Do you believe you’re too small to change the world? You have much more potential than you realize! Take a look at these 11 little (but important!) things that you can do to make a difference today.

1. Smile. 

It’s amazing how much a smile can make a difference in any interactions — that’s why we are told to smile before we pick up the phone! When we dig way down, we find that everyone just wants to be happy, and a smile shows just that. Smiles are contagious. What better way to spread happiness to tons of people? It doesn’t cost any money, and it’s not touchy like a hug. So, flash those pearly whites to whoever crosses your path. And if you’re just not feeling it, you know what they say: “Fake it ’til you make it!” If you smile long enough, you’ll find you can’t help feeling great.  (And to take this even farther — laugh!)

2. Listen.

This is such a biggie in this fast-paced, I-don’t-have-time-for-that world. We lend people our “ear,” but are we really listening? To be a good listener, put all of your to-do’s and opinions on the back burner and still your mind. When the person is done, respond with some of what they said, so they know that you were giving your full attention. Not so easy! But it can make a huge difference. A lot of people just want to be heard — we all have a story to tell, and we all want to feel understood. This one may take a few minutes of your time, but if you can make the effort, you can make a world of difference to another individual.

3. Pick up after yourself.

A clear space keeps a mind clear and just looks and feels better. Have a regular place for things and keep the table and counter surfaces clear. Keep it clean outside, too. Keep your litter in the garbage can, and pick up that water bottle or soda can that someone else left behind. Know that you’re beautifying the space for yourself and others, showing that you care about your environment. How about when you’re out to eat? My family likes to stack up the menus for the waiter so they don’t have to reach around everybody at the table. We’ll sometimes stack up and pass over our plates, too. It shows you care and leaves the wait staff more time to take good care of you and the other customers. And when you’re visiting? Clean up when you’re hanging out or at a party. Offer to help take things down or clean up, and maybe even do the dishes! Work gets done faster with many hands, and an easier cleanup might encourage a host to throw another party!

4. Open the door for someone.

I think it’s so sweet when there’s a double-door situation, and the person going out and the person going in are both holding the door for each other! This is a wonderful, easy way to make someone feel special. Take that extra minute and that little bit of humility and let the other person go through first. It doesn’t matter if the person is male or female, young or old, in a wheelchair or on crutches, or toting a few kids in a stroller — it’s a wonderful gesture for any person.

5. Pay for the person behind you.

This one does involve a little cash, but it’s a wonderful, appreciated surprise when you are able to do it. And it can be as small as a toll or cup of coffee. Think about all the times you’ve had to stand or sit in line. Now think about how much you’ve hated it! Imagine finally getting to the front and then finding out someone has taken care of you. This is a powerful way to start a chain of “paying it forward.”

6. Say please and thank you (and mean it!).

I think this is pretty self-explanatory, but it can’t be over-applied. However, it’s sometimes overlooked in service situations and in giving commands. Even if someone is serving you as part of a job, say, “Thank you.” When you are directing someone, say, “Please.” I found as a teacher that I had much better rapport with my students when I said: “Johnny, please close the door,” rather than “Johnny, close the door.” Thank the waiter for pouring you more water and for clearing your plate. Thank the cashier for handing you your bags and receipt. Yes, they have to do it –  but it’s all the better when people appreciate it.

7. Learn names and use them.

“Say my name.” They say everyone’s favorite word is their own name. When you use a person’s name you show that 1) you listened, 2) you cared enough to remember, and 3) you recognize that person’s individuality. Of course, you wouldn’t use it in every sentence, but do use it in your greeting, and throw it in here and there — then, watch the other person light up like a firefly!

8. Give encouragement.

One of my favorite teacher gifts is a small plaque that has this quote: “The finest gift you can give anyone is encouragement. Almost no one gets the encouragement they need to grow to their full potential. If everyone received the encouragement they needed to grow, the genius in most everyone would blossom and the world would prosper beyond its wildest dreams.” How powerful encouragement is! Encouragement can be anything from a simple observational compliment, to a “You can do it!” to an “I believe in you,” and even an “I love you.” The best leaders use more encouragement than criticism. The best parents and educators teach through positive reinforcement, as well as negative. And the very best encouragement we can give is sharing our unconditional acceptance and love of an individual, through all time and all circumstances.

9. Take time for yourself.

This may sound more greedy than giving, but it’s not. Think about those times when you’ve just needed to recharge, but instead you chose to push on. You spent that extra hour. You did that extra event. How did you feel afterward? Were you really giving your full attention to that activity, to those people? This is why good businesses give their employees extra breaks and extra vacation time. We are more productive when we have a chance to relax and just be for a bit. Give yourself your full attention for a while so that you can be fully present (or attentive) for others later. Read your favorite book, take a nice shower or bath, meditate, go for that walk, or take yourself out — whatever takes your fancy! Do whatever you need to do to remind yourself that you are also important. It’s not selfish — it’s actually selfish not to!

10. Be a giver and a receiver.

First — simply put — when you can give, give. The world has a circular ebb and flow, and generosity has a way of coming back to you. This doesn’t just mean money; all of the above suggestions are different ways of giving. Holding back stops the flow. Giving starts it up again.

Just as important — receive! If you don’t accept gifts from others, you are also cutting off the stream. Every giver needs a receiver, or they can’t be a giver. If someone smiles at you, take that in and smile back! Give someone a chance to listen to you, to serve you, to open the door for you, to pay for you, to thank you, and to encourage you. Let yourself feel great for the attention, and let that other person enjoy being able to do something for another.

11. Be yourself.

The greatest gift you can give to the world is being your true self. We get so lost in who others and society want us to be that we forget who we really are. Your presence is a gift, and you are here on this earth for a reason. Invest in discovering who you really are — what do you think, what are your passions, what excites you? And then share with the world. Giving yourself permission to be yourself allows others to do the same. Imagine how much easier and more pleasant life would would be if people would spend less time forcing themselves to be what others wanted them to be and could spend more time being who they actually are, doing what they really want to do? It can start with you!

Are you ready to make a difference? Start today!

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