‘What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.’ ~C. S. Lewis
By Leo Babauta
Changing your life can seem an incredibly tough and complicated thing, especially if you’ve failed a great number of times (like I did), found it too hard, and resigned yourself to not changing.
But I found a way to change.
And I’m not any better than anyone else, not more disciplined, not more motivated. I just learned a few simple principles that changed my life.
I’ve written about them many times, but realized they’re spread out all over the site.
Here is how I changed my life, in a nutshell.
tl;dr The four lines you’re looking for are at the bottom.
How I Started Running
In 2005 I was sedentary, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to make exercise a regular habit. At the end of 2006, not only was I running very regularly, I finished my first marathon. These days I can run a half marathon race at the drop of a hat, have run several marathons.
How did I do it? I started with just 10 minutes of running a day. I focused not on how hard it was, but how much I enjoyed the movement and the outdoors. I increased slowly, until I could run 15 minutes, then 20, and later a couple hours. I was grateful for every run I was able to take.
I got healthier, fitter, slimmer, happier.
How I Started Eating Healthier
In 2005 I was overweight, and addicted to junk food. I ate fast food, chips and cookies, fried meats, anything fatty or sweet or salty … and I had no idea how to change. Today, I am 70 lbs. lighter, I eat almost all whole, real foods (almost nothing processed), I eat a sweet treat now and then but am happier eating healthy food.
How did I change? I started with small changes like drinking more water, eating more fruits and veggies, cooking at home more and preparing my lunches for work. One at a time. I gradually improved my diet, eventually cleared my fridge and pantry of junk, and stopped going to fast food places. I found healthy foods I really loved. I was grateful for every delicious healthy meal I ate.
I felt better about myself, trimmed down, and feel great every single day.
How I Got Out of Debt
In 2005, I was way over my head in debt — it was so bad, I had creditors calling me, and I would ignore my phone calls. I struggled to make it paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes didn’t even make it — I had to borrow money from friends and family. It was one of the most stressful times of my life. At the end of 2007, I celebrated with my wife Eva when we paid off our last debt and were free!
How did I do it? I started one little change at a time: I started cutting back on expenses a little, saving a little at a time, paying off the little debts and then the bigger debts, found some breathing room, and saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I gradually changed my financial habits and got into better shape. I was grateful for every debt paid off, every dollar saved, every inch of breathing room.
I’m debt free and will never go back. It’s the most liberating thing ever.
And On and On
I was planning on writing the same capsules for how I decluttered and simplified my possessesions, how I started focusing and accomplishing more, how I turned my passion into a living, and so on … but the truth is, the story starts to repeat itself.
I used the same principles, over and over. More on that in the nutshell below.
And Then I Gave Up Goals
About two years ago, I started to give up goals. Just as an experiment.
It turns out, I could still accomplish the same kinds of things, but I just didn’t plan it out. Instead, I just followed the same principles (more on those below). They still work, even without goals.
People say I can give up goals because I’ve already accomplished a lot … but the truth is, I can give up goals because I have learned a few things that work, and realized they work with or without goals. And if you follow these things, you can change your life, with or without goals.
The Nutshell Principles
So what are the principles that changed my life, repeatedly?
If you read the brief stories above, you already know:
1. Start very small.
2. Do only one change at a time.
3. Be present and enjoy the activity (don’t focus on results).
4. Be grateful for every step you take.
In programming, this is called an algorithm. It’s a series of steps that you can apply to make any change, no matter what your situation.
It works. This is the Zen Habits method, the Change Your Life App, in four lines. I hope it helps.