January 5, 2017
Have you heard about Jennifer?
She lived in a fairly messy way, right into her 40s. She was quite the unashamed domestic horror. Pots and pans went unwashed, socks left on the floor, and she only made her bed when she was expecting guests.
One day, for an unexplained reason, she decided to make her bed anyway – even though she wasn’t expecting guests. Nothing bad happened. It didn’t take up too much of her day. And she made her bed four times in a row that week. The morning of that fourth day, she also decided to have a bit of a tidy – picking clothes up and folding them, loading the dishwasher, and making her kitchen look homelier.
In an article original posted on JamesClear.com, Jennifer explained: “My act of bed-making had set off a chain of small household tasks.
“I felt like a grown-up—a happy, legit grown-up. I felt like a woman who had miraculously pulled herself up from the energy-sucking Bermuda Triangle of Household Chaos.”
Jennifer revamped her whole life – but it started with her bed. Her gateway to a more optimised life, as it were. It gave her pleasure, so she then started looking for other aspects of her life which would have the same effect. What could she improve? How could she start feeling good about other things?
You can – and will – do the same. Jennifer derived happiness from suddenly being on top of her game. That will inevitably lead her to look for efficiency in her spending (and probably someone new to share her freshly made bed with. Just saying). She didn’t want to ruin all of her hard work, so she sought out other ways to build on her success.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is The Domino Effect, and it’s an integral part of what THE LIFEHOUSE.CO is all about. We believe in the power of making small, manageable changes – and then seeing them develop into habits which make your life better. And it doesn’t have to start with money.
What is The Domino Effect?
It’s a chain reaction. Basically, because our behaviours are interconnected. You make one small change, and other things also begin to change, as you get pleasure from seeing your situation get better.
Fine, I get it. How does this affect me?
Whoa, whoa, whoa! You think we’re going to start talking about money, don’t you? Well, we’re not. Not just yet, anyway.
This is the point we want you to remember – living a richer life starts by taking small steps that work for you, not because someone has told you to take them. This is deeply personal stuff. Be aware of who you are, and what makes you happy. Find the one thing which unlocks your desire to get your act together – and build on it.
Anything could set you off. Take making a packed lunch for work. You start to see your figure improve, and notice you’re saving money. You feel better, more adult, more in control, and this leads you to notice other things you can improve – so you start de-cluttering your desk at work, you hoover your lounge and rearrange the furniture. You start keeping in touch with your Dad more often. You rejoin the gym. You’re rewiring your brain to recognise that change can equal pleasure – not pain.
You’ve already started amending the way you think, and if you carry on implementing small, manageable changes, there’ll be no stopping you. Your new habits may well mean you start to notice your money situation, and change it – but it may not begin with looking at your bank statements and going ‘Well now, I should definitely sort this out.’
Dr Benjamin Gardner MBPSs is a Senior Lecturer within the Department of Psychology at King's College London. He has conducted a huge amount of research into complex human behaviours, especially habits. “How easy it is to change behaviour depends on the behaviour itself and how the person experiences it, and how well-learned it is,” he says. “Although in lay language the term ‘habit’ is used to mean actions that people do often, in psychological terms it refers to actions that are triggered automatically in certain situations.
“Many behaviours are done repeatedly, and they are elicited by the habit process in that we have learned that they are useful responses to certain situations (for example, eating popcorn in the cinema satisfies hunger and gives a pleasant taste). People are wired to be mentally efficient, and by turning an action that originally required some deliberation (do I choose popcorn? Do I want a hot dog? Should I have some sweets?) into an automatic action, we ‘lock it in’ and it becomes second nature, which means we no longer have to think about whether to do it.
“The flipside of this is that, once a behaviour has become habitual and locked in, it becomes very difficult to change, because it is the default, automatic response to a particular situation. The best ways to overcome a habitual response (such as tackling that unhealthy popcorn habit) are to (a) avoid the situations that trigger them (e.g. don’t go to the cinema), or (b) try to change your response to the situations (e.g. plan carefully in advance how you will resist the urge).
“The first option may be unrealistic in everyday life; if we change the example to ‘drinking coffee when I get to work’, it is unreasonable to think that we can simply not go to work anymore. The second strategy (adopt a new response) requires a great deal of mental energy, and if people are not prepared to expend that energy, they may relapse. For these reasons, it can be incredibly hard to change unwanted habits.”
Benjamin believes that small steps are a good way to move forward. “In some situations, yes, small steps are a good idea. This goes back to the notion of being realistic in your behaviour change goals. If someone does no exercise at all but becomes motivated to exercise, it is unrealistic for them to think that they will start going to the gym five times a week. Instead, it would be more feasible to set the ‘small’ goal of going to the gym once. Once that has been achieved, the goal can be reviewed, and a harder goal can be set.
