How Small Habits Can Snowball Into Big Changes

Reach dental flossI am not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I just never seem to stick to them, you know?

This January 1st, rather than making resolutions, I decided to focus on habits. Specifically, two small habits. So small that I’m a little afraid some of you might laugh when I tell you what they are:

  • Floss my teeth every night
  • Go to bed by 11 pm

That’s it. Floss my teeth and go to sleep at a decent hour.

In the past two months, I’ve had some remarkable success with making these two habits “stick”. I have flossed my teeth every single night this year. My previous record was three days in a row. Seriously. Three. (And yes, it was the three days before my dentist’s appointment.)

And while there have been two or three nights that I’ve been up until midnight, I have had the lights out no later than 11 pm every other night this year. And some nights it’s been as early as 10, or even 9 pm. For a lifelong night owl, this is a sea change for me.

What’s been most interesting about this process is that not only am I forming a new, healthy habit, but I’m also seeing how that ONE, SMALL HABIT can snowball into some much bigger changes, too.

Let’s take flossing my teeth. The truth is that there are plenty of other self-care things I wanted to make a habit as well — like taking better care of my skin, exercising regularly, drinking more water… the list goes on and on. But I picked the dental floss.

No doubt it was a pain (literally and figuratively) at first, but within about a week, it was no longer painful to floss and I stopped dreading it. I just did it — I took that extra 60 seconds in the bathroom at night to do the one thing all dentists recommend.

Once I nailed that habit, the snowball started to pick up steam. As long as I was in the bathroom flossing anyway, I figured I might as well take another 60 seconds to wash my face at night. (I don’t wear make-up most days, since I work from home, so yes, I admit: I wasn’t regularly washing my face at night. Commence skin care flogging.)

But now I do wash my face most nights. And since I’m washing, I also take a few more seconds to put on that eye cream I know my post-40 skin really needs.

Once I’m all ready for bed anyway, I’m finding that it’s a lot easier to get into bed with a book, rather than the computer — to work for “just a few more minutes”. Yup, flossing my teeth has somehow made Habit #2 (going to bed by 11) easier to stick to as well.

And since I’m falling asleep before the AM hours, as was my habit for the last 20 years, getting up in the morning is a lot less painful, too. In fact, some days I rise as early as 5 am (without an alarm!), which means I get to luxuriate in those quiet morning hours I’ve long-since heard early birds talk about.

It really is true: I’m much more creative and intentional at 5:30 in the morning, after sleeping for 7 or 8 hours, than I am at 1:00 in the morning, after being up for 18 hours!

Since I’m up earlier, I’m finding it easier to fit in a daily work-out — even if it’s just 30 minutes, that’s thirty minutes more than I was doing in 2015.

That snowball keeps rolling down the hill, picking up steam. (I’m like a human version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”!)

Just like bad habits can quickly balloon out of control, focusing intentionally on these two small habits this year has taught me that the inverse is true as well.

If you want to make some BIG changes in your life, but haven’t had any success thus far, try starting with a small piece of it. A very small piece. As small as flossing your teeth.

Getting out of debt, losing 50 lbs, interacting more patiently with your children (yup, this is one thing I’ll be working on soon!) — these aren’t changes that are going to happen overnight. All the resolutions in the world aren’t going to help.

Pick a habit – a small one! – and focus intentionally on that. I think you will be pleasantly surprised how quickly that habit can snowball into bigger and better changes in your life.

Have you had success with changing habits in your life? Have you seen them snowball into bigger changes?



  1. This is great! Thanks for sharing. I’m sure now that you are sleeping more, you will have more patience for your children…another great snowball effect by working on one habit!

    • TOTALLY!

      And by the way, that working out thing is also helping to keep me a bit more chilled! More snowball effects!

  2. Thanks for sharing….i’m inspired!!

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