For BIG Change, Start Small


When we look at the changes we want to make to improve our lives, they are often very big picture.

“I would love to become a morning person.”

“I need to eat healthier.”

“I want to reduce my stress.”

“I want to lose X pounds!”

“I would like to change my job.”

“I want to be a strong badass like Ronda Rousey.”

When we look at these goals from where we stand today, they can look like mountains. That’s what I call my big goals: my mountains. The problem with mountains is that it’s all too easy to get intimidated by them. If you’re like me, you might find yourself procrastinating or failing to make a real game plan – after all, that’s for your future self to figure out, right?

So what happens to those big goals? They remain mountains, occasionally calling to us, reminding us of their presence off in the distance. Sometimes we even take the first step forward by buying that new “it” cook book or pack of fitness classes at a new gym… but then, sometimes we look up and see how far the mountain peak is, and we stop, disheartened.

There’s no doubt that the first step towards the mountain is always one of the hardest ones. Leaving the comfort of your warm bed to get to that fitness class isn’t easy for anyone, especially the first time.

The first step is important (and hard). But it’s not the most important (and, spoiler alert: it might not end up being the hardest). I would argue that EVERY step you take is equally as valuable in getting you from where you are to where you want to be.


And it all starts with the first one, and the second one, and then third … one in front of the other. Which kind of sounds like a lot, right?

They say, “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one small step.”

Which sometimes makes me think … 1,000 miles?! 1,000 miles is a lot of miles. I’m scared of 26.2 miles.

But the key here is to not worry about the 1,000 miles part and focus on the small step part. And just so it doesn’t sound like I’m being a grandiose hippy, let’s get concrete.

Research from Professor BJ Fogg at Stanford University shows that taking extremely small steps, one at a time and forming new, tiny habits is one of the most effective ways to create BIG change. You can check out his Ted Talk here, but I’m here to give you the cliff notes.

Behavior is a combination of your motivation and ability. If you have a mountain, you’re already motivated. You WANT to change for the better – it just seems hard. So, that’s the puzzle to solve. If you have motivation to do something, how do you make it easy to do? BJ argues that tiny habits and tiny steps can be the answer.

How tiny are these habit changes?

BJ cites examples of taking ONE sip of water if you want to start drinking more water, doing TWO push-ups if you want to start getting stronger, and even (though this may sound ludicrous) flossing JUST ONE tooth if you want to get in the habit of flossing every day.

And how should you trigger these new habits? The answer is simple: with the habits you already have and things you already do every day. If you put the new, tiny behavior change after something you already are doing in your life, it will be easy to remember to do it.

Last year, I wanted to become more flexible (this sounds weird, but I have never been able to touch my toes. I’m athletic, sure, but flexible? Not so much.) At the time, I had heard of “Give it 100” – which operates under a similar premise. The idea is to work at something you want to do for 100 days, and after seeing this guy finally touch his toes, I figured I should give it a shot myself.


Every day when I got ready for bed and went into the bathroom to do my normal routine (wash face, brush teeth, look in the mirror and tell myself I’m a SHARK, etc.), I added in one more step: attempt to touch my toes. I’m proud to say I am an official toe-toucher (woo hoo!) which has led me to having more patience and confidence in going to yoga classes these days.

The point is to start a tiny habit and build from it, helping you continue to take steps in the right direction. The 1,000 miles and mountain doesn’t seems so scary if you take it one step at a time.

Sounds easy enough, right? It can be.

“I would love to become a morning person.” Set your alarm clock for one minute earlier each day.

“I need to eat healthier.” Choose to substitute one part of one of your meals with something healthier today.

“I want to reduce my stress.” Find a moment to set aside one minute to meditate.

“I want to lose X pounds!” Start with a tiny diet change or a small workout adjustment (like doing 2 push-ups when you wake up tomorrow.)

“I would like to change my job.” Change one line on your resume.

“I want to be a strong badass like Ronda Rousey.” Pick up some weights! But start small, like with one extra set at the gym.


Look back at your mountains. What are the tiny steps you can take to get you there?

Take a deep breath.

Start now.

Let us know!

Goals Think & Feel

About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.