Just One Thing: A Simple Way to Make Changes to Your Life

As part of my recent vow to do what I love, I’ve been spending a lot more time with friends. Lately, for example, my friend Castle and I have been meeting once per week to hike though Portland’s Forest Park.

One bond that Castle and I share is a desire to improve our lives. Just as I’ve lost fifty pounds over the past couple of years, she’s in the middle of a weight-loss journey. But it’s more than that. I’m constantly trying to become a better person, and so is she.

Last week on our walk, she shared the secret to her recent success.

Just One Thing
“For me,” she said, “the key is to continually try new things. Have I told you about my Just One Thing project?”

“No,” I said. “What is it?”

“Well,” she said, “it works like this. Nearly every day — not every day, but most days — I try to do one new thing, or I try to do one thing differently. It doesn’t matter what it is. It can big or it can be small. But the key is, I’m trying to do something different.”

“Like what?” I asked. “What sorts of things are you’re trying?”

“Well, take eye contact, for instance. I realized a few weeks ago that I wasn’t maintaining eye contact with people. It’s because I’m shy, but it might come across as if I don’t care about people. So, I decided one day to practice keeping eye contact.”

“How’d it work?” I asked.

“It was amazing,” Castle said. “People responded much more positively to me. Of course, some guys see the eye contact as flirting, but mostly this is a change I want to keep. See, I don’t keep all of the changes I make. The goal is just to try something new for one day. If I don’t like it, I don’t need to continue. But it doesn’t hurt me to try anything for just one day, right?”

“You know, I kind of like this idea,” I said. “What else have you done?”

“Well, some days I try a new exercise at the gym. Some days I try a new food. Some days I try something new with my art. But often it’s something simple, something that might even seem silly. Like I decided to wear lip gloss again. Don’t laugh. I used to wear lip gloss all the time, but I stopped for some reason. It’s a small thing, but I find it makes me feel more put together. I tried it for one day, and now it’s back to being part of my daily routine.”

“So, not all of the things you try need to be life changing?” I asked.

“Not at all!” said Castle. “In fact, most of them are silly little things that don’t make a huge difference, things like wearing lip gloss or making eye contact. But the thing is, even if no one change is earth-shattering, taken together these small changes make me feel better about myself. These little changes make life fun. They make it interesting.”

One Thing at a Time
Though Castle is using the Just One Thing approach to make small daily changes, I think the idea can be applied to larger parts of life.

For instance, what if instead of making one small change each day, you made one large change every month? What would that be like? Sure, it’s more difficult to commit to a change for thirty days, but that’s still a short enough time that most people could commit to make most changes. But it’s a long enough time that if the change is successful, it will have become a habit.

What sorts of changes could you try for just one month? How about taking your lunch to work instead of buying it? What about biking or taking public transportation instead of driving? You might try going to bed early and getting up early. Or committing to exercise for 30 minutes every day. Or not spending any money on impulse.

The beauty of doing Just One Thing for a day (or thirty days) is that you can focus your attention on that thing — and ignore everything else. You may recall that I’m a recent convert to the one-goal-at-a-time method of change. I used to try many things at once, but I found that doing so made me distracted. I couldn’t put my full attention into any one thing. Now when I want to change, I focus on just one thing — sort of the way Castle tries just one thing at a time. My success rate is much higher at making changes this way.

Self-improvement isn’t easy. Because it’s so easy to remain complacent, change can be tough. But sometimes there are ways to make change more effective. I think Castle’s Just One Thing method is one of them.

When you decide to make changes to your life, how do you go about it? Have you tried something like Castle’s method before? Do you find that it’s more effective focus on just one thing? Or do you have better luck when you attack multiple changes at once? What methods do you use to make sure changes stick?