Big Changes Start with Small Ones

I went out to lunch yesterday with three of my daughters (I have four).  We went to our favorite Asian restaurant which happens to be just a few blocks from my house.  How many people live within walking distance from one of their favorite restaurants? I can get just about anything I want made vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free.  It is a dream come true for the dietarily restricted diner.  Plus, it’s a family owned business which means that one gets to know the proprietors after a bit.  It’s like walking onto the set of Cheers–everyone knows your name.

Our family has witnessed their family’s births, deaths, and marriages.  I did not, however, know anything about a divorce in the family.  One of the women who more visibly runs the restaurant (and whom I just adore) divorced two years ago.  I had no idea.  That’s when I separated from my ex-husband, too.  A few months ago, I emerged from my chrysalis of recovery and decided to go back to my favorite spot.  Karen was there, of course, with a ready proclamation: “I haven’t seen you in forever! How are you? How are the girls?” We hugged.  She seated me.  I didn’t say much.  As is her way, she would subtly insinuate herself next to me to refill my water glass and ask, “Really, how are you? What’s going on?” I quietly answered, “I’m getting a divorce.  It’s been a rough year.”  She paused and looked at me.  “I’m getting a divorce, too.”  Our eyes met.  I thought I might cry.  She looked like she might cry.  “Okay, okay, we’ll talk later,” she said.

It was the mutual recognition of familiar suffering that evoked that response, I think.

Back to yesterday…

There was a moment when business slowed, and Karen talked to me.  She asked how my current life looked.  How is post-married life? How are the girls? She fears that she will be alone forever, and she’s not sure how she feels about it.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Why is it so hard to meet quality people? How does one go about building a better life when you never expected to be in this position?

I talked to my boyfriend about this last night.  I shared with him all the questions Karen had.  Those were my questions as well when I was still married, and I suspect that questions of that nature are what keep people stuck.  The Great Unknown is scarier than what is known.  No one wants to be alone.  So, they choose the lesser of the two perceived evils–staying in something dysfunctional, abusive, or just plain wrong for them vs. entering into something potentially better but completely foreign.

He responded, “Yeah, we all have criteria defining what we want.  We might want someone with tempered wisdom and humor, but do we actually think about the life experiences and effort one has to endure and take to acquire those characteristics? We have to actually put in the work in our lives and character to become the people we ourselves would want to partner with.”

He is right.  To attract the people and circumstances that you most desire, you have to become that which you want.  If you want a patient partner, then you yourself must become patient.  If you want a good humored partner, then you yourself must become good humored.  If you want a tolerant partner who doesn’t criticize others, then you yourself must become that kind of person.  Why is this true? Well, a patient, tolerant person will not find a critical, impatient, intolerant person attractive nor want to partner with them.  So, if we desire positive attributes in a potential partner or friend but lack those very qualities in ourselves and lives, then how likely are we to actually get what we want? This is why that cliché “Become the change you want” works.  There is truth within it.

There is nothing easy about any of this.  Change is hard.  Our bodies are not wired for change.  Our bodies are wired for homeostasis.  We are designed to maintain the status quo whatever that is, but, in my experience, you cannot achieve a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment without changing.  Change is required.

Okay, okay, you might say, but how do you start? What if too much has to change? What if you are generally unhappy, lonely, sick, and confused?  It’s one thing to say that you need to change, but what does that look like in real life?

I’ll leave abuse out of this discussion, but I will make this comment.  If you are being abused, then make that your priority.  You absolutely must leave any circumstance or relationship that is abusive.  People who abuse are not likely to stop.  Abusive people most often tend to have feelings of entitlement and feel as if they have a right to their behaviors.  There is no cure for entitlement and rarely is it curbed in a therapeutic setting.  It is symptomatic of much larger personality and character issues (Entitlement and Domestic Abuse).

Abuse aside, how can you begin to get traction in life and make real changes that stick? Here is an example from my life.

