big change

8 Strategies for Making Little Choices That Can Lead to Big Changes

Many of us wish to change our lives in some way. The choices we make are the stepping stones on the way to transformation, but even when the way forward is clear, we can find ourselves falling off the path. If we can make the most of those moments of little choices, we’ll have a far better chance of making big changes.

Change requires a series of decisions you must make in the moment, ones that might not seem all that consequential at the time. You might tell yourself you’ll watch just one more episode of an entertainment series or wait one more weekend before you get serious about a project you say you want to tackle. You might tell yourself, “I’ll have just one bite” or “just one glass of wine tonight,” but do you find yourself saying, “I’ll break my rule, just this once?” and doing it again and again?One good habit can lead to another, but one bad habit can lead you into the woods and away from your goal to make a big change.

Open yourself to new habits.

To reach your goals, identify some new habits, however small, that will help you get there. It could be setting up Saturday morning as a time to spend the first three hours after breakfast working on a creative project that’s important to you. It could be shutting off all electronic devices by 9 p.m. and going to sleep 15 minutes earlier than you usually do. If you aren’t in the habit of walking, you might want to start doing it for just ten minutes a day. Make it a simple, well-defined, achievable goal.

Break out of your rut.

Try a simple activity that gets you out of a habitual, robotic way of being. Brush your teeth, write, or draw with your nondominant hand. If you regularly work out on an exercise machine, do a different activity—or work with the machine in a new way, such as changing the weight or resistance settings. Break out of your rut to awaken your enthusiasm for making a big change one small decision at a time. Then choose a goal to aim for and identify any actions you can take to get there.

Make it easy to establish the new habit by making it convenient.

Our minds like to work on autopilot. It’s easier to make the small choice that leads to your goal if it’s convenient to do so. Keep your gym bag packed and in your car, don’t buy wine to keep at home, or find some other way make the new habit very easy to follow through on.

Hook a habit onto a habit.

Use your existing habits to your advantage. Every morning, you get out of bed. Every time you sit down for a meal, you pull out a chair. Those are just two examples of habits you probably have already. Identify some of your existing habits and then figure out which ones you can most easily hook your new habit onto. For example, you could choose to do a light stretching routine every morning when you get out of bed—and before you take your seat at your table, you can take a moment to silently acknowledge your gratitude for having food to eat.

Hold yourself accountable to your plan.

Check in with yourself to make sure you’re not making wrong small decisions in brief moments or neglecting to make choices you’ve vowed to make. You might set a timer to go off when you’re supposed to engage in your new habit or note on your calendar that you’ve successfully made a small choice that can be one in a series of them that leads to a big change. You also might ask someone to be your accountability partner, checking in with you at regular intervals to make sure you’re on track or reminding you in small moments of the decision you said you want to make.

And if your willpower is wavering…


Pause and practice mindfulness.

If you find yourself tempted to make a one-time decision to ignore your opportunity to establish and reinforce a new habit, pause briefly to practice mindfulness. Focus your attention on your breathing for thirty seconds as you close your eyes, or do a series of three or four 4-7-8 breaths to relax your body and nervous system (inhale to a count of four, hold for seven, and exhale for eight). In this short period of time, you can have a reset that helps you get in touch with why you’re tempted to say no “just this once.” Simply experiencing a little relaxation and identifying why you’re resistant can help you find the willpower to say to yourself, “This time, I’m going with the small choice I said I would.”

Reward yourself.

Have a plan for rewarding yourself, not just for reaching big goals but small ones. If you can tackle your project four Saturdays in a row or alter your bedtime or mealtime routine every day for two weeks, have a reward in mind. But also stop to reward yourself after making the small choice that takes you toward a larger goal. Spend a moment feeling good about your choice—and remind yourself of the progress you’ve made. Keep a chart or checklist and let yourself pause to enjoy a sense of accomplishment each time you mark it and each time you gaze at the evidence that you are on your way to the big change you want to experience.

Review your decisions.

Sometimes, we make the “wrong” small decision again and again because we aren’t truly dedicated to the goal we set. Maybe it’s not big change you seek but “good enough” change. Maybe when you achieve your “good enough” change, you’ll set a new, even bigger goal—but maybe you’ll be satisfied with the decision you made to stop when you hit your mark. Either way, the more consciously you approach big changes, the more dedicated you are to making the series of small changes you need to make to bring about transformation, the more satisfied you will be.

Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD, is a retired clinical psychologist and Jungian analyst, a businessman, and a shamanic practitioner, author, and philanthropist, funding over 60 charities and more than 1,250 past and current Greer scholars. He has taught at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and been on staff at the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being. Learn more at 

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