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You Will Change the World This Year, But Will it Be for the Better?

01/22/2015 12:59 EST | Updated 03/24/2015 05:59 EDT
Jon Berkeley via Getty Images

Gandhi famously said that "you must be the change you want to see in the world." I love that quote because I believe you change the world every day with what you do and say. Your habits change the world, some for the better, some for the worse.

At this time of the year, we all tend to want to make positive changes -- just look at any gym across Canada right now and it's likely bursting at the seams with new members who aspire to live healthier lives.

Most of those gym-goers know that getting healthier depends on their ability to make fitness a regular habit. It's a simple fact that health goals cannot be achieved by sitting on the couch. You have to get up, develop a routine and stick to it.

Achieving success with health goals may not be easy, but it is straightforward. Adopt an exercise routine, maintain a healthy diet and you're on your way. Make these actions habitual, and your success will be long-lasting because being healthy becomes part of who you are and what you do.

But what if the change you want to see in the world this year is bigger than yourself? What if your goal is to solve a problem in society or tackle an issue that bothers you?

Maybe this is the year you want to help eliminate homelessness in your community, or reduce carbon emissions, or make sure kids in your city are fed enough to learn effectively at school.

Achieving success with goals like these may be perceived as difficult -- if not impossible -- to accomplish. But is it really?

When I was a young kid back in the '80s, nobody recycled. Recycling wasn't even a concept anyone had heard of. And now, thirty-something years later, recycling has become an ingrained habit for me and my family. I never consider throwing a bottle in the garbage and when there's no recycling bin, I'd sooner carry the bottle around with me than trash it. It's a habit I've created over decades of practice and I'm not alone in so doing. The vast majority of the people around me have also made recycling a habitual part of their lives.

With every action you take, you change the world, too -- for better or for worse -- whether or not you even realize it.

Small Actions Lead to Big Changes

Changing the world for the better, in my view, is an achievable goal for every single Canadian. And it's much like achieving any other goal in that all you need to do is start working on forming habits that contribute toward the change you want to see.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You have responsibilities. You have a job and a family, or for whatever reason, you simply can't drop everything to save the world. We all make excuses.

I believe that if you want to change the world for the better, it's as easy as making small, regular contributions to the causes you care about. Big changes are generally the result of an accumulation of small actions because every little contribution adds up.

You don't have to quit your job to create change.

Support Those Doing Charitable Work

Charities are some of the best proxies for taking action on causes we care about. They may not be perfect, but they play a critical role in solving many problems. And they can turn your contributions into high-impact action.

By supporting one or more charities, you enable their people and programs to work on your behalf to change the world. And as they succeed in making the changes you want to see in the world, you can take some credit for it because of your support. If they don't make progress on the issue, spend some time understanding why. Charities are full of people -- employees and volunteers -- who are passionate and articulate about the problems you care about.

So, one of the easiest ways for you to change the world this year is by supporting charities that work on issues you care about. Here are three things I'd suggest you consider:

    1. Make it an extension of who you are and what you do

Consider your current lifestyle, and how much your everyday habits add up. If you recycle, and compost, and turn out the lights when you leave the room, and support local merchants, and ride your bike to work on occasion, maybe you're more of an environmentalist than you realize. Supporting environmental charities is a natural next step.

If your current daily impact isn't enough motivation, then consider a problem that bothers you. Pay attention to the kinds of stories that capture your interest when you read or watch the news. The more personally affected you feel about the issue, the more invested you'll be in contributing to a solution. I can almost guarantee there's a charity working on solutions to the problems that bother you.

    2. Get to know charities that can amplify your intended impact

There are lots of charities doing good work, and when you find a few that capture your interest, focus on getting to know them and their impact. It's important to get comfortable with an organization you're going to support. Read their blog. Download their newsletter. Engage with their online community. Look at their financials.

Just be careful not to get too wrapped up in over analyzing things before you have some skin in the game: your heart, mind and wallet. While I don't want you to be reactionary or unthoughtful about your giving, I want to be pragmatic and remind you that it's important to start developing your habit of contributing to the problems you think need fixing. The first time we go for a run, we aren't breaking any speed records, there is a learning curve. And expect a learning curve with giving, too. It's okay to make mistakes. In fact, making mistakes is the best way to learn anything.

    3. Make charitable giving a regular habit

Just like going to the gym and working out regularly, charitable impact requires regular activity to make a difference -- and to truly feel good.

If you want to change the world in a significant way, then make regular contributions to the causes you care about. Put it right into your monthly budget, and stick with it. Re-evaluate how you are giving and to whom on a regular basis. Over time, you'll notice the difference you're helping to make. And just like going to the gym or recycling, giving will become a habit that empowers you to change the world for the better every single day.

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