the-power-of-small-297x350In a world in which we are urged to only look at the big picture and see “the forest through trees,” where the world is madly accelerating with every new technological tool and available app, it often feels as if we don’t have the time, or the desire, to sweat the small stuff. Details get derailed and forgotten in a flood of digital data, e-mails and YouTube videos. We get so easily distracted, that we lose the fine, and often crucial, points in the process.

As a result, the small cues, the simple gestures, the random acts of kindness that give life texture and meaning are too often overlooked or ignored. We feel too pressured to notice the nuances of human behaviour, or to bother with the small personal efforts that may, ultimately, win us more attention than our grand acts or intentions. Taking the time to give a compliment, or being attuned to a colleague or customer’s subtle body cues, are not inconsequential actions. They tell a story. They are the details that make or break a relationship, or decide your promotion. It is our smallest behaviours, and not our grandest gestures, that so often define us and create an imprint of who we are. But the fact is, no one gets ahead, wins the promotion or saves the guy or girl, without noticing, sweating over and taking care of the small stuff.

Believing that it is the small things we do that make the greatest difference is not just an ideology, it is also timely and pragmatic advice born out of the economically challenged world we live in today. Saving a large sum for the future is a daunting task, but focussing on saving penny by penny, fen by fen, paisa by paisa, is easily done, no matter where in the world you live.

We often labour over creating long-term life and career goals and plan five- or ten-year strategies to accomplish them. But life rarely works according to such a grand design. It is the tiny victories we accomplish each day, the details we take the time to worry about, that ultimately lead us to future success.

So please, read on. Just by following these “small” suggestions, you will begin to notice the huge impact it will have on your life.

Taking the time to give a compliment, or being attuned to a colleague or customer’s subtle body cues, are not inconsequential actions

1. Little things matter

Something as small as a new hairdo improved Larry’s self-confidence and transformed his entire life
Something as small as a new hairdo improved Larry’s self-confidence and transformed his entire life

Larry was a computer programmer stuck in the sales division of a major apparel company. He was someone everyone took for granted, and was largely invisible to everyone around him. Larry would watch the men and women of the sales department who were constantly getting promoted and praised, and would admire their outgoing and confident demeanour. Larry knew he had some great ideas, and secretly thought, “I can get ahead, I want to get ahead, but no one even knows I’m alive!”

Then one day, Larry strolled into Patricia Fripp’s men’s hair salon. Patricia was an immensely talented hair stylist, because she saw the inner ‘amazing’ in each of her customers, and decided to give Larry a new ‘do’, one that was contemporary, sexy, and a bit daring.

The second Larry got back from the salon, all the women took notice. “Lar-ry,” they squealed, “you look awesome!” Even his wife gave him a knowing wink when he came home to dinner that night. That small gesture, a new haircut, had given Larry a totally new lease on life. He bought a new set of clothes, started working out in the local gym and became more socially engaged with his colleagues.

Larry began to walk, talk and behave with a newfound confidence even he didn’t know he possessed. He offered his boss suggestions on how to improve the company, and so impressed his superiors that when he asked to be moved to a regional sales position, he was awarded the job.

A job he executed brilliantly.

Before long, Larry became the best performer the department ever had, and within a few years he became the chief sales executive of the company.

Yes, Larry had brains and talent, but if you ask him what changed his life [and we did ask], he will tell you that he owes his success to one great haircut from Patricia Fripp [who is now a successful life coach!]

Point here: never underestimate how valuable a small change can be. You don’t need to do a massive overhaul to overhaul your life. Sometimes success is just a hairbreadth away.

 no one gets ahead, wins the promotion or saves the guy or girl, without noticing, sweating over and taking care of the small stuff

2. A kernel of kindness goes a long way

A small gesture of kindness changed the course of life for Simone and Jake
A small gesture of kindness changed the course of life for Simone and Jake

Simone and Jake had been dating for two years. In Simone’s mind, they were a perfect couple, and she was convinced Jake was the man she wanted to marry. There was just one problem: Jake was commitment phobic, and terribly fearful of the ‘M’ word.

Over time, Simone began to despair. Nothing seemed to change Jake’s mind—no amount of convincing, pressuring or ultimatum conversations even made a dent in his desire to remain single. So one evening Simone decided that she was going to break up with Jake once and for all. She had to move on with her life.

On their way to dinner at their favourite restaurant, they passed a homeless man, shivering and starving in the cold, wintry night. Simone, who had been wrapped up in thinking about how she was going to break up with Jake, suddenly stopped in her tracks, jarred back to reality by the sight of this desperate stranger.

“I’ll be right back,” she told Jake. Simone dashed across to the deli across the street and next, into a second hand clothing store. When she returned, she draped a warm woollen coat around the man, and offered him hot soup and a home-made sandwich. The stranger smiled, and they continued on to the restaurant.

As they were about to order, Jake suddenly blurted out, “Simone, will you marry me?” Simone was totally overwhelmed and perplexed with Jake’s spontaneous proposal.

“Why now?” she asked. Jake replied, “When I saw you stop to give that homeless man a coat and a warm meal, all I could think was: ‘How could I not spend the rest of my life with someone this kind?’”

Needless to say, Simone said yes, and today they are happily married with three beautiful children.

More than anything else, it is not the huge investments of time and money that truly chart the path our lives will take, it’s those tiny gestures of compassion and empathy that will make the hugest impact.

Especially when it comes to relationships with our loved ones.

According to Howard Markman, a professor of psychology, “Most couples in trouble think that for things to improve, extraordinary changes, if not miracles, have to take place. But the breakthrough comes when we realise that by making even small changes in ourselves, we can effect big, positive changes.” It means paying attention to the smallest details, listening more attentively, and treating those we care about with just a tad more empathy and love.

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A version of this was first published in the July 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Linda Thaler
Linda Kaplan Thaler is Chairman of Publicis Kaplan Thaler, a fully integrated advertising agency with digital, social and technology at its core. She is a television personality and best-selling author of The Power of Small: Why Little Things Make All the Difference, The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness and Bang! Getting Your Message Heard in a Noisy World have all received national recognition. Her new book GRIT to GREAT, which she has co-authored with Robin Koval, is now available online.
Robin Koval
Robin Koval leads Legacy, the nation’s largest public health foundation. She is co-author of The Power of Small: Why Little Things Make All the Difference, The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness and Bang! Getting Your Message Heard in a Noisy World and have all received national recognition.

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