Can Changing One Thing Really Change Everything?

What if you had to change only one thing to change, well, everything? That’s the question Sara Kravitz tackles in today’s essay. Tell us, have you ever changed one thing and then the dominos seemed to fall into place after that?


It’s the beginning of March. We are squarely in 2017. The gloss and sheen of the new year and all its shiny resolutions are getting hazy and it becomes easier to say, “Well…there’s always next year.” Things that you might want to change, questions you might want to answer are starting to feel larger and farther away. You might even be asking: ugh, why bother?

Because the way to change yourself is to change one thing. There is a Buddhist saying that goes, “The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” I always hated it.What does that even mean? It couldn’t be right, could it? How could the way I washed the dishes be the way I drove my car?

We spend a lot of time in January tackling big questions: what kind of person do I want to become? How am I going to make my life better? A new year is your chance to figure it out and make it all right! Which is great. It’s always good to put some big picture things in place so we have framework for tackling the little things. But big picture stuff can be abstract and intimidating. Of course, we want to be healthier, wealthier, and wiser. But the key question  is “how?”

So let’s play along with the Buddhists for a minute. If the way you do one thing really is the way you do everything, then all you have to do is change one tiny thing. Because, by proxy, you’re changing everything. Which seems infinitely more manageable. Making your bed in the morning seems a lot easier promise to keep then hitting the gym 5 days a week and losing 15 lbs. But, if A = C, then maybe, in some crazy way, making my bed every day will help me lose 20 lbs. (Or not. My math skills are really limited. This might not be how that equation works.)

What if we were to start in the place that seems like it would make the least amount of difference? Say, something you would like to change eventually, but is mostly fine for now. A little thing, a tiny annoyance that seems harmless, but might actually be taking up a lot more (possibly physical, maybe emotional) space than you think. Maybe it feels like that black sweater you keep reaching for. The fit is a little off, it’s slightly pilled, but you continue to wear it. You know you need to get a new one, but you’re not totally sure about spending the money. Plus, it’s a basic black sweater that mostly does the trick. So what if you don’t, like, love it?


“The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.”


I call these tolerations. What are tolerations? They are the things that take up the space of things you want. Big or small, if we only have so much time and energy, and all of yours is spoken for with circumstances you are tolerating, there’s no space for anything else to get in. Yes, we all have 24 hours in a day, but if you need 2 hours after you get home to undo the effects of what you’ve been tolerating all day, you’re already starting at a disadvantage. And maybe you don’t know what you would replace your tolerations with yet, but you really won’t if your whole schedule is packed with them.

So, these things that seem mostly harmless and inconsequential are actually anything but. If we think about our lives, our resources of time and energy are finite. What is the annoying thing that is consuming your precious time and energy? Does it really deserve it? Can you get rid of it? Maybe there’s a way to change it or make it better? Really take a look at your time. How much of it is being taken up by minuscule tasks you’re trying to barrel your way through, or just can’t wait to be finished with?

Sure, it would be great if we all meditated for an hour a day, or ate only organic foods, but if that’s not where you are, that’s not where you are. Start by removing one annoying task so an organic carrot can get through. Don’t tell someone you’ll feed their fish when they’re on vacation. That could be your meditation time. Don’t have dinner with those people you kind of like, and have been trying to schedule something with forever. That meal could be your new black sweater. If how we do one thing is how we do everything, that’s all you’ll need to do anyway.

Related Reads: Gut Check | A Guide to Following Your InstinctsWe Need You | How to Figure Out Your Place in the World, How to Eliminate Regrets and Take Positive Action, and 5 Questions to Nail on Your Job Interview

SARA KRAVITZ helps people who think it’s too late to figure out what they want get clear on a path forward so they can get unstuck and live lives that make them proud and fulfilled. As a Martha Beck life coach, she believes humor, realness, and Friday Night Lights quotes are the best way to do this. She is also the author of the international, bestselling book Just Tell Me What I Want. You can download her book for free here.