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SMALL CHANGE: It's the Little Things in Life That Make a BIG Difference!
Susan and Larry Terkel
Tarcher/Penguin
Self-Help
ISBN: 1585423599

From its first line to its last, this book stays on message: Making small changes, one at a time, over a period of time, adds up. Just as stray coins tossed into a jar each evening gradually build into an amount you can use to actually purchase something, small changes --- of any kind --- can make a big difference.

Hold on. Before you click away and join the collective "Spare-me-from-yet-another-book-on-self-improvement" groan, give me just one more moment of your time. This book is different. The suggestions given are not only practical but are extremely doable. And, believe it or not, it's fun to read.

SMALL CHANGE: It's the Little Things in Life That Make a BIG Difference! is written in a light, breezy style that doesn't take itself too seriously. (Its lime-green cover design, with its non-fussy font and two tiny daisies, reminds me of a Volkswagen Beetle). It's based on three basic principles:

Small changes are easier than big makeovers. (Add just one private dinner each week with your mate to your schedule. One and a half hours a week equal 78 hours of focused time a year. Three hours a week equal 156 hours a year, which is nearly the equivalent of a six-day vacation with someone.)

Small changes add up to big benefits over time. (Smile just a little each day and watch your stress levels decrease, your immune system grow stronger, and your relationships prosper.)

Small changes are more consistent with human nature and evolution. (After all, in the end, the tortoise did beat the hare.)

It's not brain surgery, but that's exactly the message the authors, Susan and Larry Terkel, are trying to get across: Sustainable self-improvement is not brain surgery. It's easy, if broken into smaller chunks.

Some examples:

Consciously say "I love you" at the end of every phone conversation with a life partner and it will reinforce the message for both of you, adding tens of thousands of endearments over the course of a relationship.

Walk to the bus stop, or pick a parking spot that is further away from the grocery store entrance. In one year, you will walk more than 150 miles more than if you had not changed your routine. This is the equivalent of walking from New York to Philadelphia and back each year.

Replace a soft drink with water at just one meal --- say, lunch. With this small change, you will drink approximately forty more gallons of water per year, while not drinking forty gallons of carbonated sugar. You will also save up to fifty-thousand calories and as much as five hundred dollars.

Read a few pages of a book each day. In a year, you may only complete two to three books, but over the years, you will have read dozens.

Susan and Larry Terkel, who have been married for over 30 years and have raised three children together, don't come across as obnoxious know-it-alls, but rather their writing lets you into their lives, as though you're sitting at their kitchen table, chatting and drinking tea. The Terkels seem to have no qualms telling readers the things they struggle with, their own advice they haven't taken, and current changes they started, stopped and are now back to trying again. Their bottom line: Be easy on yourself. Don't challenge yourself to be a "new you" overnight. Tackle one change at a time. The Terkels know that not every attempt at change is going to stick. It took Susan three attempts for flossing to become a daily habit. This month, she told me she's trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.

My favorite section is titled "The Secret to Showing You Care."

"Have we got a gem for you --- a tiny three-letter word that is easy to overlook yet describes one of the most powerful ways you can show you care about someone else. This word is the secret to making a good first impression and the secret to maintaining close relationships. It adds spark to casual encounters and deepens intimate interludes.

What do we think is one of the most useful words in the entire lexicon? Ask. Yes, ask.

The reason ask is so powerful is that to ask is to connect, to show how much you respect the other person, to show that you care. This doesn't have to be a deep connection --- this can be as brief as, 'Are you having a good day?' Or 'How are you doing today?' But when you really mean it, they will take notice."

Why is this my favorite part? True confession time. As I was reading this part, I wondered if this was something I could change in my own home. As a journalist, I spend most of my workdays interviewing and asking others questions, writing down notes as I listen carefully to their answers before asking another question. That's my job. But I realized as I was reading this chapter that I was doing the same thing when I got home --- asking my sons and husband questions and then carefully listening to their answers before asking them another follow-up. The conversation flowed one way, with no questions about my day or "how you doing, mom?" being offered. That's fine for work but not at home, where my husband and I are in charge of raising boys who will grow into men. Men, I hope, who will be interested in others enough to ask questions and care about their answers. Men, I pray, who will become husbands who are interested enough in the minutia of their wife's and children's daily lives to ask questions and thoughtfully listen to their answers.

So I brought this book to our family dinner and read this section out loud. After reading, I posed: Do we do a good job asking one another questions and listening to the answers? They all answered, "No." The solution? Every night, let's take turns asking one another questions --- starting tomorrow night.

The next afternoon, after getting off the bus and into my car, my youngest son, Robby, looked at me and asked, "How was your day mom?"

It wasn't dinnertime, but hey, I smiled big --- very big --- before responding as he thoughtfully listened. I could hardly wait for dinner.

Small changes. Big differences. I think I'll tackle flossing next.

Works for me.

   --- Reviewed by Diana Keough

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