One small change at a time sticks far better than many changes made too quickly.  Two years ago, I realized that I was consuming far too much sugar daily simply due to putting sugar in my coffee.  It might sound ridiculous, but you don’t know how much coffee I drink.  The caffeine aside, I had to deal with the sugar first.  So, on January 1, 2015 I decided to develop a taste for coffee with no sugar.  By mid-2015, I could drink my coffee sans sugar.  I am very sensitive to bitter tastes which is why it took me so long to grow accustomed to coffee with no sweetener.  I overcompensated for the lack of sugar, however, with half-and-half, but I could drink any coffee without sugar.  In fact, I could no longer drink any kind of fancy coffee drink.  They were all too sweet for my new palate although I still required some kind of milk be it coconut, almond, soy, or dairy.

At the beginning of 2016, I decided to learn to like coffee black.  Blech.  Alas, this was the change I was committed to making.  By the end of 2016 I was drinking my coffee black.  The unexpected side effect of cutting out sugar and milk? I lost 14 pounds in two years.  Just from removing sugar and half-and-half from my coffee! Isn’t that somewhat alarming?

The reason I could sustain these changes were:

  1. They were both small changes.
  2. I could commit to them consistently.
  3. My intention was sincere.
  4. They both blended well into my value system.  I value changes that promote health and well-being.  Plus, I wanted to drink less coffee.  By removing sugar and dairy from my coffee, I now drink less coffee, too.  Frankly, it doesn’t taste as good.

Once you witness a positive result from making a change, you will want to apply yourself to making another positive change.  You begin to see that your efforts produce results.  I started with diet and my social life, and my changes were small and manageable.  Seeing positive results builds momentum and courage which is what enables you to start thinking bigger.  This principle is exactly how you continue to keep making changes and also how you stay the course that you’ve set.

Now? My life is completely different, and it all started with very small, manageable changes that didn’t really seem that applicable to the bigger problems I had at the time.  Cutting out sugar from my coffee in no way seemed to relate to my bad marriage, but it had a direct impact on my ability to view myself as effective in my life.  Why?

As funny as it sounds, I had two friends that always teased me for putting heaps of sugar in my coffee.  When I showed up for a coffee date and put no sugar in my coffee, one of them said, “Oh my gosh, hell has frozen over.  You didn’t put sugar in your coffee! What has happened to you?” I was experiencing change.

We all have something idiosyncratic that others recognize as uniquely “us”.  If we stop doing it, then something really has changed in our lives.  It’s most likely little, and it may not be that beneficial.  Maybe you smoke.  Maybe you’re a social drinker.  Maybe you emotionally eat.  Maybe you watch too much TV or rely too heavily on retail therapy.  Maybe you’re ill-tempered and angry too often, or perhaps you’re judgmental or not so secretly bigoted.  No one is perfect.  We all have areas in need of development.  Pick one thing, reframe it, and decide that you will change it.

In my case, I didn’t say, “I will stop putting sugar in my coffee.”  That would have put my focus on the sugar.  I simply said, “I will learn to like coffee without a sweet taste.”  In this way, my focus was on the coffee. So, for example, if you struggle with becoming angry too quickly, then you would not say, “I want to stop becoming angry so quickly.”  That statement puts your focus on anger.  You would say, “I will develop a more calm and serene character even under pressure.”

Why change the language? Well, people who are angry, for example, do not have “anger problems”.  They have no problem feeling anger.  They have no problem expressing anger.  They do, however, have a lower capacity for peace, self-control, and calm.  So, their focus should be on the latter rather than the former.  I didn’t have a “sugar problem”.  I had no problem consuming sugar.  I had a poorly developed palate and sensitivity to bitter tastes.  I needed to increase my capacity for consuming and enjoying bitter tastes, and I did.  I now no longer enjoy milk chocolate as much as I did and even prefer very dark chocolate.  I used to hate dark chocolate.  Isn’t that funny?

Small, manageable changes and a change in focus.

That’s how you set your foot on the path of meaningful change.



16 Comments on “Big Changes Start with Small Ones

  1. I find it hard to give myself credit for small things. I also find it hard to give myself credit for things that don’t affect other people well. I tend to discount all the acceptable things in light of all failures.

