Goal setting is fun. Big goals actually release dopamine and make you feel like you already accomplished what you want. However, goal setting is often also way too theoretical. Under perfect conditions, you will do all the steps in the process and get the results you want. You’ll stick to the plan and not have hiccups along the way. But, just be real for a second. Is any of that actually going to happen? Probably not. You’ll have weddings to attend, random nights out with friends, and work commitments which pull you away from the gym and your regular schedule. What’s a more sustainable way to stick with your goals and develop good habits which lead to long term success? It all starts with finding your lead domino and focusing on tipping it over day after day after day.
What is a Lead Domino?
Your lead domino is whatever small decision leads to bigger, more important decisions later on. For example, if going out to lunch always means you are choosing a burger and fries, your lead domino is actually packing a lunch that morning or the night before. Which may actually work its way back to grocery shopping on the weekend, and doing meal prep. You can take it way, way back – but it is better to start with the immediate action that causes your good or bad habits to happen.
Another example of a lead domino could be with your phone. If you feel rushed and stressed every morning due to the flooding of important and urgent emails, your lead domino is most likely the habit of immediately checking your phone when you wake up.
How you can use your lead domino to improve your habits.
You can use lead dominos to force you into environments in which your positive, healthy habits thrive and in which your negative, unhealthy habits become much more difficult to follow. There’s a simple, three step process you can go through to find your positive and negative lead dominos throughout the day and adjust them as needed.
#1: Make a list of your positive and negative habits
In order to increase the frequency of your positive habits and eliminate your negative ones, make a list of all the things you do during the day. Even if you don’t workout every day, include your normal workout time in this list. For example, your list could look like the following:
- 6:00 am – wake up and turn off alarm. Check phone, brush teeth, shower, and get dressed for the day
- 7:00 am – make breakfast (eggs, oatmeal, fresh fruit)
- 8:00 am – commute to work. If I skip breakfast, stop at Starbucks for a vanilla latte
- 9:00 am to 5:00 pm – work time; various things happen each day. I eat lunch at noon and if I brought it, it usually is a lean protein, roasted vegetables, and a whole grain like sweet potatoes. When I go out, I grab something quick like a burrito or wrap. Typically check email during lunch so eat at my desk.
- 5:00 pm – drive home, change, and go to the gym if my clothes are handy. If clothes aren’t out, I’ll end up on the couch.
- 7:00 pm – dinner time with family. Normally looks a lot like lunch.
- 8:00 pm – end up on couch watching a show with my family and typically grabbing a snack like popcorn or cereal
- 10:00 pm – go to bed, and spend some time catching up on social media. Normally fall asleep at 10:30-10:45
In that list there are a lot of healthy and negative habits which can be unpacked. Just use it as an example framework for this step.
#2: Pick the habits you want to do more of, and those you want to do less of – and then find the root cause (aka the lead domino)
Using the prior example, you could choose the following actions to limit and do more of:
- Limit: stopping at Starbucks, eating while working, skipping the gym, mindless snacking after dinner, social media in bed
- Increase: making breakfast, bringing lunch, going to the gym, family time from dinner on
From this point, you can unpack why you do these things. For example, when you choose to go to Starbucks for the vanilla latte instead of eating breakfast, why does that happen? Maybe it is because on these days your clothes for work weren’t already ironed so the time you take to iron cuts away the time you can spend making a healthy meal. Under this example, the lead domino is ironing your clothes ahead of time. Whether that happens on Sunday night for the entire week or simply each night before bed doesn’t matter. Or, to really make your life easier, have all of your work clothes sent to the dry cleaner. This gets more pricey, but everything will always be ironed and prepared for you.
Do this for each of the things you list until you have found the lead domino for your positive and negative habits.
#3: Pick one lead domino to focus on implementing
You have to stick to just one. This is so incredibly crucial and cannot be overstated. If you pick the entire list, it is overwhelming and nothing changes. You don’t create 14 new habits at a time; you create one at a time, and you build on that success repeatedly.
Therefore the last step in finding a lead domino and making it work for your life is to pick simply one lead domino to focus on making a habit. Whether that is a positive one such as putting your clothes out so you go to the gym or a more negative one such as having your phone in your room so you’re tempted to get on social media every night before bed doesn’t matter. You just have to pick on thing to make happen more or less.
You’ll know you’ve converted this lead domino into serving your life when you no longer think about it and it is a positive habit. Continuing the above example about making and eating breakfast, when you no longer think about getting your ironing board out on Sunday night and ironing your work clothes so that you have time to make breakfast each morning, you now know that’s a habit and your lead domino has stuck. Only at this point can you add another lead domino. It is tempting to make more happen – resist that temptation. One at a time. Slow and steady is the name of this game.
Your lead domino is causing your habits – and therefore determining your results
Habits are consistency, and consistency is the driving force behind what happens in your life. If you consistently eat fast food and don’t exercise, you will end up obese. If you consistently read books, and expand your mind through podcasts and other content you will end up knowledgable and well-read. It isn’t rocket science, but implementing this strategy is easier said than done. Following the steps to find your lead domino is a great place to start with habit creation and making your routines serve the life you want to live rather than your life being a slave to your habits.