Over Christmas I acquired an electric toothbrush. I had always wanted one but considered them an indulgence; however when you are given a long vibrating thing with bristles on the end there’s only one thing to be done and that is to use it. So having overcome my initial and quite irrational fear that once inside my mouth it would go berserk and get entangled in my fillings, I’m enjoying it. The vibrating circular action makes brushing much easier and pleasanter, it leaves the teeth feeling smooth and polished and even removes stubborn stains from dentures (yes I confess to having the odd denture.) On the other hand if you take it out of your mouth without switching it off it sprays everywhere like an overturned garden sprinkler, coating surfaces with a mixture of water and fluoride (we now have very strong bathroom tiles.) But no matter: this thing that I do three times a day is now much pleasanter than it was.
And there’s the thing: small things make a big difference. No matter what it is- getting the leaky toilet fixed (no more emptying watering cans) finding some plastic glazing on freecycle and putting it on the windows of the futility room (no more condensation) or getting a new shower curtain for the bathroom and not having to look at the manky old one – small things can make a big difference to your life. When trying to lose weight, for example, small daily changes can make a big difference: now that I’m older I tend to put on weight more so instead of three meals I eat two normal and one very light meal. Breakfast could be fruit and yoghurt, or lunch could be a salad; occasionally instead of an evening meal I might have a sandwich. And so on. This keeps my weight stable and gives me a means of losing weight if I’ve overeaten, say over Christmas.
Of course desperate situations demand desperate remedies: if you’re in imminent danger of a fatal heart attack you may need to make some big changes. But let us consider the 80/20 rule: you can apply this to all sorts of situations and it suggests that 80% of problems are caused by 20% of our activities. So let’s say you’re in danger of a heart attack – rather than trying to change everything about your life you could identify the 20% of activities which are the most harmful and eliminate those. Like, for example, giving up meat or alcohol. These may seem much greater than 20% because they are emotionally and mentally a huge part of our lives, something that defines us (‘I am a meat-eater’, ‘life without alcohol would be terribly dull’) but looked at in terms of how much time we spend doing them it may not add up to more than 20%.
Or you could turn that around and say that, of all the things you might do to change your life there is a crucial 20% which will make the biggest difference; and it may not even be the most strenuous 20%.
One thing is clear though: you’ve got to want the solution more than you want the thing that’s causing the problem. Just like I wanted that toothbrush…