    It’s not so much that I can’t see how and why that is wrong. It’s just an incredibly powerful reflex.

      • I was not clear above. I find it hard to give myself credit for doing well, even when others benefit.

        My parents were consistently emotionally abusive. My wife of over 25 years as well (different style, but has truly crushed me). Still not out for several reasons, not least of which is this “stuckness” that I seem to be unable to combat.

        Your post makes a lot of sense to me… I just seem to sabotage myself. It’s a catch-22. Need some confidence to get out and heal, but need to get out and heal to grow confidence.

        • Is there a particular “flavor” to your stuckness? Is there one area where you are the most stuck? Like, could you start to get unstuck if you could get a handle on that ONE thing? If you could get momentum on that ONE thing could you see yourself getting some traction?

  2. I’d like to add something that I think you in particular will find interesting.

    I am still a believer in Yeshua, but I think that it was never his intention to “start a new religion”. I think he intended anyone who loves God to show it by way of walking in His ways. Specifically, following Torah.

    This is a BIG change. I don’t think God expects me to be an expert overnight. Still, this is a change that brings even more mountains of contempt from people in the Christian circles that are still close to my family. Becoming a “judaizer” as they put it, is worse than being an emotionally abusive wife, that’s certain.

    Fortunately my kids (ages 12 – 22) respect my grasp of scripture, and don’t give me grief. And, I am extremely grateful for that .

      • That term hasn’t been flung at me directly, yet. I have been in this community for a long time, though. My 14 y.o. son has already been put in a position of arguing with his AWANA group leader about not eating pork. (AWANA is a christian kids’ club).

        The bottom line is that the devotion to God’s law equals the rejection of God’s grace, in their eyes. It is considered a contemptuous response to the Gospel, rather than a loving response to God. The term “judaizer” is a term you would hear whispered about someone like that, who has shown that they never really received Jesus in the first place. The fear is that you’ll infect others to become “legalists” (those who believe that following the law buys salvation – which I don’t even believe).

        It’s an ugly part of Christian culture that most Christians don’t analyze or have awareness of. In practice, you can do just about anything you want with the Old Testament, but DON’T follow the law, and DON’T teach others to do that… better to break God’s law and just let Jesus’ blood cover you.

        • Oh, I’m familiar with the concept. The concept of The Inquisition began because of trying to find and root out the judaizers, and my family, as I’ve described on my blog, were victims of the Spanish Inquisition. It’s the reason we hid our Jewishness for centuries and practiced Christianity publicly while practicing Judaism privately/secretly (look up Crypto-Jews, conversos, or Marranos online for more info about that).

          I grew up in hardline Evangelical communities. I’m all too aware of the attitudes. I am just shocked that ‘judaizing’ is being used because that is a charged term–it being tied to the Inquisition and such.

          I guess what I can say about your situation, if you’ll permit me, is:

          1. The historical Jesus was born, lived, and died a Jewish man. He adhered to the teaching of the Torah. Furthermore, he was more conservative in his interpretation of Torah than even the Pharisees were. The Pharisees were a sect of Jews during second-temple times as were the Zealots, the Essenes, and the Sadducees. The Pharisees were not evil and legalistic as most Christians have been taught. In fact, most of what Jesus taught was in line with the Pharisees. For example, they believed in and taught resurrection. The Sadducees were the literalists of the sects who did not believe in resurrection. The Essenes were the ascetics with apocalyptic tendencies. Jesus shared some of their views as well. The Zealots were the the Jews who violently opposed Roman oppression and killed Jews who collaborated with them (like Jewish tax collectors).

          2. Because of the Septuagint translation (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT), there are errors in the New Testament one of which is the idea of “the Law”. That is because there was no good Greek understanding of what the Torah is. Torah does not mean “law”. It means ‘teaching’. The Torah is actually much more like a constitution which acts as a parameter guiding the Jews on how to live, interact with God and their world and each other. Constitutions are also amended. Those amendments and interpretations are the Talmud. The entire understanding of the Torah being “the Law” is based on a poor Greek translation as well as Christian apologetic writing in the New Testament.

