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Big Plans Require Small Steps to Get Started

Translating resolutions into lasting change is just a matter of habit.

A black and white photo of an office building.
 Arianna Huffington

This post is part of a series from Arianna Huffington, ahead of her appearance at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2022 (SHRM22) to lead a conversation focused on the importance of workplace mental health and participate in the SHRM22 Executive Network Experience.

As we see the light at the end of the tunnel for the COVID-19 omicron wave in the U.S. and many other countries, a new phase of collective experience has kicked in: anticipation. The world is literally opening up again.

The pandemic has been a time of unspeakable loss and tragedy. At the same time, it’s also been a catalyst, forcing us to examine our lives, our priorities and our ways of living and working. We’ve spent more than two years looking inward, thinking about what we want to take with us and what we want to leave behind. And if we’re going to make the most of this moment, we need to accompany our big plans with small steps. It’s those small steps that will help us bring forward the wisdom we’ve accumulated these past two years and build new habits to create better lives and a better world than the one we knew pre-COVID.

At Thrive we have a word for these small steps: “microsteps.” Microsteps are small, science-backed steps we can take to build healthy habits that significantly improve our lives. They’re at the heart of the behavior change system we’ve brought to individuals and organizations around the world, helping them build resilience, strengthen their connections and improve their well-being and performance. And unlike New Year’s resolutions, which even the most generous estimates show that half of us fail to keep, microsteps are too small to fail.

At Thrive, we wrote a whole book about them, “Your Time to Thrive,” packed with hundreds of microsteps on subjects ranging from sleep, nutrition and movement to focus, creativity and purpose. In a world where so much is beyond our control, microsteps help us focus on what we can control. They give us something to celebrate, propelling us forward to our next small win, and the next one. Over time, as we build new habits, they become more than what we do — they become part of who we are. As my compatriot Aristotle said, “Habit is but a long practice, which becomes men’s nature in the end.”

The concept of starting small also holds true at the organizational level, where change can happen one person at a time. That was the basis for the recent call to action by SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, for business and HR leaders to accelerate the culture shift to create a better way of working. As he said, “One person can cause an effect. The actions of a few affect the lives of many.”

As we make our way into this next uncertain but hopeful chapter, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to apply the lessons of our individual and collective experience. And it will be the small steps, more than the big sweeping vows and pledges, that help us navigate the transition.

Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive, will speak at SHRM22 in New Orleans on Tuesday, June 14.

SHRM Executive Network members receive complimentary access to SHRM22 and will be invited to a private VIP meet and greet with Huffington and other SHRM22 main stage speakers. Learn more.


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