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From Bed-Making to Breakthroughs: The Domino Effect of Consistency

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I just finished reading the 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months. It explains how to leverage 12 week long commitments to drive improved results in any area of your life. I came across a story that I wanted to share with you.

The author received an email from a friend named Mick White. After attending the workshop, he made a commitment to call his mom every day Monday through Friday for 12 weeks. He did, even when it felt like a burden. It was the highlight of her day, and looking back, it was the highlight of his.

Every 12 weeks, you make new commitments. Mick White kept adding this commitment back to his new round of 12 weeks. He did this 7 times, for a total of 88 weeks. He talked to his mom on the phone at least 440 times.

I have some priceless voicemails, many, many wonderful memories, and a deeper relationship with my mom. Friday June 11, 2011 was the last day I ever talked with my mom, as she died unexpectedly on Monday morning June 13, 2011. For my current 12 week plan, I wasn't able to add “Call Mom every day, Monday through Friday” as a commitment. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't wish I could call her, and, on my birthday, I wish I could hear her voice. The commitment I made changed my life. I'm forever indebted to you. I'm COMMITTED to executing my new plan, as I work to be the person my mom always thought I was.

The author goes on to say, “In this message, I’m struck by how such a seemingly simple commitment can have such a profound effect. Sometimes it’s the tiniest of commitments that have the biggest impact when we follow through with them.”

After I finished crying from reading this chapter, it got me thinking back to a time where I unconsciously identified as an inconsistent person.

I was pursuing acting at the time. The gigs were few and far between. I would go to sleep at a different time every night. I’d snooze my alarm for 2 hours. I never made my bed. I left my room a mess. I’d take the day as it came. I’d eat sugar and garbage and feel terrible. I didn’t work out regularly. I would talk down to myself. Last but not least, I was unhappy.

Then, I read Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. I made it halfway through the book before I decided I was going to get up at the same time everyday, not hit snooze, and make my bed. That’s it. That’s the commitment I was willing to make. If the SEALs could do everything they were doing, I could make my damn bed.

I couldn’t have predicted at the time what would happen in the weeks, months, and years to come.

This one commitment I made started to trickle into different areas of my life.

I started to clean my room.

There were no open loops for my brain to close.

My room became a haven instead of a chaotic zone to avoid.

I started to watch what I ate.

I started working out.

I lost 30 lbs.

I stopped hanging out with people that didn’t make me feel good.

I stopped being so negative.

I started to feel better.

I became obsessed with learning about my passions.

I became obsessed with accountability.

I found my purpose.

A seemingly inconsequential act like making my bed led to a domino effect of me cleaning up my entire life.


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What is the Butterfly Effect?

“It’s not the big moves that change everything—it’s the smallest ones in your everyday life that do.” — Mel Robbins

Edward Lorenz, a mathematician and meteorologist, wanted to see if past weather patterns could predict upcoming weather patterns. The computer program he used to simulate weather patterns took 12 variables into account (temperature, pressure, wind speed, etc.).

One day, he conducted a simulation where one of the variables was 0.506127. He decided to repeat the simulation later that day and rounded that variable to 0.506. After returning with a cup of coffee, he was surprised to see this small change created vastly different results over the 2 months of simulated weather.

As Lorenz noted in his 1963 paper, tiny changes in initial conditions can “evolve into considerably different states.” For the math nerds out there, this is known as sensitive dependence on initial conditions and is related to chaos theory.

Lorenz described this concept using a metaphor: minor changes in the atmosphere, like a seagull flapping it’s wings, could impact where and when a storm took place weeks later. He later changed the metaphor to a butterfly and tornado.

Mick White didn’t change much in his initial conditions, he just had to make a phone call.

I didn’t change much in my initial conditions, I just had to get up and make my bed.

In both cases, the impacts (although unpredictable) were huge.

At this point you might be thinking, “If small changes are really so life altering, why am I unable to make changes and stay consistent?”


You’re Stuck For 2 Reasons

This is a graphic design that depicts the difference between what you see when you believe your actions are disconnected (one single domino) and what you fail to see (a stack of falling dominoes).

We imagine we are looking for the truth, or being realistic, when in fact we are holding on to ideas that bring a release from tension and soothe our egos, make us feel superior. ― Robert Greene

Reason #1: You’ve bought into the idea that change is hard.

We’ve all heard the saying “change is hard.”

People say it because they think they have to make drastic changes — to uproot everything they know and love — in order to live a new life.

They’ve conditioned you to think this.

But guess what?

That is a direct threat to your amygdala (the smoke detector in the brain). It likes things to stay the same because what is know is safer than what is unknown. Staying in the dark cave is safer than coming into contact with what might be out in the open field (a hungry lion).

This is why you’re averse to change even though you might actually want it.

Because you think major change is the only way to have a new life, you shy away from making small changes, which makes it less apparent that they are the way to go.