          3. Jesus, the man, never said that he came to do away with Torah. He said that he was a man who interpreted it. Also, Jesus’ audience was a Jewish audience. He rarely interacted with non-Jews. That is a hard concept for Christians to grasp. So, all of Jesus’ parables and weird statements were aimed at second-temple Jews. Not 21st c. Christian gentiles or even second-temple times gentiles. You cannot take anything he said out of the context of that.

          4. Choosing to follow the Noachide laws (which it sounds like you are doing) is actually prescribed by the Old Testament for the entirety of mankind. There is an odd Christian notion that the death of Jesus covers everything. Here is where I am going to explain something so hang on:

          Animal sacrifice (blood offering/sacrifice) was never necessary for the forgiveness of sins in Judaism. It was the least effective and necessary means of forgiveness/atonement. When it was offered, a blood sacrifice was ONLY used to atone for sins that one committed unknowingly. That’s it. So, if I had hurt someone unknowingly or done something wrong that I didn’t know about, then a blood sacrifice would cover that. EVERY OTHER SIN had to be confessed directly and then acts of charity done to atone for them. So, atonement was granted by performing real acts of amendment and restitution either for the person wronged or within the community to better it as a whole. Look up ‘tikkun olam’ for elaboration on this.

          This is one (of many) reason that Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. It is because a blood sacrifice never effectively atoned for much of anything in Judaism.

          So, the current situation in Christendom then is that people can treat anyone the way they want and claim “grace”. No. If we are operating under Jewish principles of atonement (which we are), then you are not because a blood sacrifice does NOT cover that. You simply cannot behave badly, treat animals badly (look at the Noachide laws), be a total asshole to your neighbor, and choose not to develop your character because Jesus will cover you. He won’t. That is NOT how that worked. You are accountable for ALL of it, and none of that is “under the blood”. It’s…all….on….you. And confession and acts of amendment and restitution are what atone. This isn’t legalism. It’s written right in the NT as well, and that’s shocking. No one wants to hear that.

          That being said, Paul and Barnabus broke ties over how far a non-Jew had to go in order to be a part of the new Jewish sect which following the teachings of Jesus was. The teachings of Jesus were called “The Way”, and it was a Jewish sect. The teachings of the Pharisees and The Way were the only two sects to survive the Roman oppression. The teachings of the Pharisees became rabbinic Judaism and Paul, a Pharisee himself, encountered the teachings of The Way and found something transformational in it. He became the founder and promoter of it. He and Barnabus had a falling out over circumcision. Paul wanted to open up theirJewish community to gentiles without their being Jewish in any way, and most of the Jews fought this. Peter was one of them. Spreading monotheism was one thing, but telling gentiles that they could be Jewish without the rites of passage of being Jewish didn’t make sense. So, Paul founded gentile churches and had to be clear about what pertained to them…and what did not, and, thus, originated the lines like “Be circumcised of heart.”

          It is not judaizing to look at the Torah afresh, and I don’t think that Jesus came to start a new religion either. For Jesus, monotheism was not a new religion. Spreading monotheism to a polytheistic culture, OTOH, would certainly have been new. Making it palatable? This is when you get Jesus the myth rather than Jesus the man and an inordinate amount of anti-Semitic writings begin to emerge. You can’t very well spread monotheism to your oppressors by telling them that they are terrible people. You have to make them the victors in that narrative. (read the book Kosher Jesus ) And this is where you get Pilate the Hero who tried to save Jesus from the crowd of blood thirsty, murderous Jews never mind that the historical Pontius Pilate was one of the most ruthless governors of Judea and organized a massacre of the Samaritans during their uprising.

          In the end, I think that as long as your faith practice enhances your understanding and love of God and allows you to experience God in more meaningful ways, then no one can criticize you. That is how Jews view the Torah. It is beloved. If your not eating pork brings you closer to God, then don’t eat it. If meditating on the Torah enlivens your spirit, then do it.

          And, if you’re up for it, the next person that calls you a judaizer should be warned that the Spanish Inquisition began with that very word. They should stop it lest they walk in the footsteps of Torquemada.

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