The Small Change That Made A Big Difference In My Well-Being, According to 12 Dads
Big improvements can come from small starts.
Change is so often spoken about in big, bold terms. I want to change the way I eat. I want to change the way I interact with my kids. I want to change my mindset. Such mission statements make sense and are valuable waypoints, helping us to set new priorities as we grow.
But even the boldest change comes down to small behavioral shifts. And it’s those smaller, more attainable steps that lead to the most meaningful progress — especially when you’re a busy parent. And while breaking down a big goal into manageable parts makes progress more achievable, there’s also nothing wrong with setting — and sticking to — a very small change as the entire goal.
As the men below can attest, big improvements can come from incorporating the smallest actions into existing routines, such as promising to greet your kids through the doorbell camera every day or employing a sand timer to set aside some meditative time in the morning. Here’s what they told us.
1. I Stopped Watching The News
“As a dad, finding personal time is a rare luxury, and I've become selective about how I spend it. One change that has had a major impact on my life is my decision to stop watching the news. This might make me sound like an ‘uncultured swine’ who wants nothing to do with the world. However, I've realized the impact that always following the news had on my mental state. It’s no secret at this point that the news often focuses on negative events. They want more views by painting a bleak picture of the world. You don’t realize how bad of an impact it can have on your mental state. For example, I wasn't aware of a recent stabbing in my neighborhood until a friend of mine shared it. While it's good to be informed about local incidents, that’s not the same as being bombarded with every grim detail. Don’t get me wrong, I'm still informed. But I'm no longer drowning in a sea of negativity, and I’ve become more present with my family, less stressed, and more hopeful.” – Tim, 31, New York
2. I Begin My Day With An Old-School Shave
“By old-school, I mean a shaving brush, shaving soap, and a single blade razor. Electric razors and multi-blade cartridges are faster, easier, but a single blade and a shaving mug mean I have to take five minutes to lather up, brush the freshly made foam on my face, and shave in a more measured way. There is no multi-tasking or rushing this. I find it more mindful than most meditations or mindfulness exercises.” – Daniel, 28, Minnesota
3. I Manually Sharpen Pencils In The Morning
“As a single dad with a busy job, there's one small change I've incorporated into my daily routine that's worked wonders in keeping my sanity. Every morning before firing up my computer, I sharpen a number of pencils manually. Sounds odd, right? But it's surprisingly effective, like a mini-meditation session focused on a seemingly mundane task. It’s pretty simple. I find a quiet space free of distractions, and grab some dull or broken pencils. Then I use a manual sharpener, and focus on the sound and sensation of sharpening. I’ve found that, as each pencil points up, so does my ability to tackle the day's tasks. I started this six months ago and it’s been my cup of calm ever since.” – Alex, 50s, Netherlands
“The small, specific change I made that's significantly boosted my well-being has been using a five-minute sand timer for my morning coffee ritual. Before diving into my day, I flip the timer when brewing my coffee. During those 5 minutes, I just sit and watched the grains of sand trickle down. This helps me mentally prepare for the day ahead, ensuring I start with a clear, calm mind. It's a tiny action, but it's profoundly impacted my daily mood and stress levels.” – Steven, 38, Texas
5. I Use A Light Therapy Box
“I use it for 15 minutes, twice a day. During the winter months, I struggle with seasonal affective disorder and my mood shifts with the shorter, darker days. My mind tends to drift into different levels of sadness. Using my light box while I’m working has given me extra support to push through the day, increased energy, and a positive mindset. This energy has also translated to my life at home and helped strengthen the relationship with my family. I’ve stopped reacting out of anger and frustration, and have learned to be more patient and calm.” – Damien, 49, New York
6. I Greet My Kids Through Our Doorbell
“Because I work so much, I am always worried that I can't spend enough time with my kids. So every day when the kids get dropped off home, I make a point to get on my Ring doorbell camera and greet them at the door. I tell a joke or two and remind the kids that I love them and am very proud to be their father, and that way when I finally see them at night just as dinner is being served, it's only been a couple hours since we last spoke. Taking time to talk to my kids from the office has helped me to feel more connected with my family, even when I can't always be there when they're home from school.” – Yosi, 43, California
7. I Put Up A Fence
“I work from home, with a 2-year-old daughter who is full of energy. When I needed to get work done, I was struggling to watch her and be productive at the same time. So, I put up a fence around my desk area. It turned out that doing this helped her to know when I was working, and when I was playing. Before I did this, she was constantly at my side trying to help type on my keyboard. It was cute, but obviously distracting. After putting the fence up, she now plays happily for hours at a time right next to my work area. It’s been a huge stress reliever for me, and still allows me to be near my daughter.” – Jeremy, 33, Florida
“Whenever I’m watching football or something on YouTube with my son and a commercial shows up, I do 15 to 20 air squats. The next commercial, I’ll do 10 pushups. It’s not that many. But during a football game or an animal facts video on YouTube, it adds up. I’m not a lazy guy. But I found myself being a little bit too comfortable on the couch for a few hours on Sunday when the game was on. This became a way to force myself to move my body a bit more and it’s worked. My son has started joining me. I didn’t even encourage him to do it; he just wanted to. Isn’t that the best? – Chris, 41, Columbia, South Carolina
9. I Use Marijuana
“Recreational marijuana was recently legalized in my state, and I decided to give it a try. I smoked pot every now and then in college, but that was strictly to get high, go out, and party. What I’ve learned is that edibles, or maybe half a joint per week, keep me calm and reduce my anxiety quite a bit. And it lasts. I’ve been on medication before, but this seems to work much better. My wife knows, and supports me using it, but I keep it secret from my kids. All they know is that their dad is much less high-strung, and enjoying life. And it’s been great.” – Brad, 43, Ohio
10. I Prioritized The Little Annoyances
“What I mean is this: Those little frustrations that you notice in your home and deal with on a daily basis? The squeaky cabinet hinge? The sticky lock? All the stuff like that. I used to ignore them or say I was too busy to do anything about them and they just remained. I didn’t realize how much of a bother they really were but when you deal with them every day, they add up. Then a friend of mine told me that his personal rule is that if the issue is with something you touch or hear every day, take care of it. Even if its just a drawer handle that’s a little bit off. If you notice it, take care of it. I’ve since eliminated the annoyances — most of them take 20 minutes to fix — and they really do make a difference.” – Warren, 32, Tallahassee
11. I Started Stretching Consistently
“Maybe six months ago, I squatted down to get on the floor to play a game with my kids. I could barely maintain that position, and my back felt like a block of concrete. A few days later, my daughter was on the floor and said, “Daddy, sit like this!” She wanted me to be criss-cross apple sauce like her. I couldn’t get my legs anywhere near the position and ended up half-laying on my knees. Both of those moments made it clear that I needed to get my shit together, so I started stretching every day. I focus on thoracic spine mobility and hip mobility but it covers a lttle bit of everything. It takes 20 minutes and I do it in the morning. It was humbling when I began, but I’ve stuck with it and I feel miles better. Younger, even. A few weeks ago? I squatted down without thinking about it.” — Andrew, San Diego
12. I Play With Legos
“I recently found some of my old Lego sets from when I was a kid, and decided to put one together. It was such a good distraction tool, and kept me focused on something that didn’t stress me out. So I filled a little container with some random pieces, and I keep it near my desk at work. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious, I take them out and just start building. It usually takes about five or 10 minutes for me to completely chill out, and then I’m able to refocus and be productive. I imagine it’s probably the same effect as a stress ball, or fidget toy. But for me, adding a small box of Legos into my daily grind has done a great deal for my well-being.” – Kevin, 39, Connecticut