I’ve always tried to change my life. Ever since childhood, I made all kinds of self-help attempts.
It usually started with getting a book. On organic gardening, couponing, volunteering, attachment parenting, personal finance or social justice.
I’d make a resolution. Start to re-organize the house. Save money on groceries. Sign up to volunteer at hospice. Engage in faith practices regularly. Rebalance my IRA.
I’d do the thing I aspired to. Over and over. But I never lived up to the image I’d had when I first read the book. Of savvy and know-how and cleanness. On how my ideals would transform my insides so I’d feel okay about myself.
Also: resolutions are hard. I have a lot of self-discipline, so it wouldn’t sink in how hard I had to work at first. Surely this new resolution would soon become a habit, and I’d change wholesale.
But in the end, inertia won. Or felt like it won.
I cooked more vegan dishes, but I didn’t become a vegan. Perhaps I saved a bit of money, but I didn’t change how I shopped completely. Sure, I even volunteered a few hours, but I didn’t feel more useful.
I wanted wholesale change. I wanted to become a completely different person.
And then, a few years ago, I changed focus. Instead of trying to change a lot, I started trying to change just a little. In fifteen minute increments, in tiny steps, in miniscule resolutions.
But even more importantly, I also scaled back my expectations.
Instead of expecting wholesale and unlimited change, I got a lot more specific (and less demanding) with myself.
I redefined success, counting it in fifteen minute increments, and one tiny step towards what I hoped for.
I said yes to writing, and when I wrote fifteen minutes once a week, I felt successful.
I said yes to contemplation, and when I wrote just one page in a journal each night, I knew I’d been faithful.
I said yes to starting a website, so when I did a half-hour of research and paid the fee for a domain name, I knew I’d done something courageous.
So I did two things when I started saying little yeses.
- I scaled down my expectations.
- And I scaled down my effort.
When I think of myself before I scaled drastically back on how I tried to change, I remember desperation.
Desperation to change. Desperation to feel better about myself. Desperation to feel integrity, bravery, purpose.
I thought I’d have to try endlessly harder to fill the hole inside me.
Instead, doing less—much, much less—filled the hole instead. No: it didn’t fill the hole. It healed it.
Instead of fretting I was beyond repair, I saw that I could trust myself with tiny little specks of joy and courage. And my whole way of thinking about myself changed.
Funny: I thought I needed to work so hard to be a different person. Instead, I stopped trying nearly so hard, and saw that I might actually be able to like myself just as I was.
If you believe that you’re broken, incapable, lazy, undependable, and cowardly, I get it. I get that sense of personal brokenness. The gap between who you want to be and who you are right now feels like a chasm.
It feels like we need a complete metamorphosis to cross it. It feels like we have to become different people to merit a bridge to the other side.
But instead we need just a little bit of practice.
Practice like a child practices simple scales on a recorder. Simple repetition of basic exercises until her fingers grow confident.
Little yeses are practice. Low stakes, and low effort, in tiny corners and spaces of your life. Places you yearn to grow confident in, but are afraid you don’t have enough talent to succeed.
But you don’t need talent to gain confidence. You need practice. And you don’t need to become a different person. You need to start trusting the person God made you to be.
I’ve done a redesign on my blog to come back to the idea of little yeses. Readers reach out to me, filled with shame, feeling stuck. I know what stuck-ness feels like. I understand giving up on real change because you feel too broken.
These aren’t foreign concepts to me. They’re the all-to-common inclination of my heart.
But the truth is that tiny yeses—little low-stakes exercises of faithfulness and joy help you accept who you are, right now.
Fifteen minutes practicing a creative exercise you enjoy.
Ten minutes of enjoying your book instesd of fretting about a deadline.
One specific, actionable goal instead of the weight of nebulous high expectations.
One page of contemplation in a journal instead of a night trying to escape your barbed-wire thoughts.
Tiny little intentions, humble little yeses—these are the ants that move mountains of shame and self-doubt. We move a grain at a time, faithfully, and are astonished at how the landscape changes.
I’ll be writing more about little yeses here—and encouraging you to follow along. I hope and pray you’ll be encouraged and think about any little yeses you can say to welcome more joy and courage into your life.