In case you are not familiar, the Butterfly Effect was coined by Edward Lorenz when he found that while trying to predict a hurricane’s path; he inadvertently rounded the decimal on a weather model and the outcome was vastly different than it would have been otherwise. This became termed chaos theory and equates with outcomes being influenced by minor fluctuations such as the flapping of wings of a distant butterfly at an earlier time, affecting current occurrences. This eventually turned into “if a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Brazil it could set off a tornado in Texas.” I prefer to think that the flip side of this is that if a small change is made by one person, the impact could potentially change a community and be like a wave gathering strength.
I have a client who is training for an ultra-marathon (any distance over 26.2 miles). For the last year he has been running and biking in his neighborhood, sometimes by himself and at other times with his young daughter. In the last month or so he’s begun to notice that there are a lot more folks who are either running, walking or riding bikes. In addition, people he doesn’t even know have been coming up to him and saying, “Oh you are that guy that runs”. Small change. Big impact. There’s no way to know if he’s the cause of the increase in exercise in his neighborhood but it seems like it might be and it sure didn’t hurt.
So how can you have an resounding impact? What butterfly are you? Here are some ideas:
- More. Always, always, always phrase whatever change you want to make as doing “more” of something. It’s just easier to measure doing more of something rather than less of something. So if you want to lose weight, say to yourself that you want to be more physically fit. If you want to be less shy, say to yourself that you want to be more self-assured. It’s the same thing when you are reprimanding an employee or writing a performance evaluation, phrase it in a way where it’s more. Like, “Suzy could be more accurate (instead of less sloppy)”. Suzy can then measure her effectiveness by being 99% accurate (instead of less than 5 errors). Always phrase it in terms of being/doing more.
- The 20 Second Rule. Have whatever change you want to make be just 20 seconds away (or less). Shawn Achor wrote about this in “The Happiness Advantage”. All my running garb is in the same location and is twenty seconds away from my sink where I brush my teeth. I know I’m going to brush my teeth when I wake up, so it’s easy for me to put on my running stuff first thing in the morning and start running; no excuses. Make a path of least resistance. If you need to get that expense report done, put it on your chair so it’s the first thing you see when you come into work. Leave the document you are working on open on your desk top so that it is visually the first thing before you start any other project. Follow the 20 second rule.
- Small. Start small. I recently started doing Yoga again. I knew if I did more than ten minutes the first time out, I would be way to sore and dejected to want to go back and do it a second time. This is true with anything. When I first started writing this blog, I would write for maybe 10 or 15 minutes at a time. I would never finish it in that time but if I spread it over several days, it was wasn’t a drag and, more importantly, it didn’t seem to be as overwhelming as “I want to write a blog post once a week for ten years”. When I start a new training, I just put an outline together for 15 minutes and then move on to something else. Easy peasy. Take a very, very small step; incremental steps will get you to the same place.
- Confederate. Find yourself a confederate. In the book “Change Anything”, they talk about having a source of social motivation. If you want to run a 5k find someone else who wants to run one as well. If you want to save more money, find an accountability partner who wants to save as well. If you want to start your business, join a group of like-minded folks who will support you (especially when things get tough). This is the point of having an accomplice, they lift you up when there are bumps in the road and there will be bumps (if not potholes) in the road. A confederate will keep you on track.
- Plan. Make a plan. When I ran my half marathon last year, I had my runs planned out for the entire 4 months leading up to the race. I know I need to have my blog post written before Saturday so that I can get it to my “Brain Trust” for feedback and edits. It’s a habit. It didn’t start off as one. This can be phrased anyway you like. “The day starts at 4:30 AM”. “Exercise 3 times a week (at least once in the morning)”. “Study for 30 minutes a night”. “Spend 15 minutes cleaning the top shelf”. These are all actual action items from different clients. They all phrased it in a way that meant something to them. But they all had a plan.
I spend maybe an hour a week on this blog and most of the time it’s completely out of my mind. But then I run into someone at a party and they say, “I love your blog”. I may not see the end result but it’s having an impact somewhere for someone. In fact, I know someone who signed up for a half marathon and ran it, after my post on crossing the finish line. There is an impact. You may not see it. So just like that butterfly in Brazil, you just need to start flapping your wings.