However, Benjamin is sceptical that willpower can be trained to be stronger. “There are some studies suggesting that people can train themselves to develop stronger willpower, in the same way as a muscle,” he says. “However, the most recent evidence on this, which reviewed previous studies of this phenomenon, concluded that willpower cannot be trained.
“Interestingly, another study suggested that people’s willpower depends on their perceptions of it. People who thought their willpower was a limited resource were more likely to report their willpower having been depleted after a task designed to test it. Those people who think that willpower is unlimited did not report being depleted in this way. This suggests that willpower might just be ‘all in the mind’.
So, what happens if you slip up? There’s always a way to get back on track – even if you ‘break’ a new, positive habit you’ve put a lot of work into maintaining, such as stopping smoking. “For something like quitting smoking, where a single relapse – i.e. smoking one cigarette – leads to a downward spiral and a complete relapse, I would say not to be disheartened, but rather to think about why they might have slipped up,” Ben says. “Also, behaviour changes like quitting smoking should be seen as a long-term process, and one ‘failure’ should be seen as part of an overarching, longer-term attempt to quit.”
Life coach and success strategist Simon Alexander Ong has a huge amount of experience when it comes to helping his clients implement changes in their lives. “There are many factors that drive people towards change,” he explains. “The two most common reasons I’ve witnessed are people experiencing greater self-awareness, and exposure to experiences that can transform the way people see their world.”
Simon believes that self-awareness – people being aware of their habits, and the things that they do every day – is the key. “We achieve greater self-awareness through the activity of tracking,” he explains. “For example, for an athlete to be truly successful, they are constantly tracking their diet, workouts, training schedules and styles, recovery techniques etc, so that they know what's working and what's not. Understanding what is tracked allows them to make the necessary changes. In a similar fashion, if we want more time in our lives, we first need to start tracking how we spend the 24 hours we all have available to us each day.
“What activities are you spending your day on and for how long? Are these activities productive and are they contributing to moving you forwards to where you want to be? It's not surprising that many people are shocked when they realise how much time is spent on non-urgent, non-important activities. You see, even if you sleep for 8 hours on average and work in an office for 8 hours on average, you still have 8 hours that is in your control. How you spend that is up to you and the activity of tracking will bring the awareness and attention required to what needs to change.”
“Exposure to experiences which can have a transformational impact on the way we see our world comes down the simple fact that our beliefs create our realities. We all live in different realities to one another, which are formed and shaped by our thinking.
“However, when we are taken out of the routine of the everyday and exposed to something that gives perspective, this can be an incredibly powerful catalyst for change to occur. For example, if you go from hanging around with a crowd who are comfortable with where they are and spend their time exchanging thoughts on last night’s TV to one which inspires each other with their achievements and challenges they have overcome, I guarantee that a world of possibilities will open up. It is why holidays and doing something 'different' to what you usually do on a regular basis can often provide the inspiration behind change taking place.”
Like us, Simon is a big believer in taking small steps to achieve big changes. “The saying ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step', is so true, and this is also the case when looking to make meaningful changes in our lives,” he smiles. “Can you imagine the average smoker becoming a non-smoker overnight? Or someone who is obese looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger within a week? Small steps are important because it is not what we do once in while that will result in the changes we desire, but what we do every day. Small steps also make things easy and manageable for us. Of course, some people panic at the idea of change. What if they don’t like it? What if it makes them unhappy? “People can and do get scared when thinking about change,” Simon explains. “We generally don't like it when we have to venture outside of our comfort zones.
“The irony, however, is that this is where some of the greatest magic in life occurs. Fear and doubt remain two of the biggest obstacles to where we want to be, and taking massive action to make the changes we need to make. Overcoming this requires us to reframe and interpret failure differently. There can be a lot of negative associations with failure; it’s helpful to remember that there is no such thing as failure, only insightful lessons and valuable feedback.
“In fact, we learn more from our so-called 'failures' than our successes can ever teach us. While success can lead us to believe that we know everything, failure keep us humble and provides us with the wisdom to try things again. And, of course, people fall off the wagon. They slip into old habits. You have to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect, straight line journey in life. It's not the falling off the wagon that's the issue, it's more about how we bounce back from these experiences and move forward.”
As we’re nosy parkers, we wanted to see how the rest of the UK feels about change – so we’re going to test the waters, and conduct our own research into how people feel about their behavioural habits. We’ll be posting our findings here very soon, so keep an eye on this page. We’ve got a feeling that people will have a lot to say on the matter. We know we do.
Did you know it takes just 5 minutes to discover what makes you tick? Take our LIFEMIND test and find out how you can use your hidden strengths to make the most of your financial life.
Have you ever had an epiphany like Jennifer? Has a single event turned your mindset around, and helped you break free from bad habits? We're keen to discover what works for you - and hear your stories about the experiences which shaped your psyche. Tweet us @TheLifehouseCo, find us on Facebook or contact us here.