Let’s Make Some Small Life Changes with Big Effects!

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small changes success quoteHaving completed your wheel of life, and identified the areas you need to work on,

the next step is to really think about the things you could do to change your perception and reality of that area in your life.

Let’s not get overwhelmed and run away from this.  No, let’s just get that low mark out of 10 up a couple of points!

You don’t need to fundamentally change as the wonderful person you are, but some little changes can bring about a major improvement in certain areas of your life.

You are now in a focused place, and you know you want change.  That is a great place to be in!

Let me tell you about a course I am presently studying on the EdX website (https://www.edx.org/).  This is a wonderful resource where many courses are offered for FREE (you can opt to pay for certificates of achievement which helps them resource even more courses).  The course I am studying is called ‘Practical Improvement Science in Healthcare: A Roadmap for Getting Results’, and is being offered by Harvard University and The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI).  I’m doing this because I want to learn about Quality Improvement and apply my learning to a project I am developing in work.

Why am I telling you about this course?

What I didn’t realise, at first, is that the lessons being taught in this course about improvement in healthcare can also be applied to improving your own life! This has been eye-opening and inspiring for me and I’m keen to tell you more about it (without going into too much academic detail).

One of the lecturers gave the example that his family were complaining that they were not seeing him enough and they particularly missed him at mealtimes during the weekend.  He applied Quality Improvement methods to his family problem, and so to explain what he did I need to introduce you to another ‘wheel!’  It is really called a Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle.

PDSA cycle

Basically speaking:

  • State your aim e.g. ‘I want to lose 6Ibs in weight over the next 4 weeks’
  • Plan a small change e.g. Stop snacking on biscuits and crisps between meals
  • Actually do this small change  – Don’t snack!
  • Study the impact of that small change – Have I lost any weight?
  • Act by adapting, eliminating (if it didn’t work) or implementing another small change. I’ve lost 2Ibs in the first week, therefore I will still not eat unhealthy snacks between meals.  I will now  also make the time to walk briskly for 30 minutes  during my lunch break three times per week.

You just keep going through the PDSA cycles until you achieve your ultimate original aim i.e. in the example above until you have lost the 6Ibs, hopefully within the 4 weeks timeframe you set yourself.

In my course the lecturer set the aim to always be present for weekend family meals, and miss no more than two meals at home each month due to his travel and work commitments.

This lecturer made two small changes in his life.

No.1. For the next month, he started saying “no” to all the people requesting him to travel. 

No.2. He dedicated one day per week to writing at the public library. 

He wrote more papers that year and missed far fewer family dinners – in fact almost none at all!

Those two small changes had a huge impact on his family life and communication with his family.  He also increased his work productivity.

A great win-win for both his family life and his career!

cucumber plantsAnother of the teachers in the course used his vegetable garden as an example!  He wanted to grow cucumbers but his gardener kept accidentally chopping down his cucumber plants every time he used a grass strimmer in his garden.  Every time this happened, he then tried a small change; a different way to tie up his cucumbers, out of the path of his over-zealous gardener.  A stick didn’t work, a higher boarder wall didn’t work, but then he tied the cucumber plants up to a trellis, and finally, the gardener no longer chopped through the cucumbers.  His aim was to grow tasty cucumbers in his garden…and he achieved that aim via each small change he tried.  A couple of ideas didn’t work.  Not to worry!  Eventually he found the change which gave him the result he wanted.

As a professional woman, I find that I have many demands on my time. 

I often complain that everybody wants a piece of me; family, friends and especially work colleagues.  Whilst I am flattered, I am also sometimes just so exhausted from all the demands placed upon me!

Like the Quality Improvement lecturer who wanted to dine more often with his family and improve his home life, I have also had to make a concentrated effort to say “no.”  I admit it!  I find it really, really difficult! Even if I really want to do a particular project/presentation/whatever (!) at work, I sometimes just need to say “no” so as not to spread myself too thin and protect my health and family time.

It isn’t an easy thing for me to do, but I actually sometimes find colleagues respect me more for displaying that self-awareness and honesty.

So, please take the time to look at that one area which scored badly and made your wheel of life wonky.  What small and iterative changes could you implement so as to improve that area in your life?

Perhaps I have given you some inspiration here – maybe you also want to grow cucumbers!!

Write down at least two small changes you think you could implement.  Don’t overwhelm yourself by aiming too low, but do still try to challenge yourself a bit so as to make an impact.

I’ll leave you with that short activity for now.

Please do leave comments and ideas.  I’d love to hear from you.


Founder, the Swan Doctor.