In this article, I write about the surprising power of tiny changes and you will be given a free psychological exercise that will help you to identify your bad habits.

In this article, I write about the surprising power of tiny changes, and you will be given a free psychological exercise that will help you to identify your bad habits.

In 2019, I was fully emerged in writing my first book about Habit Formation. This endeavour was terribly difficult for me.

Writing has never come easy for me, so being the lazy bastard that I am, I started by googling “best habit books in the world “. After ordering most of them, I wrote every single author an email to deepen my knowledge about behaviour psychology and more importantly – ask them how in the world they managed to finish a book that taught individuals the power of habit formation.

One of the first world changers that answered my podcast request was Jay Papasan, the author of the international bestseller The One Thing.

In this interview, Jay shared with me a metaphor about the power of tiny habit formation that I would like to share with you…

The Surprising Power Of The Domino Effect

On November 13, 2009, in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, Weijers Domino Productions broke the world record for lining up 4, 491,863 dominos in a spectacular fashion. A single domino was set into motion and unleashed 94,000 joules of energy, which is as much energy as it takes for a grown male to do 500+ push-ups1.

Each standing domino represents a small amount of potential energy, and the more dominos you put in a line. Thus, more potential energy can be generated.

Enough small domino in a row can produce a staggering amount of energy.

The same seems to be true for life; setting the right things in motion can produce massive energy and change.

In 1993, Loran Whitehead, a Professor of physics, discovered that domino falls could topple not only many things but also massive things.

He articulated that a single domino is capable of bringing down another domino that is 50 % bigger.

In 2001, a physicist from San Francisco reproduced Whitehead’s experiment by creating eid dominoes out of wood, each 50% bigger than the one before.

Fascinating, isn’t it? A tiny nudge in the right spot could produce massive energy; now imagine if this kept going.

If a regular domino fall is a linear progression, Whitehead’s would be described as geometric progression.

Let us do the math…

If we start with a regular domino, the 10th domino would be almost as tall as me (I am 2 meterish). By the 18th, you are looking at a domino that would be as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The 23rd domino would be as big as the Eiffel Tower, and the 31st domino would be as tall as Mount Everest at almost 3,000 feet. At number 57, the domino would touch the moon.

The 1% Habit

Clients who see me in my private practice are often hungry for a quick fix, the one aha moment, or the monumental epiphany that is going to transform them overnight into who they want to be. It has turned out to be a significant struggle to convince them to trust in the power of micro improvements.

To utilise the power of incremental improvement, I often show my clients a funny video that I found on YouTube that perfectly displays the truth that small, strategic behavioural changes can add up and produce massive differences in your quality of life.

Many people go through life and never discover that behavioural modifications are the steering wheel of our lives. Suppose you add a new habit, belief, or reshape your environment purposefully. In that case, you will inevitably alter the trajectory of your life for the better.

When I invented my first habit journal – The Behaviour Kickstarter – I wanted to make sure that people tapped into the power of incremental improvement. This is why everybody who purchased this behaviour technology has to ask themselves by the end of the day a simple question: What can you do to be 1% better tomorrow?

Thought Experiment

Imagine three versions of yourself, six months, three years, and five years into the future.

What would your life look like if you were to continue to repeat your disempowering habits every day?

Now, think the other way around, if you were to actually stick to your resolutions and positive habits, who could you be in three years?

We may not recognise the effects that habits have on our lives. However, each behavioural decision is a vote to who we become and what our life is going to be like.

Hitting the gym once might not transform you into a supermodel. However, if you keep going, after a year, your body will be unrecognisable.

The same is true for bad habits, of course.

Drinking a glass of red wine will not transform you into an alcoholic. However, with enough repetition and excessiveness, your body will fall apart sooner or later.

Now, let us do the math; What would happen if you were to improve yourself daily by only one measly percentage?2

If you succeed in getting 1% better each day for one year, you will be thirty-seven times better by the time the year is over.

