The beginning of the school year is full of new experiences — a new place to live, new classes, new people and a new outlook. Moreover, it also presents you with a plethora of new opportunities for self-improvement. When these opportunities arise, try to seek out new endeavors to develop yourself, even if they seem insignificant. Some of the smallest things effect the greatest change.

The key to self-improvement is identifying productive ways to change while still holding onto the parts of yourself that you are most proud of. It is important to identify negative influences, but it is even more important to find what grows you into living a more fruitful life. Just one simple change can help us refresh and renew ourselves so we can flourish into our most healthy and vibrant selves.

This cycle is beautifully illustrated by the Atacama Desert, a plateau that spans the western coast of South America. Though it is considered the driest non-polar place in the world, there are parts of the desert that receive just enough rainfall – a few millimeters – to create the flowering desert, a biological phenomenon that attracts people from all around the world. The flowering involves the expansive growth of flowers and plants, which, in turn, attracts new insects, birds and other animals. This burst of color and life sweeps over the once-dry, dusty desert. Just a few millimeters of water can make a life-changing difference; what was once a barren landscape now overflows with color, flowers and life.

This unique occurrence proves how a seemingly minute element can create a fruitful bloom of life. It is important to spend time finding passions that encourage you to grow yourself. Sometimes, just little adjustments in your day-to-day life allow you to thrive in a way greater than you might think possible.

For me, this adjustment has been a technological one. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed how much time I spend on my cell phone – whether it’s refreshing social media, checking messages or taking photos, it seems like I’m always drawn back to my phone. To change that, I’ve turned off almost all of my notifications, one app at a time. This seemingly small adjustment helps me spend significantly less time on my phone, as my screen isn’t always lighting up and constantly sucking me back in.

Once I pinpointed this aspect of myself that I wanted to change, I became aware of how it was affecting my life and my personal goals. As I’ve separated myself from my phone, I’ve become more mindful of how I’m spending my time and more aware of my surroundings. Spending less time on my phone was the first step, but even more important was finding a productive way to fill this new void of time. With less distraction, I found more time to think actively, and I have been able to cultivate my passions, including writing. I’ve shown myself that even the smallest change can have a massive ripple effect on the rest of my life.

Just a few millimeters of water turned out to be the essential ingredient that transformed the once-desolate desert — so, what’s yours? It could be a club, an organization, a group of friends, a professor, a class, a job or a lifestyle change that illuminates a fresh part of yourself. Maybe you’ve already found it, or maybe you’re still looking, but this new year is the perfect time to identify the one change that may ignite a new you.

Elisabeth O’Brien is a sophomore in the College. Brain Waves appears every other Friday.

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