Small Changes Can Result in Big Improvements in Resilience

It’s not uncommon for colleagues to express doubt that we can actually influence people to do the work involved in improving their resilience. They opine that people will not be willing to work that hard.

In an earlier post we pointed out that internalizing a resilient approach to life, which does take serious effort, is not essential to increasing resilience. In that post we explained how “props” can augment your functioning, enabling you to respond in a more resilient way than you could on your own. Props can be as simple as listening to a relaxation audio when you feel the need.

Also, in another earlier post, we listed many easy, pleasant ways you can sooth yourself and get relief from distress using ways that are already familiar to you, for example, cuddling with a pet or lover, listening to music, or getting a massage. Not exactly hard work.

In this post we will cover another factor that makes building resilience easier- the importance of small changes. No one has done a better job of explaining that importance than Larry and Susan Terkel, in their book, “Small Change* It’s the Little Things in Life That Make a BIG Difference!” Here are some important quotes from that book:

  • “Small change adds up. This is worth repeating: small change adds up. Empty your small change in a jar every day, and watch the total add up over time. Make small changes in your daily habits – such as your meals or snacks, your relationships, your work, or your leisure- and watch those changes gradually accumulate into a much healthier, happier, and more satisfying life.”
  • “An angle of only one degree is difficult to draw on a piece of paper. It is too small. If a flight from New York to Los Angeles is off course by just one degree, the plane will arrive closer to Tijuana, Mexico, than Los Angeles.”
  • “Small changes can get us back on course as easily as the can lead us off course.”

Additionally, at the very beginning of working toward improvement, small changes in effort produce disproportionately large results.  For example, if you have long been sedentary and you begin a modest program of walking several times a week, your fitness will improve much more dramatically than it would if you were starting from a high level of fitness. A Silver Medal winning athlete who is determined to go for the gold will have to expend huge effort to make the needed changes.

This pattern of big, easy change in the beginning and smaller, effortful change at the end is so common that is has been applied in many different scientific fields and is known as The Growth Curve.

In helping people to improve their resilience, we always suggest that they try from one to, at most, three changes at any one time. It’s just fine if the changes you choose to try are small ones.


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