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Looking back at our fresh starts & modest changes

Fresh Starts & Modest Changes

Henry David ThoreauEarlier this month I began a short series of posts and podcasts called "Fresh Starts & Modest Changes." It was meant as an antidote to the pressure that many of us feel to upend our lives with poorly thought-out new year's resolutions. The idea was to get you thinking less about the unlikelihood of success in mounting sudden, ginormous change, and more to suggest some subtle adjustments for making life just a bit more pleasant, productive, and your own. Tweaking as you go, instead of trying to treat your mind like some kind of a microwavable corn dog.

We're getting to the end of the month now, so I wanted to wrap up with a few thoughts on the value of small changes, but I'd also love to hear about any of your own fresh starts and modest changes -- particularly hoping you'll share the ways you've had the best success keeping on track with the adjustments you've chosen to make.

Why small? Why modest?

As I said in the inaugural podcast of the series, there are most certainly excellent candidates for huge and immediate change in life. Abusive relationships, destructive behavior, and such like are absolutely worth abandoning as quickly as you can, to be sure. But for most of us, it's tricky to flip a switch and suddenly decide to be someone substantially different from who we have been for years.

Throughout this month, a wonderful quote from Walden has been turning over in my head:

I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles. Our moulting season, like that of the fowls, must be a crisis in our lives.

So just as, in this instance, new clothes can be seen as a fancy uniform that won't produce in its wearer the skills, mind, or experience for their intended vocation, our new year's resolutions usually leave us feeling like a chump and a failure.

What a mess.

The trick inside the trick

The point, as ever, is that change is not to be found in the play-acting and sense of personal revolution that the resolution -- good-natured as its intention may be -- demands of us. The real cipher is to just get into the habit of noticing the small things that might bring about outsized improvements in our lives.

Have you ever put up with a squeaky door for years and then one day, for whatever reason, suddenly found yourself grabbing the WD-40 and lubricating that particular nuisance out of your life? I have, and I'm here to tell you, it's awesome. You actually stand there wondering why you never had the presence of mind to affect such an improvement -- ridiculously trivial though its solution may be.

One occasional downside of human wiring is our uncanny ability to tune out anything that's (apparently) unchanging, consistent, or just not horribly broken. Sure, we'd fix the new hole in our roof the second it started pissing rain on our plasma TV, but we'll completely space out an inefficiency in our daily email ritual that silently takes an hour out of every working day. We'd call HR if our check didn't arrive on time, but most of us might never think to try drinking one less latté a week (even though it might, over a year, amount to the equivalent of a day's pay).

My point is that we're not particularly well suited to addressing problems until they've become big problems. And that's the point at which we tend to start gnashing teeth, rending garments, and promising the sky that we'll Be Good if we can just get one more chance to get it right. And, yeah, sometimes we choose New Year's Eve to make that case to ourselves and to the sky, and, man, is that ever a crummy night to try and suddenly realign your life.

Smaller smaller

When we keep it small, we're telling ourselves that the problem's not just us and the problem's not just the world. We're admitting that there are simply times when, for whatever reason, our heads get out of the game for a while, and that by allowing ourselves to gently incline back toward what's really in front of us, we may be able to oil a few of the squeaky doors in our lives. We're chucking ourselves on the arm and reminding ourselves we're basically okay and just needing to occasionally wake up and see the stuff that needs our intervention. We're putting the puppy back on the paper.

So, how'd you do?

I'm really interested to hear how your January went. Did you make resolutions, and if so, did you keep them? Did you try any fresh starts or modest changes for yourself? What's worked so far to keep you mindful of the desire to make the little tweaks each day?

Posts: "Fresh Starts & Modest Changes"

tim's picture

Modest changes really hit home...

Modest changes really hit home with me. As the father of two little kids and a very busy lifestyle, I wanted to slow down a bit, get better organized both at home and at work and so far have been able to accomplish a great deal focused on changing modestly.

One modest change is that I work on the fifth floor of a building and decided to take the stairs every time instead of the elevator. Sometimes I cannot find the time to go to the gym and so far this is a great modest form of exercise. This also relates to an article that I read that compared athletic fitness to health fitness.

Another modest change I have made is in the organization of my garage. I take a corner of the garage and work on that rather than trying to tackle the entire thing at once and walking away frustrated. As a result, I am nearing the end of a very organized garage.

My focus at work is to continue implementing the organizational ideas that exist on this daily stop for me called 43 Folders.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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