Let me preface this by saying that whenever I venture into writing about anything remotely science-based, take it all with a grain of salt. I love this stuff and read it for pleasure the way other people read Harlequin romance novels. However, I, like most of my peers, took business courses in high school and I quit at the beginning of grade 11 so I didn’t even get that much of business math. Up until fairly recently, I also suffered from math anxiety and the minute I had to think about numbers, my brain shut down, kind of like the way it still does when I’m faced with an acronym.
But I still love this stuff, and by ‘this stuff’ I mean science—quantum mechanics, astronomy, Einstein’s theories, fractal geometry—but only as long as I don’t have to understand math to ‘get’ it. To be honest, I don’t even understand how math is at all related to ‘this stuff’.
So my ‘ponder of the day’ is related to Chaos Theory. Chaos Theory is the theory that gave rise to the Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect, besides being a movie, suggests that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil will eventually give rise to a tornado in Kansas. Actually, since the Butterfly Effect was first introduced back in the early 70s, there have been so many variations on it that there’s a website now that has recorded all the variations on place and weather attributed to the Butterfly Effect.
Mathematician James Yorke of the University of Maryland coined the term ‘chaos theory’ in 1974 and he explains it this way, “an area of science and mathematics that describes situations in which small changes can cascade into larger and larger long-term effects.” He said that it applied not only to weather and scientific phenomena but also to our day to day lives.
So for example, one small change in your daily habit can ultimately result in massive change in our lives as a whole. Let me give you one hypothetical example:
Julie is a woman in her 40s who has lived under the thumb of just about everyone in her circle since she was a child. She works in an office in a low level position where she is bossed around by her manager and her coworkers. Her husband, Bob, makes most of the minor and major decisions about their life, their home, their vacations, even their meals. They have a very nice home in a nice suburban neighbourhood. Because they are forward thinking people and want to be able to sell their house in the future, it is decorated in a nice neutral tone of beige. Julie is pleasant, polite, passive and not unhappy—just a bit dissatisfied.
One day, Julie decides that the house is needing a new coat of paint, so she heads out to Home Depot to choose from the wide variety of beige paint. However, as she’s standing in front of the racks of paint chips, her eye is caught by a beautiful mango color. She gazes longingly at it for a while and then turns back to the beige. But for some reason she starts to imagine what the house would look like if she painted it mango—how the sun would warm the room, how beautiful the cream colored leather couch would look against the wall of mango. She started to think that perhaps she could get rid of the beige cushions and get something a little more colorful.
Days later, she would remember this moment with awe, concluding that she must have had an attack of menopause. Julie bought the mango paint. Her husband put up a bit of a fuss but because he is not a wasteful man, he let her paint the livingroom mango. That night, after the walls were painted and the furniture was put back in place, Julie suddenly grabbed Bob and forced him to dance with her around the room. They made love that night, even though it wasn’t Friday.
Two weeks later, Julie brought home some brochures from a travel agency and convinced Bob that they should try something new before they got too old.
I won’t take you through each tiny step that led ultimately to Julie and Bob’s new life, but two years later, after taking a kayaking trip in Costa Rica, they both quit their jobs and retired to Portugal where Julie teaches English and paints great big colorful abstracts.
This is just a fantasy but why couldn’t it be true? One tiny change in behaviour, a new path taken, leads to a new experience and a new way of viewing the world. That new paradigm could lead even further into the unknown and open even more windows that are too tempting not to climb through. Once you have climbed through that window, it invariably slams shut behind you and you can never go back to your old way of seeing the world. You have no choice but to go forward.
Actually, of course you can retreat to your old life but you will always have a slightly skewed perspective as a result of your little foray into the unknown and scary world. Once you have tried something new you will be forever changed.
We make literally thousands of choices every day from whether to roll over and go back to sleep to which route to take to work to whether to buy a house or a car. I couldn’t find a definitive number but the guesses ranged from hundreds to 35,000 or more decision every single day. Most of our choices are made out of habit but just imagine if you started to make a few more conscious choices. According to the Butterfly Effect, just one tiny change, one new choice, could trickle down and impact your entire day and potentially your entire life.
You might choose to get up fifteen minutes earlier and meditate, which might make you calmer, which might mean that you are more thoughtful in a meeting at work and make a useful comment that is noticed by the director that’s in town and leads ultimately to a new and better job in the company.
You might choose to go for a walk with the dog after work and while strolling along a river you meet a man with a friendly dog and make plans to walk your dogs together every evening. Two years later you’re married.
You decide to go to a book store at lunch instead of the drive-through. You get a latte and browse through the self-help books where you notice a book called Future Pull. You pick it up and start reading it and can’t put it down. You decide to go through the exercises and create a vision board and bucket list. A year later, you are self-employed making beautiful jewellery out of your garage.
Okay so I couldn’t resist the shameless self-promotion, but you get the drift.
So what can you do today, that changes one habit and sets your whole life on a new trajectory?