It’s the little things

Posted on November 19, 2020

I have come to the view that it’s the little things we do consistently – rather than the occasional, big, heroic gestures – that really define who we are. It is the small disciplines, which become habits, which eventually come to shape our character.

I use this line frequently, when talking with students – “It’s the little things”. I might be talking about the need to pull up their socks, or tuck their shirt in, or willingly conform to the conservative hair style required by our uniform code. Or, I might be encouraging students to always put their rubbish in the bin, or to say ‘Thank you’ to the teacher at the end of each lesson.

In a famous graduation address at the University of Texas, Admiral William H. McRaven said –

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

(You can see the full address here –

I found the same idea reinforced in a description of Mother Theresa I read recently, written by Bill Hybels. He writes that she –

vowed to God that she would be faithful in what she deemed the ‘little practices’ – little practices of love, which meant treating every person who crossed her path with dignity and deference, every day, in every situation; and little practices of sacrifice, which meant always going to the back of the line and always volunteering for clean-up duty after others had eaten dinner and left. She talked as well about the ‘little fidelities’ to scripture that involved guarding her words and actions very carefully and honouring God, even when nobody was looking.

There is a great truth in there. As Charles Caleb Colton has said “The true measure of your character is what you do when nobody is watching.”

You have heard me say before that we believe character really matters at St Paul’s School. We aim to prepare young men and women of character, which is why we have a copy of our Character Framework poster in every classroom. Developing character is a long process, though – arguably, the work of a lifetime, a lifetime of consistently making good choices in even small matters. Which leads me to one final quote, variously attributed to a number of different great thinkers –

Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions;  watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.


Mr Nigel Grant
Executive Director of Faith & Community


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