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The Big Impact of Thinking Small

“Do small things with great love.” -Mother Teresa

“Small things often” is a Gottman Institute motto, and I find it pretty reassuring. Essentially, the little stuff we do matters, often a great deal more than the big trips and expensive gifts we typically associate with love and romance. Kind of like showing up to work each day matters a lot more than showing up to work once a month with donuts. [We would all love the donuts, of course, but we’d also be wondering where the heck our coworker had been the past 3 weeks. The donuts are a delicious, albeit insufficient, peace offering after that kind of prolonged absence]. 


Dr. Scott Stanley and his colleagues came up with a small things challenge of sorts more than a decade ago (see Scott’s blog here). Can you think of 1-2 things your partner would enjoy (or appreciate) that you normally wouldn’t bother to do? Come up with something you can do pretty often that won’t be a huge hardship for you. The goal is for whatever it is to be relatively easy to incorporate so it actually sticks. If it requires too much planning, time, or money, it will go by the way of most New Year’s Resolutions and last a few days, or weeks, at best. Think small sacrifice, big impact.  

For us, I thought of back rubs. I’m not really into them, but my husband loves them. Over the past few weeks, I’ve made more of an effort to rub his shoulders after dinner for a minute or two on my way to start the dishes or put the salad dressing back in the fridge. It’s a very small gesture. It takes almost no time or effort, but I just wasn’t doing it before. Literally every time I do it now, he is beyond appreciative and happy about it. For you, maybe it’s brewing the morning coffee or sending a mid-day check-in text. If you’re a parent, similar principles apply for our kids. What little ways can we show extra care or attentiveness or support without having to restructure our entire lives? Can you build in 5 more minutes for bath time play or add an extra bedtime story to your routine? How about a silly dance in the kitchen together while you make dinner each night?


Dr. Angela Duckworth studies grit, which she boils down to passion + perseverance. In relationships, passion gets our attention. But lasting love demands a certain steadiness too, the part that digs in and takes root. Relationships are solidified in the crucial moments of connection and effort when we show up for each other, again and again. “True love” is just loving without ceasing. It’s not flashy or romantic most days, but it’s undeniably present – love in action. 

So, luckily for most of us, love doesn’t have to be over the top, novel, and extravagant to count. While beautiful homes and white picket fences catch our attention, they’d fall to pieces without the nails. Never underestimate the power of small things.  

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