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TYL Health Tip #3: How Small Steps Can Radically Change Your Life

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

January is the time of endless resolutions. Many of us, myself included, embark on a massive redoing of our lives. A reconstruction of the self, you might say.

New Year’s resolutions are the epitome of this. If you are anything like me, thoughts wander into your head in early December about being in better shape, stop smoking, losing weight, being a better parent, spouse, friend, worker, etc. etc. Endless resolutions to be a better you.

Usually, by February, you’re back where you started. You’ve gained back all the weight, yelled at the kids, stopped going to the gym, run up the credit card bill, and been late for work. You feel worse about yourself. Research indicates that ⅔ of us fail at our resolutions by the first month. By February we are back where we started or even worse.

This degree of failure usually led me to deeper feelings of personal inadequacy, anxiety, and depression while sacrificing the laudable changes potentially leading to a healthier lifestyle.

I’m assuming you have experienced many of the same feelings of letdown that I have over the years.

So what can be done to overcome this yearly crash and burn syndrome?

There is an answer!

Rather than give you more to worry about, I’ll present 3 practical steps you can take to make small but very helpful and sustainable changes that can lead you to your desired health goals. These are steps you can do over time and can potentially be transformative.

Keep in mind that you can apply these steps to any resolutions or tasks you have set for yourself.

Let's get started!

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Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” — Arthur Ashe

Step One: Drop the big stuff

Personally, I’ve found the resolutions I’ve made in the past with high fail rates and increased stress levels are 1 - the desire to lose weight and 2 - joining a gym. Both are fraught with unrealistic expectations and self-esteem killers. There are others, for sure.

For instance, my desire to lose weight was so intertwined with my self-esteem that every step on the scale become a potential indictment of my willpower and self-worth. For the most part, dieting only served to reinforce my sense of inadequacy.

Joining a gym was also a setup for a collapsing self-worth. Not only did I waste a good chunk of change on a place I stopped using by February but I was no closer to being fit. A double self-esteem hit. On top of it all, I tried to cancel a gym membership a few years ago. What an ordeal. I ended up feeling foolish and doubly stressed. Oh, and no closer to being in shape.

I’m assuming many of you have had similar experiences.

I have since learned that both the desire to lose weight and be fit are fueled by multi million dollar industries. They are just hankering for our hard earned money. Both industries survive on your failure to succeed while creating a perceived need to continue to purchase their product. The more you fail the more they want you to believe you need them.

It’s admirable to lose excess weight and to be fit. I’m not questioning that. My task here is to help you make realistic decisions that are good for you emotionally and can help you establish healthy habits for the long-term.

You don’t need to join a gym, unless you really want to, and you don’t need to be on an extreme diet to lose weight.

“…small steps can be the beginning to better mental and physical health.”

Step Two: Choose something doable

A great way to establish a healthy lifestyle while not compromising your mental health is choosing something easily attainable.

I’ll use some examples from TYL involving diet, exercise, stress management, and relationships to demonstrate how this might work.

Diet: Rather than resolving to lose 50 lbs or more on a rigorous diet (Keto, Paleo, Vegan) and most likely failing and feeling bad about yourself, it may be easier to start by just deciding to be healthier. Here are some small but doable steps that can start you on the path:

  • Attempt a Meatless Monday. Something that you feel you can really do. After a month or more of this you may consider adding another healthy behavior or extending meatless meals to other weekdays.

  • Decide to eat fewer donuts and bagels in a week or add one more fruit and vegetable to your weekly menu.

  • Read up on the Mediterranean Diet for simple and healthy meal plans that you can use at your discretion. Try one new meal a week.

There are lots of small steps you can choose from. It’s up to you. Over time, you will have established a series of healthy behaviors that are sustainable, lead to weight loss while bolstering your sense of accomplishment.

Remember to only add a new healthy diet behavior after you have successfully established the preceding behavior. Meatless Monday can be extended to other week days while fewer donuts can be consumed each week.

You will lose weight, establish a healthy behavior, and feel good about yourself. And eventually lose those 25 lbs.

Be patient.

“True success is not born from one, big, lucky step. It’s birthed from daily, small, consistent steps.” — Kent Julian

Exercise: Resolving to run a marathon or join an expensive gym can be daunting and lead, for most of us, to failure. Rather, start with something you feel is doable.

