There is an inspiring and sentimental story I’ve heard and read. It’s commonly used by speakers and preachers, and I’m not sure it’s completely true. But I’m going to tell it anyway.
The Story of Annie
In the late 1870’s, a young girl, known to most as “Annie” was living in an almshouse, which also served as a mental hospital. Annie was half-blind, subject to fits of anger and was being kept in a cage to keep her from harming herself and others. She could also take notions of ignoring the presence of others and refusing to communicate or follow any instructions. She lived in dark and filth.
An old nurse had a fondness for Annie. She saw some spark in her. And she knew how hard life had been for her. So she took to visiting Annie each day at lunch. She’d talk to Annie about mundane things, just the usual makings of conversation. Annie would apparently ignore her. Undeterred, she came back day after day.
One day, the old nurse left a brownie outside the girl’s cage. The girl ignored it, but when the nurse came back the next day, the brownie was gone. So, each day after that, the nurse would leave a brownie.
After a while, the staff started noticing changes in Annie. Within a few months, Annie was released from the cage a changed person. More communicative, cooperative, in control.
What is particularly poignant about the story is that the girl in question was Anne Sullivan, who went on to become a teacher of the blind and to mentor Helen Keller.
The Point of the Story: Small Actions Lead to Big Changes
This story has been used to make a variety of points. The point I want to use it for is what it says about change.
I’m writing this article just after the turn of the new year. This is a time when many have made great promises about the great changes they have resolved to make during the coming year. (Most of the resolutions are about weight loss, but that’s a different story.)
Change doesn’t happen in huge chunks. Annie wouldn’t have been better changed by a plate of a dozen brownies once a week. Big change happens with consistent repetitions of small changes. And the right changes. At the right time.
By “small changes,” I mean “small actions.” Change is an active process.
Also remember that the brownies were not the only small changes. Everything started with the nurse consistently, patiently using her lunch time to visit Annie. Giving the girl evidence of being cared for every single day.
Make Small, Action-Oriented Resolutions and You’ll Be Successful
If you want to make changes in yourself, start with some small activity that, combined with other activities, will eventually lead to the larger change.
If you want, for example, to lose weight, you might start by finding out how many calories you eat each day and limit yourself to 200 calories less. So, if you eat 2500 calories a day now, you could just limit yourself to 2300 until you are comfortable with that.
As another example, if you want to be a good time manager, but you live pretty chaotically now, you could start by learning to write down one — just one — item you want to remember to do each day. You wouldn’t start by trying to keep a full-fledged to do list.
Change is hard. You don’t start from being like a caged animal and jump right to going to graduate school.
You’re probably eager to get on with your New Year’s resolutions. Just remember to start from where you are now.