zen habits : breathe

The Art of the Small: How to Make an Impact

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

There’s a Jedi Force technique called The Art of the Small wherein the Jedi essentially narrows his focus … until he can use The Force to change things at a microscopic level.

That’s a geeky way of showing how focusing on less and less can, in the end, change everything.

There are a lot of us who would like to make an impact on the world, in some way or another. We’d like to make a contribution, change things for the better, improve lives, leave behind something positive.

And yet, with the vastness of this world, with the number of people out there who will resist change … it seems impossible at times. How can one person make an impact on the world? Normal people — those of us who aren’t in the circle of influencers such as elected officials or influential media types — just don’t have that kind of power, right?

Not necessarily.

When we think of the world as such a vast place, it’s overwhelming. It’s like sprinkling drops of our efforts into the ocean — the overall effect is so little as to be unnoticeable.

But think of those same drops of effort dripping onto one tiny spot, perhaps not in the ocean but on a rock. The drops of water, concentrated on one spot, can eventually break through that rock. And if that rock is supporting a lot of other rocks, those drops of water can cause an avalanche.

The same effort, concentrated in the right place, can make an impact. Diffused over a wide area — not so much.

Four Lessons in The Art of the Small
So our little metaphor — of drops of water falling on an ocean, or on a rock — contains in it four lessons that we’ll call The Art of the Small (only slightly related to the Jedi Force technique):

1. One person can make an impact. Don’t feel that it’s hopeless. You don’t need to be someone famous or powerful to have an impact. You can make a difference, you can change things — if you focus on The Art of the Small.

2. Concentrate your efforts on smaller and smaller areas. When your efforts are diffused over a wide area, they won’t have much of an impact. So focus on smaller areas, and your efforts will be felt more fully. It could take time for change to happen, but keep that focus narrow.

3. Try to find an area that will cause a tipping point. You’ll have the biggest impact if you can change something that will in itself cause further changes — the rock that causes the avalanche. This isn’t an easy thing, to find that pressure point, that spot that will cause everything else to change. It takes practice and experience and luck and persistence, but it can be found.

4. Don’t try to beat an ocean. You’ll lose. Instead, focus on small changes that will spread.

Learning the Art of the Small
This isn’t something you’ll always grasp instinctively, but you’ll learn its effectiveness when you put it into practice. Want to beat climate change? It’s too huge for one person to change — so focus on something smaller instead. Change your behaviors in small ways, help your children change, help other family and friends change. And teach them to help others change.

Start in small ways — help others, do little good things, and see what the impact of those things are. Never underestimate the power of putting a smile on someone’s face. That smile could change the person’s entire day, and they could go on to do something brilliant that in turn helps thousands of people. All because you did something small that put a smile on their face.

Sounds corny, but it works. Small things can have huge effects. Over time, you’ll learn to focus your efforts more effectively, but in the beginning, it doesn’t matter. What matters is you learn to focus on smaller and smaller things, and learn to be persistent.

Small things can change the world.

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