Yes, thirty-seven fucking times better, you read that right.

Let that sink in for a second and ask yourself: What kind of life results could I produce if my personal powers were to increase thirty-seven-fold?

The Power Of Habit Compounding

What do you think would happen to you if you were the captain of a cruise ship and you changed the course of your ship by just 3.5 degrees? At first, not a lot, right? But after a week or two, for better or worse, you would end up somewhere totally different.

Just as the course of a boat shifts radically when you alter the course by 1-2%, your life trajectory will be different if you make one or two behavioural modifications.

James Clear put it best when he said:

“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”

Incremental behavioural improvements appear to be mundane and trivial at first. However, the right change at the right time will change everything for you.

Similar to the course change of a ship, your future will be altered if you change your habits, beliefs, and your living environment.

Of course, the first gains that you will produce will be barely noticeable:

  • Going to the gym once will not change your body an awful lot.
  • Studying for an hour will not make you pass the exam.
  • Bringing your partner flowers once will not make you Mr/Ms Right.
  • Putting a dollar into your investment account will not make you a millionaire.
  • Reading a book once will not make you a genius.
  • Helping your friend move once will not make you the best friend of someone.

BUT, if those one-time actions become habitual, if they become a part of who you are as a person, you will become:

  • A sexy beast.
  • A straight-A student.
  • Mr/Ms Right.
  • A millionaire.
  • A genius.
  • A friend that other people can count on.

One of the sentences that I try to hammer into my client’s heads is that their current life outcomes were produced by the habits, beliefs, thoughts, and environment of their former selves.

Repeat after me:

MY life is a product of MY patterns.

MY life is a product of MY patterns.

MY life is a product of MY patterns.

One of the simplest ways to predict someone’s future is to investigate their behavioural patterns and calculate where they will end up if they continue to be who they are, instead of behaving like the person they want to become.

Fulfilment, success, loving relationships, mental, and physical health are all results that are produced by the individual3.

Behavioural compounding goes both ways; however, if you have bad habits in your psychological portfolio, they will, of course, also compound over time, and you will pay for it big time.

Below, you will find a couple of examples of pattern compounding that I have noticed in my life:

Empowering Compounding  Disempowering Compounding 
Intimacy Compounding: Having one date night will not save your marriage, but making love a priority and reserving two days a week for your soulmate can make your bond indestructible. Procrastination Compounding: Scrolling once through social media will not make you a bad worker, but continuously wasting your time will kill your chances to perform at a high level in any professional domain.
Virtuosity Compounding: Doing the right thing once will not make you a hero, but if you continuously attempt to act nobly, this is what you are going to become. Depression Compounding: Ignoring your conscience once will not make you miserable. However, if you live a life of self-deception, self-sabotage, and egoism, your body will start to say no to you.
Mastery Compounding: Reading one book will not make you a genius, reading a book a week will. Overwork Compounding: Working long hours a week will not give you burnout, but if this becomes a pattern, you will perform poorly in all other areas of your life.

The Behaviour Detective – A Technique To Spot Disempowering Patterns Right Away

Now that we have come to understand that patterns compound into outcomes, it is time to address the elephant in the room: What can we do to spot bad habits early before they compound and turn our lives into a big pile of horse shit? 

For that manner, I have developed a simple behaviour exercise that I call The Behaviour Detective 4.

The exercise is quite simple; take a habit, a thought, a belief, or an environmental set-up and investigate:

  1. What is this pattern giving you?
  2. What is this pattern costing you?
  3. Whether or not this behavioural investment is good (+) bad (-) or neutral (=).

Behavioural patterns are the building blocks of your life, and if you are in doubt whether or not a habit, a thought, a belief, or an environmental set-up is good or bad for you, simply ask yourself;

Is this pattern turning me more into who I want to become, or is this pattern moving me away from becoming the hero of my own story?

