Have you ever noticed the domino effect in your own life? You know, where one thing happens and then it triggers another thing, which sets off another thing and maybe the initial change was tiny but by the end the change has been huge?
In The Power of Habit we met Lisa Allen, who changed what Charles Duhigg referred to as a “keystone habit” – smoking – and over the course of the next six months it had a ripple effect that changed her life. She had been struggling with debt and obesity and had a chequered CV that showed her moving jobs at least once a year. Life events happened, she made a new goal and decided that giving up smoking was essential for the attainment of that new goal. She replaced “smoking with jogging and that, in turn, changed how she ate, worked, slept, saved money, scheduled her workdays, planned for the future and so on.” She took up marathons, went back to school to complete her education and bought a house. All of these things were triggered by the decision, action and focus around the keystone habit.
I have definitely experienced the strange fairly subconscious change in my appetite when I’m doing more exercise. Thinking back only a couple of years, the average day was “powered” by coco pops and pizza. I knew I wanted to change but struggled to change up our eating patterns because Tilly was fussy and I was too tired to argue and it seemed like a ridiculous amount of effort to make two dishes for two people. Exercise seemed impossible. I love classes but they only seemed to run in the evenings when I’d also have to pay a babysitter, and Tilly hated being put to bed by anyone but me or her grandparents. I struggled to get to a gym because of limited childcare hours – it felt frivolous to drive into town for a work out on my working-at-home days, and it felt wrong on my working-in-the-office days to swap out office hours for gym hours. I wasn’t getting anywhere with my collection of workout DVDs, or home exercise equipment. Running? Erm… I’d tried but it’s hilly and I felt self conscious… and actually I just found it really hard to get started.
Then I heard about The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin and realised that as a classic Obliger, what I needed was accountability. I looked back over every successful period of my life in the exercise and lifestyle realm and what was there? Other people, expectations and accountability. When I was in possibly the best shape of my life back in 2004, I had developed a habit of going to the gym between 5 and 7 mornings a week.
What was different about this particular time I joined a gym from every other time? Like a lot of people, I had joined other gyms before and paid memberships and then didn’t go. I also repeated that same pattern a few years later, so it wasn’t just any old gym I needed.
The key difference? The staff. They greeted me like a friend, came and talked to me while I pounded up hills on the treadmill and were always offering tips. When I headed out the door for work they’d say “see you tomorrow?” and I’d say “yes” and sure enough, I’d be up by 6am the next day and back at the gym as they opened at 0630.
Going to the gym had no impact on my smoking habit – only pregnancy cured me of that! It did however have a huge impact on the way I ate and the way I slept, not to mention the amount of work stress I could handle.
So what went wrong? Well, I met Oliver and he was a night owl, which made my early morning gym visits harder and harder to get up for. Then there was the car accident where I broke myself and then I moved to London… there was a brief successful interlude with running, largely with a mate at lunchtime and sometimes home across London… then in 2011 I was pregnant then widowed…
Track forward to 2018 and my strong feeling that the time was right to make changes. I now knew I needed accountability and having looked back through my life and pinpointed what had been the things that made all the difference, I wanted a personal trainer. Not just any trainer. Never again would I pay someone to train me who ate his breakfast while fiddling with the settings on a treadmill. I wanted someone who knew what it was like to tread this path.
I asked for recommendations on Facebook, but none of them excited me. Then completely by chance, I met Jo. She popped up at a local business show with a fruit basket to ask us all to reconsider having chocolates on our tables. I asked her if she was a trainer and she said she was, but that she wasn’t here to promote herself. Something in me just KNEW she was exactly the who and what I needed. I insisted on having her card, AND I followed up.
I’m not going to tell you I’m in the best shape of my life right now, because that would be a lie and actually it’s not the point. This whole blog is about the domino effect. What I am going to tell you is that Jo is a catalyst for me.
We have done a workout together pretty much every week, with the exception of school holidays when she was unavailable, since the first one. I plan my week to ensure I can get my session in. I work hard but we laugh and talk politics and swear and she’s become one of my best mates. This is the bit I hoped for when we met.
The domino effect?
Growing up, I loved The Karate Kid and would dream of meeting my Mr Miyagi. The opportunity never presented itself to me, but my brother took up karate when he was 13 and appeared to be instantly brilliant at it. Martial arts became his thing in my mind, and I dropped it. At Uni I tried again, but I was so unfit I couldn’t keep up in my trial session and never went back. In the gym bunny years above, I took up kickboxing and loved it but the trainer couldn’t make the class financially viable and left.
When Tilly started school, a Taekwondo instructor offered to do a trial session and she loved it. I asked if there was any way I could join in, but the answer was No. It looked like my ninja dreams would never be realised.
This is where Jo is a domino 🙂
Turns out, Jo’s son (at a different school) had decided to try Taekwondo and since she was watching intently from the sidelines, she asked if she could join in. The instructor welcomed her into the class. Suddenly, training became accessible for people like me who didn’t have a partner to watch the kids and couldn’t afford a babysitter every week.
She showed me some of what she was learning and encouraged me to come along. I loved it. From the first second. I walk into the dojang and my sense of inner peace is immediate.
I have felt like my arms and legs are on backwards many times during training – there’s a lot of coordination of leg and arms movements and counting in Korean has taken me the longest time. Tilly reckons I’m still doing it wrong because I say “yodel” when she would say “yellow”, because I cannot win. Can’t imagine where she gets it from ;D
I have been knocked sideways by numerous back issues, so it’s taken me nearly a year to get to this point, but I’m doing my first grading next weekend. Just in time for my birthday.
Wish me luck? I’ll let you know how it goes and if we’re lucky there might even be a photo 😀
By the way, this is only one of the domino runs that Gretchen’s quiz triggered for me. There’s also the TAWN Book Club – what better way to finally embed the habit of reading a book each month than being the one everybody else expects to have read it? Some months I read two!
So, where have you felt the domino effect in your life? Xx