Slice of Sunshine: Think “Leaf” not “Tree”

Start with small changes

Mr. Mallard was my 8th grade English teacher. Old school, rarely smiled, took points off if you turned in your paper with the “lace” from the notebook attached, and though he accepted late work, each day it dropped one grade (an “A” paper received two days late was automatically a “C,” etc.; you were out of luck if it was more than 4 days late).

A girl in my class (we’ll call her Amy) consistently turned in her work late and while I never read her papers, I got the sense that she didn’t have much leeway for the dropped grade. Lucky for her, she was an active class participant and he seemed to like her (again, old school teachers often had obvious favorites).

One day Amy rushed in right at the bell—I suspect there is often a connection between late papers and general tardiness—and grandly put her on-time paper on the pile on his desk. Mr. Mallard couldn’t help but grin a little and commented, “Someone is turning over a new leaf…” to which Amy enthusiastically replied, “I am not just turning over a new leaf, Mr. Mallard, I am turning over the whole tree.”

Reader, she did not turn over the tree.

Single green leaf on white background
Don’t get overwhelmed: start with one small change = one leaf!

Amy was understandably enthusiastic about her accomplishment and had the right attitude about channeling the energy from her achievement into future action.

However turning over trees almost never works.

Sure, big projects can generate big energy, but make it too big and you risk losing sight of the goal (or, one might say, end up barking up the wrong tree). It is almost always best to start with a leaf. Or at most, a branch.

As we welcome the first day of spring, I encourage you to go small, zoom in, and make just one change. Then channel that energy to turn over another leaf…and then another…until eventually perhaps it actually is the whole tree.

Happy spring, everyone!

Try it!


Many of us have been told that action follows thought, hence the pervasiveness of “Think it, dream it, do it” or “Start with the mind and the body will follow” messaging. Yet sometimes the behavior creates the mindset!

For example, I don’t have to believe that I am an early riser before setting my alarm 10 minutes earlier; the act of waking up early creates that reality, and then the thoughts will follow (action→thoughts). Alternatively, you can visualize what an extra ten minutes of your day would look like and use that energy to drive the behavior (thought→action).

So start with thought. Or start with action. Just start! One leaf.

(other) Smart People


While we’re talking about English class, here are some of the books that were recommended by Slice of Sunshine readers—thank you to those who shared your favorites!

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-made World by Elinor Cleghorn
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
all about love by bell hooks
You Were Born for This by Chani Nicholas

Don’t see your favorite book represented here? Email your picks for inclusion in a future newsletter.


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Try it!