We often underestimate the power of doing one thing differently, but one change can affect many areas of our lives. In this article, we’ll dive into practical tips to start making small changes for big transformations.
The domino effect is about trying something new that’s small, achievable, and beneficial to create a positive ripple effect in your life.
You don’t have to choose something difficult — creativity or consistency are what’s most important.
Even a tiny positive habit change can lead to increased self-esteem and self-efficacy. This naturally leads to other beneficial and habitual behavior changes.
What is the domino effect?
The domino effect is about taking one small action to set off a chain of reactions. Just like a line of dominoes, where pushing the first one causes the rest to fall, a single, seemingly minor decision or behavior can trigger a cascade of effects in your life.
Examples of the domino effect
We’ve all heard that small changes add up to a big impact over time. Of course, it doesn’t always feel like it in the moment, but these examples offer some domino effect ideas for a potential chain reaction.
“Drink more water”
We hear this phrase plenty (to the point where it may trigger eye-rolling). But drinking more water consistently isn’t as easy as it sounds. Life gets busy, and that healthy habit we started a few days ago is easy to forget.
Adding more water doesn’t always feel important, but even a 1% body water loss can be the difference between normal functioning and dehydration. The domino effect of forgetting to drink more water can lead to short-term memory problems, headaches, brain fog, fatigue, and anxiety. And that can easily happen by not drinking to make up for working out or sweating on a hot day.
2 minutes or 2 hours?
Sitting down to work for 2 minutes sounds incredibly easier than 2 hours or even 20 minutes. The beauty of this technique is that you relieve the pressure of having to do something you don’t want to do. That relief makes the act not only easier to start but later you realize it’s not so hard to keep going. Sticking to those two minutes can make you feel proud of yourself, which is going to start that chain of dominos rolling.
How to stop fighting with your partner
Creative therapists have been using the domino effect in interventions for years. After all, whenever you’re caught in a cycle, the logical thing is to interrupt even a single event by doing one thing differently.
For one 'out-there' example, a therapist suggested something ridiculous to a couple to stop a recurring fight that kept escalating. They were desperate and ready to try anything. The therapist said they could keep fighting, but with one twist: they had to do it in the bathroom, with the husband sitting undressed in the tub and the wife on the toilet.
Naturally, the absurdity, hilarity, and embarrassment of it all quickly defused their arguing, and they were able to take it down a notch.
With time, as soon as one of them said, “We have to take this to the bathroom,” they paused and reconsidered escalating their fights.
How to benefit from the domino effect in your daily life
A well-thought-out action can create a positive chain reaction, even if you don’t see it right away. For example, you might not lose weight immediately because you switched from soda to sparkling water, but small actions over time work toward benefiting something else — your overall mental health.
Taking action toward something positive is in and of itself a reward with far-reaching benefits. You are proving to yourself that you can take action, be responsible, and care for yourself.
These tiny acts have huge benefits for your self-esteem and self-efficacy — your belief that you can do what you put your mind to.
This is one of the biggest hurdles in creating change; we often don’t believe we can. But these tiny acts prove to yourself that, with some effort, it is possible. You have the power to create change. And that knowledge, pride, and sense of empowerment will spread to other areas of your life.
4 practical tips
These strategies are designed to help you build momentum to maintain the changes you want and create chain reactions for other positive habits:
1. Start small and use habit-stacking
Use existing daily habits as a cue to introduce new ones, making sure they’re small and achievable.
For example, we all brush our teeth every morning without even thinking about it. If you want to drink more water, put post-its up on the bathroom mirror to remind yourself to grab a glass when you’re done brushing.
Don’t go for a complex habit. Start with something almost ridiculously easy — consistency in even the smallest act can boost your self-esteem and mood and lead to other positive behavioral habits.
2. Track your progress
Research shows that tracking your goals helps you stay aware, increasing your chances of completing them. It also improves your sense of self-efficacy since you can visibly see just how far you’ve come. A moment of reflection reminds you to take pride in your progress.
3. Stay flexible and adapt
If it’s not working, it’s not you; it’s the goal. Take a minute to understand why and what you could do instead.
Even if you’re not sure why it isn’t working, it’s okay. Trial and error is better than stalling.
It might even be that what you’re working on is not at all what you should be working on. Try focusing on something totally different — after all, the domino effect created by another habit might naturally reach what it is you’re currently trying to work on.
4. Celebrate small wins with self-compassion
We often spend more time beating ourselves up than taking credit for what we did well. If negative reinforcement isn’t working, try positive. Studies show that self-compassion is essential for our mental well-being and behavior change.
In fact, adopting a small daily self-compassion practice could be your new goal and naturally lead to a positive domino effect.
Change is all about trial and error, which means it isn’t always going to work out the way you hoped — but with compassion and experimentation, you’ll get there. After all, failure is how we learn and grow.
So no matter how small the act is, just know that even if you can’t tangibly see the results immediately, you are benefiting.
What is an example of a positive domino effect?
Start your day by sitting down for two minutes to enjoy a hot cup of tea. Practicing self-care first thing in the morning can lead to more mindful moments throughout the day and reduce stress. This can lead to better choices, like making a conscious decision to eat well or work out.
How do you make a domino effect?
Choose a new, small, and manageable action that has the potential energy to change other aspects of your day or well-being. If you want to make it a daily habit, stack it onto an already established one.
Is a domino effect good or bad?
The domino effect can be good or bad. In general, if the initial action is beneficial, it can lead to an overall good effect, and vice versa.
- British Journal of General Practice. Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice.
- Frontiers in Psychology. How to Form Good Habits? A Longitudinal Field Study on the Role of Self-Control in Habit Formation.
- JMIR mHealth and uHealth. Evaluating Motivational Interviewing and Habit Formation to Enhance the Effect of Activity Trackers on Healthy Adults' Activity Levels: Randomized Intervention.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Behaviors and Attitudes Associated With Low Drinking Water Intake Among US Adults, Food Attitudes and Behaviors Survey.
- The British Journal of Nutrition. Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men.