You say things like:

  • “if it’s so small, its not going to make a difference”

  • “that’s going to take too long”

  • “what if this doesn’t pay off”

Like the Butterfly Effect teaches us, we cannot possibly know or predict what will happen. At best, we can hope for certain outcomes.

I didn’t change all of the things in my life overnight.

I just made my bed. Over and over again.

And it wasn’t hard.

Reason #2: You don’t see everything as interconnected.

I didn’t see how my actions were connected because I didn’t want to.

I didn’t want to admit that eating poorly, being sedentary, living in clutter, staring at screens all day, and associating with certain people affected my mood, my energy, my drive, my sleep, my health. Admitting this would force me to hold up a mirror, which I wasn’t ready for.

I didn’t want to admit that I was making these choices so I abdicated my role as chooser and lived on autopilot (which was still a choice).

I didn’t see how time was connected to my choices until it was too late. Until hundreds of dominoes had fallen and I was left to pick up the pieces.

We’ve all heard the saying “ignorance is bliss.”

I agree, sometimes.

But when it comes to who we are and what we need to do, ignorance is suffering.


Use The Butterfly Effect To Create A Domino Effect Of Consistency

Dreams without goals are just dreams and ultimately they fuel disappointment. On the road to achieving your dreams, you must apply discipline but more importantly, consistency. Because without commitment, you’ll never start, but without consistency, you’ll never finish. — Denzel Washington

Step 1: Zoom In On Yourself And Identify Your Values

I will repeat this until my face turns blue:

You. Need. To. Know. Your. Values.

Values are your judgment of what is important in life, your principles, your standards of behavior.

They shape your beliefs, behaviors, and choices. They help you endure stress.

They help you find your purpose and live a more authentic life.

To put it simply, they affect everything.

When you define your values, you create a personal compass that guides you through life's challenges and helps you make decisions that truly reflect who you are. Indecision fades because you have a framework in place that helps you figure out if the decision you need to make is going to result in you feeling good or bad.

This is the easiest thing you can do to better your life. If you want help defining your values, I created a FREE Cheat Sheet that will guide you. You can download it here.

Step 2: Zoom Out And See The Dominoes

Adopt a bigger perspective.

Allow yourself to think everything is connected.

Ask yourself, “how could my actions over here (actions A, B, and C) be impacting actions over there (action X, Y, Z)?”

For example:

  • Could my emotional eating at home (action A) be impacting my drive to go to the gym, making me stay inactive (action X)?

  • Could throwing clothes onto my floor instead of in my hamper (action B) be impacting my need for avoidance, causing me to scroll as a distraction (action Y)?

  • Could gossiping with my friends (action C) be impacting the way I see the world, causing me to judge others more and more (action Z)?

You’ll start to notice how actions you took in the past led to the fallen dominoes of today.

Step 3: See The Whole

After zooming into your values and zooming out to see how everything is connected, put the picture together in order to see the cracks.

How might your current actions be unaligned with your values?

If learning is a core value, mindlessly scrolling viral content is not in alignment.

If adventure is a core value, staying at home 24/7 is not in alignment.

If health is a core value, emotional eating is not in alignment.

This question will lead you to look at areas of your life that are disconnected. These areas are where you make your commitments and over time, your changes.

Step 4: Redirect Your “Consistent” Energy

Commitments are the daily actions you take.

They are fulfilled in the moment and separated by each day.

Consistency is commitment on day 1 + commitment on day 2 + … + commitment on day n.

Remember how I unconsciously identified as an inconsistent person?

I thought this was true until I took a closer look.

Then I realized:

  • I consistently left my room a mess

  • I consistently ate poorly

  • I consistently felt bad

I had the ability to be consistent, I was just using my “consistent” energy in the wrong places — I wasn’t intentional with my “consistent” energy.

Until I redirected the “consistent” energy being used to make my life hell, nothing changed because I had no “consistent” energy left over to better my life.

As I redirected this energy from not making my bed to making my bed, I aligned more with my core value of accountability.

As you shift your “consistent” energy from the current actions you take (that are unaligned) to new actions (that are), you’ll start to accomplish goals just by being who you truly are. You’re going to feel energized, focused, and motivated. This will fuel you to keep going, to keep making changes that make you feel your best.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. If you finish a book, then perhaps you are the type of person who likes reading. If you go to the gym, then perhaps you are the type of person who likes exercise…Each habit is like a suggestion: “Hey, maybe this is who I am.” No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. This is one reason why meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity. And if a change is meaningful, it actually is big. That’s the paradox of making small improvements. — James Clear

This is how small changes, over time, have big impacts.

You might not see the full benefits right away.

They might be hidden for a while.

But when they make themselves known, I hope you’re happy with what you find.

— Emma

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I write about the connection between personal growth, online business, and psychology to offer you tangible steps for your own transformation.

I'm emma

Actor, Writer, & Content Creator

Small changes,

big impact:

Values Mock Up.png
Free Cheat Sheet

Values shape our beliefs, behaviors, and choices. If you want help defining your values so you can start living in alignment with them, download the Cheat Sheet for free below. 

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