Change LIfe for the Better, One Change at a Time


A recurring theme in writer Leo Babauta’s work: make one change at a time.

We tend to rush into change. We start a diet while launching an exercise program and adopting a new religion and learning Spanish and scheduling meditation sessions and quitting smoking. When we try to make too many changes at once, we sabotage our own success.

When we make just one change at a time, each change is far more likely to become a part of who we are.

When I decided I wanted to weigh less, it was tempting to pair that goal with other changes: to start exercising, to try weight lifting, to get a personal coach, to get back to writing every morning. Instead, I took Leo’s advice and made one change: I went looking for a better way to eat.

Eleven weeks later, I’ve found that way. I eat mostly vegetables, some fruit, and lean meats. On weekends only, I have sugar, bread, and rice in moderation. Now, when I want to weigh less, I know what to eat and how to eat it. And when I decide to stop losing and start maintaining weight, I can do that, too. In short: I went looking for a better way to eat … and I found it. Having done that:

I’m ready to introduce that second change.

When it came time to choose that second area of focus, there were many candidates to pick from. Exercise, certainly. Writing daily? Yes. Starting a novel? Sure. In the end, though, the winner surprised me:

I want more focus and direction in my life.

Or, said another way: I want less mindless distraction and more mindful action. Instead of dabbling in or skimming the surface of many things, I want to reserve my time, attention, and energy for fewer things, and experience each of them more fully.

How will this impact my life? Lots of ways.

I’m going to spend less time reading fluff, and more time reading things that matter. According to Google Reader, over the last 30 days, I’ve read 2,119 items, or about 70 web articles a day. Instead of investing all that time to “the ten thousand things,” I want to invest my time and attention in material that nourishes my intellect, spirit, and soul.

So: I’ve slashed my RSS feeds to fewer than ten and drastically reduced the number of people I follow on Twitter. Also, I’ve declared a moratorium on buying new books. With the arrival of the Kindle, acquiring new books is now as easy as clicking a button. As a result, I’m more likely to express my interest in reading great books by buying them instead of reading them.

I’m going to spend less time acquiring tools, and more time using them. My Mac, my Macbook Air, and my iPad are bursting with apps: note taking apps, research apps, brainstorming apps, outlining apps, fiction writing apps, socializing apps. I’m the digital equivalent of the guy who maintains a gleaming, perfectly-organized woodworking shop in his backyard … but who never uses them to build so much as a doorstop. Instead of focusing on the work, I’ve been focusing on the tools.

So: in addition to deleting a lot of apps I’ve tinkered with but never use, I’m declaring a moratorium on buying new apps.   The to-do list manager, note taker, Twitter client, and brainstorming apps I have may not be the best out there — but they’re good enough. It’s time to stop fussing around with apps. It’s time to start making things that matter.

I’m going to spend less time being busy, and more time working. While working at The Company, I’ve picked up some bad habits — including confusing “being frantically busy all the time with a dozen urgent assignments” with “doing work that really matters.”

So: instead of feeding my own ego by over-obligating and exhausting myself, I’m going to invest time in identifying what really matters … and I’m going to limit my focus and attention to that. This will mean declining some opportunities, disappointing some folks by saying “No,” and extracting myself from some obligations that produce a lot of work without producing anything of value. As a result, I’ll be free to do more of what I’m really there to do — and believe me, there’s plenty to be done.

I’m going to spend less time writing about what I’m thinking, and more time writing about what I’m actually doing. Here at, that means fewer posts about pop culture and politics, and more posts about what I’m writing, what I’m reading, where I’m going, and what I’m actually achieving.

I know, I know.  That sounds like I’m making a lot of changes at once.

In fact, though, these are a lot of tactics. There’s only one core change at the root of them all: I want more focus and direction in my life. Less carelessness, more consciousness. Less drifting … and more doing.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress. In the meantime, consider this: what one small change could you make, right now, today, that would make your life better?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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