Do One Small Thing – Bill O'Hanlon

Here’s another excellent set of suggestions for making simple changes from Bill O’Hanlon

Do One Small Thing

In the book ‘212 The Extra Degree’ by Sam Parker & Mac Anderson, the authors examine the big difference that small differences can make. Here is some of the evidence they cite:

In four major golf tournaments (U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship and The Masters), the margin of victory for the last 25 years in all four majors combined was less than 3 strokes. In 18 holes played over a four-day period (72 holes total in 25 years), the significant difference was merely 3. And the winners took home 76% more in prize dollars than 2nd place!

The small differences principle applied in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games:

  • Men’s 200 meter Freestyle (swimming) 1.42 seconds
  • Women’s 200 meter Freestyle 0.59 seconds
  • Men’s 800 meter (running) 0.71 seconds
  • Women’s 800 meter 0.13 seconds
  • Men’s Long Jump 28 centimeters
  • Women’s Long Jump 11 centimeters

In horse racing the Triple Crown winner (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes) is held by 11 horses in history. The winning difference between 1998 and 2002 over each of the Triple Crown races combined (15 races in all) was less than 2.5 lengths. Six races were won by less than one horse length!

In that spirit, here are some simple suggestions for small differences you can make that could make a big difference in your life.

One small start of a good habit

  • What is the smallest action you could undertake daily for the next week that could start you on the road to developing a new healthful or helpful habit?
  • Walk around the block one time or for fifteen minutes each day
  • Do five sit-ups or pushups three times this week
  • Write for five minutes a day on that book you’ve been meaning to write
  • Spend fifteen minutes a day playing with your kids or your pet
  • Spend one hour learning some new skill or subject area

Make one small change in a bad habit

  • Break up that bad habit into small chunks of time or activities
  • If you chew your nails or pick your face, set a timer and do your bad habit for five minutes, then stop for five minutes, then go back to the habit for five minutes and so on
  • If you watch too much television, skip one night and do something else you like to do or need to do instead
    Bonus research that may motivate you for this one: Watching a lot of television can triple our hunger for more material possessions and can reduce our personal contentment by about 5% for every hour per day we watch from Wu, P. (1998). “Goal Structures of Materialists vs. Non-Materialists,” Ph.D. dissertation, U. Mich., Ann Arbor.
  • If you use a substance or eat a food that is not good for you, try cutting out just a small amount of that stuff each time you use or eat it for the next week.

Link something burdensome but good for you to a bad habit

Make a list of things you think you should do or that would be good for you that you typically procrastinate or don’t get to.

For every time you yell at your kids or your partner, do fifty sit-ups, write a long delayed letter to someone you’ve been meaning to write to or clean out the hall closet or the trunk of your car

The key here is to start small, in terms of small actions or short commitments of time. Try one of these for the next week and then evaluate the results. Don’t take on more than one each week. Rinse and repeat if you find it works. Within a reasonable amount of time, you may create a new good habit or break a bad one.

Bill O’Hanlon, M.S., Possibilities, 223 N. Guadalupe #278, Santa Fe, NM 87501 USA 505.983.2843; Fax# 505.983.2761; ;

2 thoughts on “Do One Small Thing – Bill O'Hanlon”

  1. This is a great idea and one that I have advocated for a long time. I was once told on a seminar, whose purpose long escapes me, ‘If you want to eat an elephant, take small bites!’

    I also believe that taking a minute here and there to relax during the day is better than ‘waiting til I’ve finished all the work, then I will relax’.

  2. I agree it’s a great idea. However, I struggle with being consistent with these kinds of tasks.

    I’m just starting to read a book “Making a change for good: A guide to compassionate self discipline” by Cheri Huber (a Zen teacher) which is all about establishing useful habits.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it’ll be the subject of some blog posts when I get going with it.


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