01/22/2015 12:59 EST | Updated 03/24/2015 05:59 EDT

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

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

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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.


  • Positive thinking encourages unrealistic expectations.
    The most influential figures in positive thinking urged people to come to terms with their true aims and desires – something that we believe we do every day but rarely attempt. Writers from the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale (The Power of Positive Thinking) to R.H. Jarrett (It Works) directed readers not to repeat comforting interior nostrums (“I like my home and job”) but rather to ask – sustainably and maturely – what they truly wanted out of life. When done with unsparing honesty, this kind of inner inquiry can reveal personal goals and wishes that we may have hidden from ourselves.
  • Positive thinkers are mouthpieces for corporate interests.
    Some of the earliest and most dynamic figures in the positive-thinking tradition were social radicals who believed that mind-power methods could help empower workers, women, immigrants, and minorities. They included suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton; black nationalist Marcus Garvey; motivational hero Elbert Hubbard, who led crusades against child labor; author Wallace D. Wattles, who completed his Science of Getting Rich while running for Congress on the Socialist Party ticket; and publisher and voting-rights activist Elizabeth Towne. Where have all the positive-thinking radicals gone? Visit any New Thought church and you will encounter some of the most diverse and socially progressive congregants anywhere.
  • Positive thinkers ignore the world’s suffering.
    The most accomplished figures in the positive-thinking tradition – including philosopher William James (a lifelong experimenter in mental healing) and Rabbi Joshua Loth Leibman (whose 1946 bestseller Peace of Mind inaugurated the post-war climate of self-help) – counseled realism and bravery, not blindness, in the face of catastrophe. Addressing survivors after World War II, Liebman noted: “A half loaf eaten in courage and accepted in truth is infinitely better than a moldy whole loaf, green with the decay of self-pity and selfish sorrow which really dishonors the memory of those who lived for our up building and happiness.”
  • Positive thinking blames patients or victims for their ills.
    Critics have a point. For too long the positive-thinking tradition has embraced an overarching “Law of Attraction” which can, which deployed immaturely, devolve into victim blaming. In my book I argue that the concept of a mental super-law is neither innate nor necessary to the positive-thinking outlook. We live under many laws and forces – including physical limitations and illness. But acknowledging that doesn’t mean dismissing the long-charted benefits of positive thinking in placebo studies, meditation, addiction recovery, psychical research, and the emergent science of neuroplasticity, in which thoughts are found to affect brain biology.
  • Positive thinking is for superficial people who want to “manifest” Mercedes-Benzes.
    I’ve spent nearly twenty years in self-help publishing and in the New Age culture in general, and I’ve never once encountered someone trying to manifest a car or diamond ring. More commonly, seekers contend with the toughest problems of life, including marital strife, depression, and addiction. New Thought principles are a key source behind one of the most practical therapeutic books ever written, Alcoholics Anonymous. Most participants in trauma support groups, pain management programs, and cognitive therapies draw upon some of the principles of positive thinking.
  • Positive thinking is a bunch of sugary, have-a-nice-day nostrums.
    Positive thinking emerged from a ferment of the ideas in the late Enlightenment era when religious and psychological experimenters were struggling to determine the influence of our thoughts on our lives. In the latter half of the nineteenth century – years before Freud – the pioneers of positive thinking were among the first to recognize what came to be called the unconscious mind. The positive thinkers’ attempt to chart the workings of the subliminal mind produced a wealth of penetrating spiritual-psychological literature. (See my “10 Positive Thinking Books That Might Change Your Life.”) Historically, the positive-thinking movement has initiated large ideas, and prescribed simple but potentially life-altering methods.
  • It’s absurd to believe that thoughts shape reality.
    For the past century-and-a-half, roughly since the dawn of modern clinical study, our conceptions of the mind have always expanded, and never receded. This is true in fields including placebo studies, cognitive psychology, brain biology, and even in the physical sciences. More than eighty years of experiments in quantum physics have led contemporary scientists to the “quantum measurement problem,” in which researchers intensely debate whether the presence of a conscious observer affects the nature and manifestation of subatomic particles. The onrush of new findings in quantum studies – and the questions this data poses about the powers of the mind – may ultimately alter humanity’s self-perception in the twenty-first century as much as Darwinism did in the Victorian era. Our thoughts are far from the only influence on our lives, but we may be just at the beginning of understanding their power.