THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT: HOW SMALL CHANGES LEAD TO BIG PROGRESS

I’m sure you’ve seen the game show The Price Is Right. It’s really gone down hill since Bob Barker hung it up – no offense Drew – but I prefer the old tan guy. Anyhow, my favorite game on the show was Plinko, it’s the one where the contestant stands at the top of a giant board and drops a chip down it. There are a bunch of pins in there that bounce the chip from one direction to the next randomly (here’s a clip just in case a did a terrible job explaining it.)

The contestants usually get to the top of the board and contemplate where to drop the chip so that they get win the most lucrative price.  In reality it doesn’t really matter a ton where they drop the chip, sure there are a few places on the board that increase the odds of receiving the best prize but really it’s a matter of chance. You could drop that chip in the same place every time it could end up in a variety of slots.

So why am I talking about Plinko for Gods sake and what does it have to do with you and me?

Well, the game relates  well with our lives and with a concept often used in meteorology known as the Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect is all about how tiny changes in a complex system can equal results that are virtually impossible to predict. What might seem like a very small and insignificant change in one place could result in large differences somewhere else or at a later state.

Another great example is if you were to roll a ball down a hill, it can go in multitude of directions based entirely on a small rock that it might hit on the hill. This relates well to our lives because often when dramatic and life altering events take place you might agonize over the most basic and minute details that could have changes the circumstances.

  • If you left work just one minute earlier you probably could have avoided that car accident
  • If you ate your veggies as a kid you probably would like them now
  • If you took care of your shoulder while playing sports as a youth you could have avoided injury now
  • If you just picked up the pace a little on the last lap you could have had your best mile time
  • If you just set a reminder on your phone you would not have forgotten that birthday/anniversary/appointment
  • If woke up 5 minutes earlier you wouldn’t have missed the bus

What seem like small any very insignificant decisions might or might not have a larger impact on your life than you originally might have thought.

CONTROL FREAK

I’m a bit of a control freak, not in all situations but in certain circumstances I like the feeling of knowing what is going on and believing I have the ability to choose what will happen next.< It’s one of the reasons I am not particularly fond of drinking alcohol, I just hate the feeling of not being in my normal state of mind if that makes sense. I’m sure many of you are the same, you might like the feeling of or the belief that you control your own destiny and in all honesty for the most part I believe that each of us does but there are some instances in which chaotic event happen that are beyond our control.

  • You can control what foods you eat
  • You can not control the weather
  • You can control whether or not you exercise today
  • You can not control time
  • You can choose to start your own business
  • You can not control whether or not you get fired tomorrow (you can influence it but not control it)
  • You can love someone unconditionally
  • You can not force someone to love you

Like the game Plinko on The Price Is Right you can play the odds of the chip landing where you want it to by dropping it in a specific location but ultimately it will be random. In your life you can limit the chance of chronic disease and obesity by eating real food and exercising consistently. You can influence your social relationships by becoming a better listener, being there for someone when they need you, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. There are many things you can avoid, limit, or make less likely but not always avoid and that is why getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is so important.

USING THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

Sometimes jumping into a cold pool is just what you need, or a cold shower and other times that might not be the best approach. If you are looking to change a habit like making better food choices, exercising more, procrastinating less, or eliminating fears you might have to take a slower approach, one that emphasizes one small step at a time. This can reduce a lot of confusion, anxiety, and feelings of being overwhelmed.

1. Would you rather have a million dollars today or a penny?

Small tasks done consistently each day can equal big rewards down the line. Take the doubling penny for example. If I offered you a million dollars right now or a penny that doubled in value everyday for the next Thursdays what would you do?

Gut reaction says to go with the million dollars today but when you double a penny everyday for the next 30 days you would end up with 5.3 million dollars. I know what you might be thinking, but who knows what will happen in the next 30 days and you’d be right for asking that questions but you’d also be thinking about the least likely outcome. Most likely in the next 30 days you’ll be totally fine and life will go on. You can afford to be patient.

2. Crow with the roosters

You could wake up 30 minutes earlier everyday to prepare a meal or two, to get in a quick workout, to work a bit on your side hustle, to spend time connecting with your wife or kids, to practice some gratitude or meditate. 30 minutes earlier every day is another small change you could make now that might lead to large and positive changes down the road. Just think what 30 minutes of exercise might do for you every morning if you are not currently doing so.

