Personality: Ray Haring

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This local author motivates people to improve their lives by taking small steps.

Sacramentan Ray Haring, founder and president of HealthSpan Communications, believes life is in the details. Having recently left Sac
State after 25 years of teaching science courses (he holds a Ph.D. in nutrition from UC Davis), Haring is devoting his full attention to writing and presenting motivational seminars based on his 1998 self-help book The Smallest Things Make the Biggest Difference: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your World.

Endorsed by such fellow just-do-it gurus as John Gray (Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus), Kenneth Blanchard (The One Minute Manager) and Tony Robbins (Awaken the Giant Within), Smallest Things offers more than 100 easily digestible, anecdote-laced mini-chapters on how mini-changes in attitude, perception and lifestyle can have a profound impact on the chronically time-crunched.

HealthSpan empowers people to appreciate that the smallest things they see or don’t see, believe or don’t believe, do or don’t do, will make the biggest difference in the direction of their lives, says Haring.

The second in his proposed 11-book series of Smallest Things titles, Smart Weight Loss, was published last spring, with Unleash the Genius Within Simple Thoughts and Design Your Life expected out this year.

Leading T-shirt and bumper-sticker philosophers say, Don’t sweat the small stuff. But that directive is a bit misleading, no?
Personally, I think the concept don’t sweat the small stuff is fatally flawed. Why? Because everything in the world, big or small, once originated from much smaller things, much like life itself. All bigger things are made up of smaller things. Perhaps the phrase don’t sweat the small stuff would make more sense if it read don’t sweat the unimportant things. Remember, not all small things have the same value or importance to all people. The key is simple: knowing what small things to pay attention to and what small things to ignore at any given moment. Also, a small detail might have great importance today and have no importance a year from now, or vice versa.

How did your philosophy evolve?
The philosophy behind the smallest things making the biggest difference evolved when I first realized early in my life that the outcome of virtually any project was ultimately affected by paying close attention to the little details.

Do you find that people too often trivialize the smallest things and end up sabotaging their own happiness?
I think people will get more out of life and be much happier if they could find ways to enjoy and appreciate all the many wonderful little things that happen each day rather than expecting happiness from things that come less frequently. Remembering that life is made up of a lot more little things than big things will help us find more happiness on a daily basis.

What are some of these little things?

Just seeing someone walking across the street and smiling. My parents always said, Smile at the world and the world will smile back. I make the effort to ask strangers, How are you? and their faces light up. And when they light up, I light up. You get back what you put out. In an elevator, you can stare down at your feet or say, Hi, how are you? Not that you have to have a conversation with everyone, but make the moment more enjoyable. It’s more enjoyable than the uneasiness of staring at the ceiling or down at your shoes. How much does it cost to say, Have a nice day? Nothing.

Does age have a bearing on our perception of what’s important?

As you get a little older, your mind pays closer attention and the smaller things become more important. To me, nature is incredibly important. I get tremendous pleasure out of small things. I took a two-minute break today to watch seagulls drink water and it was like they were levitating. When we’re younger, we didn’t have time for those sorts of things. Twenty years ago, I was stuck in traffic on the Oakland Bay Bridge. Everyone was honking. I just kicked my feet up and watched the sailboats. There were 500 cars in front of me doing nothing. I was focused on the sailboats in the bay, not on the tailpipe in front of me. We all have the power to focus. If you can appreciate nature&emdash;the change of the seasons, all the wonderful things in the world&emdash;it adds a lot to life.

Small things can be good or bad. Have you found that in today’s rush-to-get-it-done world, people have become accustomed to living with small annoyances?
Most small annoyances, if left unattended, can potentially become much larger issues if they are not attended to at the earliest possible stage. The key to preventing a small annoyance from snowballing into a larger problem is dealing with the annoyance as quickly as possible.

How do small annoyances snowball into avalanches?

I think so many misunderstandings could be solved immediately if somebody simply asks, What do you mean by that? rather than letting their minds wander and conjure up things. We carry history with us and fill in the empty blanks when dealing with resolving issues. The longer we wait, the more time there is for them to fill in the blanks.

What are some of the easiest ways to make a positive difference in our lives?
I can answer this in two words: Think positive. Begin by replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts. It sounds like a clich, but the difference between thinking I can and I can’t is so huge that I’m just awed by the concept.

The smallest things concept obviously applies to work and relationships. How about health and fitness?
It’s extremely important. I spent most of my adult life teaching nutrition and when it comes to fitness, it really is the small things we do: taking the stairs instead of the escalator, parking the car a little farther away. The little things add up: the little pat of butter, the packet of mayonnaise you leave off your sandwich. You can overeat today and you can’t tell. These little things get trivialized because we only look at them day-to-day and we don’t think of them over six months or a year. One extra slice of bread a day, just a plain piece of toast, can lead to 13 pounds of weight gain a year. In three years, that’s more than 40 pounds. I talk about this in my weight-loss book.

What is another small thing that can help us maintain a healthy lifestyle?

Laughter is a very important component of our health. The physiology and chemistry behind a simple smile has a profound affect on the health of our mind and body.

So the little things add up when it comes to health. What about financial matters?

When people don’t see the impact a small thing can have right away, they tend to ignore it. If someone has just one Starbucks at three-and-a-half dollars a day, they’re spending more than $1,000 in a year. Rather than spending that on a cup of coffee, if you saved that money beginning as a teenager, you could almost retire on that.

But we all have to decide what’s important to us. If someone found a tremendous amount of joy in their daily cup of Starbucks, I say do it. But if someone is unhappy, saying, I can’t afford a vacation&emdash;you can go to Hawaii and back for $1,200.

What about balance? As they say, All work and no play . . . Does all work make us more than simply dull?

Our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being is ultimately determined by being in balance. Think about it: All work and no play can lead to stress and ultimately to unhappiness and poor health. You’ve got to play!

Many people exercise but don’t actually recreate. How important is it to make fun part of exercise, such as playing sports with others versus solitary machine work?
Having fun during a physical workout is essential. It’s very important to create associations between working out and having fun. You want to always automatically associate doing something healthy and active with having fun.

Why are we so willing to ignore the smallest things?

I don’t think that people are willing to ignore the smallest things. I think they just don’t take the time to think about it because they’re in a big rush. What I’m doing is helping people to stop and think about this very powerful message.