  • Something as simple as a ten minute walk 3 times a week may suffice. After you have accomplished this for a month add 5 minutes.

  • You might go on YouTube and find a fitness video at your level that you can do a few times a week. Increase the difficulty level after a month or more.

  • Purchasing a set of resistance bands that you can use at home for a fraction of a gym membership would be well worth it.

Whatever you choose, be reasonably certain it is something you can sustain and increase over time. Maybe you will eventually do that marathon when you are ready, if you so choose.

“It’s always your choice where to start…”

Stress Management: All of us face lots of chronic stress these days. From Covid to inflation, crazy drivers, low wages, you name it, it’s happening. Wasn’t Covid supposed to be over?

  • A great place to start is to cut down on watching the news. Habitual news watching is highly stressful. Give yourself specific times of day to listen to the 24/7 cable news scene.

  • You can learn a relaxation technique and practice it a few times a week. Or use a breathing technique to calm down when you are driving or facing a tense situation at work.

  • Learning mindfulness meditation might be a good approach. Start with a few minutes a day.

  • Get out in nature for a few minutes a day is another stress management approach that really works. It decreases cortisol.

  • Improve your sleep by cutting down on late night caffeine or read a book at bedtime instead of scrolling.

  • Listen to calming music.

When you have mastered one of these behaviors you can add a few minutes to your practice. Over time the techniques will become second nature. It’s always your choice where to start and when you are ready to expand the time you spend on the activity. As you succeed, you will be more relaxed and be more confident in your ability to face stressful situations. You will gain a sense of mastery and over time feel better about yourself.

Remember, start with something that is relatively easy for you to do. Take a month before moving on.

“Start simple. Build on your successes.“

Relationships: Research has shown that the quality of our relationships is one of the most powerful ways to be happy and healthy.

  • Reach out to friends and family members each week. Schedule a phone call, Zoom meeting or family dinner. Whatever is most manageable.

  • Make a regular lunch or brunch date to catch up and strengthen the emotional bonds with others. Do a date night with your spouse.

  • Get involved with activities in your church, civic association, or in a topic you might be interested in so you can regularly meet like minded people.

  • Have a movie night with a friend just to have some fun.

  • Hangout with the grandkids.

Interacting with others, being social, can lessen feelings of depression and anxiety. Go slow if you have to. Schedule a few interactions that you feel you can handle and that won’t add undo stress to your life. Expand out as you feel more confident.

Step Three: Create a support system

It helps immensely to create ways to track your progress in making these small changes to your lifestyle.

  • Start a journal where you can write down each of the small changes you are making and how you feel as you progress.

  • Create a habit tracker where you list the changes you are making and enables you to check off what you have accomplished.

  • Download a calendar or buy a wall calendar on which you can note what you are doing on what date and at what time. Virtually, create a progress chart.

  • Join with a likeminded friend or group to discuss challenges and compare progress.

Subscribe to my website Transform Your Life and have access to all my health and fitness articles. It's free.

Final Thoughts

This post is about helping you create small incremental changes to your lifestyle that can potentially lead to bigger changes that are transformative. These small steps can be the beginning of better mental and physical health. The decision is yours as to where to start.

The rule of thumb is to start small, establish the new behavior in your repertoire and then add to that behavior once you are confident you can add to it.

I’ve given examples of where you might start but it’s up to you to decide which is best for you. As I mentioned above, it’s not necessary to commit to losing 25 lbs, being the perfect parent, going to the gym 3-4 times a week or running a marathon.

Start simple. Build on your successes. Your confidence will lessen the feelings of depression and anxiety. You will be on your way to being healthier and fit.

Much of what I talk about in this post can be deepened in the sources I’ve listed below.

Good luck!


A wonderful Youtube video by therapist Emma McAdam talks you through how to take small steps toward mental health.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, gives a great Ted-talk on atomic habits, on how to choose small steps and how to use them.

A well done article by Kara Swanson looks at the pros and cons of the small steps approach. A good read.

Caveat:; The information in this article is for educational purposes only and not meant to diagnose or treat any disease or health condition. Consult your medical provider about any medical conditions you may have.

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