3. Give a little to get a little

A few months ago I wrote a little post about how I bought someone a cup of coffee at Starbucks and ended up not only getting a free cup myself out of it but my money back and then some from someone else that saw the gesture. A $1.65 here, a hug there, a call to someone you love, or a simple thank you while goes further than you would think, you might have just made someone elses day and their mood could be effected by it.

4. From ear to ear

Smile a bit more, as corny as it sounds smiling is something that we often take for granted but can have a tremendous impact on not only our lives but the lives of others. To prove it who would you rather spend time with, Picture #1 or Picture #2?

Researcher Andrew Newberg has a study in which a smile is rated as the highest symbol for positive emotional content. The science of smiling more often tells us that once the happy muscles in our face contract there is positive feedback that is sent to the brain for you to express joy and in return your brain sends signals to the rest of your body that you are actually happy and experiencing joy. It’s this cyclical event that just keeps going around and around, so the more you smile the happier and more joyful you’ll be.

To touch on this a bit further there is a famous yearbook smile study that shows how a simple smile can effect you long-term.

“…By measuring the smiles in the photographs the researchers were able to predict: how fulfilling and long-lasting their marriages would be, how highly they would score on standardized tests of well-being and general happiness, and how inspiring they would be to others. The widest smilers consistently ranked highest in all of the above…” Adapted from Forbes.com

And for you baseball fans there is the Wayne State University study that used baseball cards and a players smile to determine how long they would live.

“…The study found that the span of a player’s smile could actually predict the span of his life! Players who didn’t smile in their pictures lived an average of only 72.9 years, while players with beaming smiles lived an average of 79.9 years…”

Smiles convey a sense of trust, can influence how you feel or others feel about social slip-ups or blunders, and can even get you some leniency if you get yourself into some trouble. Plus they’re contagious! Spend a few moments with the happiest person you know, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear in no time flat.

Just goes to show you how important practicing happiness and a simple smile everyday can translate into such bigger things. So spend more time with kids, they smile up to 400 times per day compared to the average adult that smiles only 20 times.

A NIFTY LITTLE WAY TO IMPLEMENT SMALL CHANGES EVERYDAY

There’s something that you can do now that will increase your likely hood of success in anything you do by 2 to 3 times. This little trick is known as If-Then statements. Dr. Heidi Grant Halverson gives us a specific example here of just how and if-then statement works.

“…Imagine your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. Most people would make a plan like this: “Eat less, exercise more.”

For starters, it’s not nearly specific enough. How much less will you eat, and of what? How will you exercise, and how often? The if-then version of this plan spells out exactly what you will do in the critical situation.

If X happens, then I will do Y.

X can be a time and place, like Monday at 9 a.m., or it can be an event,like the arrival of the dessert menu at a restaurant. Y is the specific action you will take whenever X occurs.

So Step 1, “Eat less,” becomes something like “When the dessert menu comes, I will ignore it and order coffee.” Step 2, “Work out more,” turns into “I will work out for an hour at the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays before work…”

In a specific study dealing with exercise it was shown that 91% of those that used if-then planning were more likely to stick to their exercise plan compared to 39% of those who did not use the strategy.

Dr. Halverson goes on to elaborate in this psychology today article that if-then planning works so well because it speaks a language your brain can understand. It goes back to some of that high school algebra if X then Y type stuff. If this occurs than that will happen is very easy for your brain to digest.

This type of planning can help you avoid the “To Hell With It Effect” in which a bad mood, environment, or mojo influences you to engage in risky behavior or to make bad decisions. One way to overcome this is by using if-then statements like If I am in a bad mood I will… But it takes practice and needs to be done on a consistent basis. Applying the concept to one thing at a time might be your best option to achieve success.

ONE THING AT A TIME

Many things in our lives are random and that’s ok. I wish I could control everything but I know that I can’t and I’m ok with it but I am also well aware that I can make choices and tiny decisions everyday that might influence long-term success for myself.

Most of the things that you want to accomplish in life are not really that difficult when you get to the heart of it, it just comes down to consistently making the decisions and being persistent enough to actually experience the changes.

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion

Way to often we just stop… stop trying, stop caring, stop moving. By doing so all we’re doing is sending a message to our body and mind that we’ve given up. Keep at it whatever it is, stay in motion, one day at a time, one small insignificant 🙂 action at a time.

What is one area of your life that you just seem to STOP moving? How do you plan to stay in motion?

Live Limitless,

Justin

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