The tiniest domino

Remember lining up dominoes as a kid?

You’d knock over the first one, and if you’d lined them up properly, that first domino would cause all the rest to fall. Pretty amazing concept when you think about it – that ONE action (knocking over the first) caused a chain reaction, making multiple dominoes fall down.

What’s even more interesting is that studies of this process have shown that not only can one domino knock over another one that’s lined up behind it, but in fact that first domino can cause a second one of up to fifty-percent larger size to fall.

Think about that for a second.

The force of a falling domino can knock over another domino 50% larger than itself. Can you picture this in your mind? If each subsequent domino was that much larger than the one in front of it? How quickly the dominoes would grow in size? You could only line up so many because they would become ridiculously huge in no time.

Let’s put this into perspective for our lives. The principle applies to our actions just like it applies to dominoes. Little things – actions, habits- allow bigger and bigger results to show up.

Consider running a marathon.

In order to complete a marathon, you may need to train. In order to train, you may need some accountability. In order to get accountability, you may need to share with another human being that you wish to run a marathon in the coming year.

Given the above, the first domino may be sharing with someone close to you that you wish to run a marathon this year.


Here are a few reasons:

Saying a thing out loud can make it real to us and to others.

Saying a thing out loud can result in unexpected help from others.

(Oh I know a great trainer, or oh I’m in a running group, you can join us, or oh I’ve run 5 marathons, let me tell you what I learned in doing that which will help you get started.)

Saying it out loud can lead us to questions about the next steps.

(What shoes do I need to buy, how many times a week will I choose to run, where’s a great route to start, should I get a treadmill for the days when it’s snowing or raining?)

The challenge that many of us have around accomplishing the things that we desire is finding the smallest domino and starting there.

Instead we want to jump ahead and go bigger right away. It’s human nature, and we’ve all done it – we say “I want to make a million dollars!” and we brainstorm a list of ways we might do that. Yet all the steps to get there are so… large. So… hard. So… confusing as to the how.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s critical to think big. DO say you want to run a marathon. DO say that you want to make a million dollars (assuming you know what you’ll spend it on.) And THEN, break it down to the tiniest step that you CAN take, right now.

If you set a goal and the first step is not something that you can do right now, the chances are low that you will reach that goal.

Work it back to the tiniest domino and begin there.

For example, I heard an interview with a kid (literally, he was like twelve!) who had a goal to be an actor on Broadway. I listened to him discuss what had to happen in order to achieve his goal, and how he worked it backward.

There were all kinds of things at first – he had to work on his acting, performing in front of people, work on his voice, work on his body, so that he could sing and dance.

And ask this kid worked it all backward, what he came down to was the most important thing he could focus on RIGHT NOW was his physical fitness. Without being physically fit, all the things leading up to performing on Broadway would not be possible.

And truly, even the term “physical fitness” does not represent the tiniest domino. One can work back further, from joining a gym, getting a personal trainer, to sharing this goal with another person (in the kid’s case, his mother) to committing to wake up at a certain hour each day, and immediately dress in workout clothes and gym shoes.

In fact, one might even work it back further, depending on the time the morning exercise is to begin, you could potentially begin with what time you go to bed the night beforehand.

Or even what time you eat dinner the day before (as that might impact how well you fall asleep at the given time.)

It may seem odd that a goal to act on Broadway breaks down to eating dinner no later than 6PM. And yet if eating dinner at 6PM allows you to fall asleep by 9PM, thus get up at 5AM, thus workout for an hour before school (or work) thus become physically fit, thus have a body which is equipped to work on dancing and singing, thus grow skill that feeds confidence, thus be ready to audition for stage roles which are physically demanding… well… doesn’t it make sense to start at the beginning?

It’s about knocking over the very first domino.

When we fail, it’s often because we’re not starting small enough. When we succeed, it’s often because we starting at the critical beginning, and our small action set off a chain-reaction that literally made everything else easier or unnecessary – the dominoes simply fell as a result of the pressure placed on that tiny first one.

Where in your life can you find a tiny domino that will set off the chain reaction in the direction that you desire?


PS This concept comes directly from the book The One Thing, which I highly recommend.

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