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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Power of Small

Making Tiny Changes When Everything Feels Too Much

Aisling Leonard-Curtin and Dr. Trish Leonard-Curtin

St. Martin's Essentials



A thousand-mile journey begins with a single step.—Lao Tzu

Have you noticed that every second person you’re speaking to these days seems overwhelmed? If you’re not overwhelmed in your work life, chances are you’re overwhelmed in your personal life. Never before have we been expected to be on in so many different contexts, and on an ongoing basis. It can feel like the goalposts are always shifting. We’re being asked to do and be more and more with less and less time, energy and resources.

There are small, yet effective, tools and strategies that can help you break down any overwhelming situation and decipher what would be the most effective action you can take at this particular moment in time—and that is what the journey of this book is about.

We are psychologists who also happen to be a married couple. Our collective aim in writing this book is to teach you the smallest skills, which will result in the maximum positive impact on your life.

We have both experienced mental health difficulties and overwhelming life challenges. Our training has equipped us with the tools to shape our knowledge and experience into the concepts enshrined in the Power of Small. But we do not approach this solely from the position of professional qualification and experience. We have brought to the development of the Small concept our joint lived experience. Where useful, we will bring elements of these personal experiences to bear during the course of the book—both their detail, and how we have been helped by the application of the Power of Small to situations we have faced.

We believe that our past experiences coupled with our psychological knowledge of evidence-based compassionate strategies will allow us to give you a small skills kit full of small, yet powerful, tools for even the most difficult of life circumstances.

What the Power of Small Is, and How It Works

People who come to see either of us individually or to attend one of our groups, generally are not in a great place in their lives. They are often burdened by a long list of all the things they believe are wrong with them, others and the world. Of course, they have an equally long list of what they want us to help fix.

When someone comes to see us in a state of distress, we can more often than not tell where the central problem lies pretty quickly. Through asking a few key questions, we can pinpoint what areas of their life are on track and which ones have gone off course.

Big Promises, Big Disappointment

A client called Michelle comes to see us. She is unhappy in her relationships, and is suffering both physically and psychologically. She absolutely hates her job and can’t even remember the last time she had spontaneous fun. Much of the time, her life barely feels worth getting out of bed for.

Michelle wants big changes, and she wants them fast. However, if she gets overly caught up in trying to change everything all at once, she is likely to find herself paralyzed from simply moving forward at all.

Michelle has gotten caught up in this trap of big promises, big disappointment many times before. She has spent thousands of dollars and countless hours investing in the latest quick-fix solutions. She invariably starts off all guns blazing, but then quickly crashes and burns. She has gradually become more and more disillusioned, and over time has concluded that her life is unchangeable.

Michelle has been disempowered by always thinking too big. Our job is to help her change her life by thinking in small, incremental steps—and this way laying the foundations and building blocks for sustainable, long-lasting change.

The most effective way to achieve this is to break everything down into small, manageable steps, rather than resorting to quick fixes. Quick fixes may lead to short-term gain, but in the long-run they result in continued pain.

This book is all about giving you the skills to break everything down into small steps, in a manageable way. This may involve you sometimes experiencing short-term pain. However, from our experience, and the experiences of those we have worked with, the long-term gain will be more than worth it. Having said that, it is important to add that the small journey often contains twists and turns, and requires an ongoing commitment to the principles in order to achieve the maximum impact.

In this book, we’ve broken down the many life-saving and life-enhancing skills we have learned into small, easily digestible chunks, which you can use one at a time, slowly building momentum to achieve the big changes you want in a gradual, yet sustainable, way.

We give clients like Michelle just one thing to do after each session that will take five to ten minutes per day. There may be supplementary reading or exercises we recommend, but the core action that will help Michelle the most is so short and manageable that she will likely engage in it, and it will lead to positive change.

Similarly, in this book, we will be recommending small actions at the end of each chapter.

The book is divided into four parts. Part One will help you identify your comfort zone, and also the actions you take—actions that are motivated by a desire to move toward a more fulfilling life, and those that are motivated by a desire to control or avoid unwanted experiences. Part Two will help you identify what needs to change in order to live a more purposeful and meaningful life.

We will provide you with a Power of Small toolkit in Part Three. Here we will share key skills and strategies to show you how to change your current unhelpful responses to being overwhelmed. In Part Four, we will give you some small takeaways—nuggets of wisdom, tips and tools to maintain the gains you will have achieved through utilizing the Power of Small.

By the end of the book, if you engage in this process by following through one tiny action at a time, you will have a kit full of effective tools that can be applied to even the most overwhelming of situations. This is a kit that you can come back to whenever life feels like it’s too much. You’ll be able to choose which skills you need to refresh to best enable you to make tiny but powerful changes.


Your Small Steps Diary

Get a journal and on the first page write, “My Small Steps Diary.” This is where you will record your Power of Small journey as you work through this book. You can purchase a notebook that is really appealing to you, or if that feels like too much, you can maybe use a copybook or journal you already own.

Your small steps diary will be something you can come back to whenever you feel overwhelmed. If you engage with this book fully, your diary will contain a great number of personalized skills, tools and strategies that you will have developed bit by bit.

Copyright © 2020 by Aisling Leonard-Curtin and Dr. Trish Leonard-Curtin.