I was teaching a class on spiritual growth when a student shared her personal weight loss story. Though she now looked fit and radiant, for years she’d been unsuccessful in her attempts to slim down.
In the past she’d engaged in crash diets, breaking them every time. Then she changed her perspective. It was no longer about numbers on a scale, an unrealistic time limit, or cutting out certain food groups altogether but rather about overall healthy living. She slowly made changes until her whole body was transformed.
She attributed her success to her “mini” decisions. For example, choosing movement instead of remaining sedentary or opting for healthy food instead of curling up on the couch with ice cream. Each small moment built upon the other; her small choices are what led to big changes.
Her success story contains the secret to all types of growth – physical, spiritual, financial, you name it. The small decisions we make in life are the ones that create the biggest change.
Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller shared the following insight: During World War II, Jews would knock on the doors of gentiles, begging their neighbors to hide them. In each case the non-Jew saw a trembling Jewish family and had moments to decide whether or not to guard them. Actually, that enormous decision wasn’t made right then, but rather years prior.
The huge decisions we make are determined by all the small positive choices we make throughout our life – choices that are so small we don’t really think of them as significant to our growth. Every time non-Jews in Europe gave a seat on a bus to a pregnant woman or smiled at a stranger, they strengthened their kindness trait. These seemingly inauspicious acts flexed and built their spiritual kindness muscles so that by the time a Jewish family came knocking on their door, they didn’t vacillate.
In fact, after the war, when these righteous gentiles were interviewed with questions such as “How did you summon the strength to hide Jewish families?” they replied as though the answer should have been obvious: “How could we not?”
The pivotal decision to hide Jews, at great risk to themselves and their own families, was formed by lifelong smaller decisions that created the type of person who could say yes to such a request.
So too we slowly transform ourselves through the choices we make in our daily lives.
There are treadmills that can calculate the climbing distance of the person exercising. One such treadmill has a screen that displays images of various landmarks. Based on your incline and speed, it determines how many feet you have “climbed” in relation to the building. Surprisingly, a person can be halfway up the Statue of Liberty or even the Eiffel Tower quite quickly. In life, the key to significant growth is to create a “small incline” (small choices) for ourselves.
The operative word is small; otherwise we don’t end up following through. Putting an incline at 7+ on that treadmill will definitely create an intense exercise experience. Yet every step can feel treacherous and contribute to an abbreviated workout. I once noticed that when the incline was on .5, I was still able to reach significant heights. I hardly felt the difference in intensity and could continue walking for long stretches while still reaching vertical heights.
When people try to take on too much, they often lose it all. My toddler loves to play with Magna-Tiles (a child’s toy) and is never satisfied with the number of tiles she has. When she reaches for more, she inevitably drops what was originally in her hand. So too with spiritual growth: when you take too much upon yourself, it’s easy to lose it all.