The Behaviour Detective is a simple method that I use within all of my behavioural architecture coaching programs because it helps people to gain mastery in the most crucial field there is, which is knowing ourselves.

Everything we do is a decision whether we like it or not; nothing is neutral. Nothing. When we decide to go out on a Friday night to get smashed, we simultaneously decide to be in pain on Saturday.

When we decide to stay longer at the office, we, at the same time, prioritise work over our connections, and we are going to pay the price for that behavioural decision.

Each Netflix binge and ice cream (as fun as it is) is a step away from your desired beach body.

If you only take one idea away from this article, let it be this one: The quality of your daily decisions determines the quality of your life. 

Below, you will find an example of how I used the Behaviour Detective this week to investigate the price of my habits. You will find a Free Downloadable Worksheet at the end of the article, but I figured I would show you some of my flaws so that you can be open about yours as well:

 

Pattern (Habit, Thought, Belief, Environmental Set-Up) What Is This Pattern Giving Me?
(Today, In 6 Months, In 3 Years)
What Is This Pattern Costing Me?
(Today, In 6 Months, In 3 Years)
Good (+)Bad (-)Neutral (=) What Will You Do About It?
Snoozing for 25 minutes. Today: Bit of comfort, a delay of my morning routine.
In the future, this is not giving me a whole lot, to be honest.
Today: This habit fucks up my entire morning routine. I feel as if I am starting the day as a failure, and this feeling accompanies me through the day.
In the future, this habit can literally be one of the reasons why I will not become the person I know I can be. High-performance people do not have this habit; they do not start the day like that.
BAD HABIT! (-) I will ask my roomie to knock on my door so that I will get up in time.
Ruminating about my ex-girlfriend. As a romantic, it sometimes feels good to play the “what if game” and relive past experiences that felt good at the time. This cognitive habit hurts me psychologically because it reopens my old wounds.
In the future, this habit, for once, could make me bitter, resentful, and depressed. It could possibly ruin my chances of meeting my future soulmate because I am still stuck in one of my self-created grieving loops.
BAD HABIT! (-) Whenever the depressed entity  within me reminds me of my loss, I will say “This memory is hurting me, let’s look forward shall we Daniel?”
Compulsive protein bar snacking. Protein bars are delicious, and they give me, as the name says – a lot of protein. I like being a muscle giant, and those bars give me the feeling of growing into a strong person. Eating one bar would be fine, but I sometimes eat 3-5 within a day. This is $10 a day, which compounds to $300 a month.
Additionally, the financial downside, it’s almost impossible for me now to hit my caloric sweet spot, which means that I gain weight and fat because I snack 400 calorie bars all the time. So, in the future, this habit will not only not give me my dream body; it will actually move me away from it.
BAD HABIT! (-) I will establish a policy of eating only 2 bars per day, one in the morning and one after my workout.

Other snacks will be veggies.

Do You Want To Change Your Habits? 

Footnotes

  1. Dahhaj, Z. (2018, April 23). What Is The Domino Effect And How Can You Use It To Your Advantage? Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://medium.com/@zaiderrr/what-is-the-domino-effect-how-can-you-use-it-to-your-advantage-94c69608f848
  2. CLEAR, J. (2019). ATOMIC HABITS: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. Place of publication not identified: RANDOM House BUSINESS.
  3. Obviously, life can be a bitch, and terrible things occur without the involvement of the individual. However, I have come to learn that miserable people are usually the architects of their own misfortune. If you are debating that life has a random element of suffering to it, I would totally understand your position. A friend of mine just got diagnosed with cancer, and well, there was not an awful lot of things that he contributed to this scenario. So, handle the argument of personal responsibility mindfully, please.
  4. James Clear developed a similar exercise that he calls the Habit Scorecard, a great activity that allows individuals to predict the cost of their current habits. However, I felt as if this tool could be expanded with cognitive habits, believes, and individual environmental set-ups — still, kudos to Clear for simplifying behaviour psychology.

Psychology exercises for you

Books mentioned

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