You’ve probably heard of the butterfly effect. It’s an idea that everything that happens in the world has a knock on effect on the things around it, which in turn have a knock on effect on the things around them.
The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks earlier.
Basically, if a butterfly flaps its wings in England, it could set into play a chain reaction that results in a hurricane in South East Asia. It’s a nice metaphor to represent the fact that everything we do in life can have a big effect on our lives, the lives of those around us and the wider world, even if each individual action is tiny in its own right.
Sometimes those knock on effects can be positive and sometimes negative, but in practice we rarely make the connection and acknowledge how our actions have had wider impacts. Is the butterfly effect something that we should pay any attention to? If these knock on effects are out of our control, can we do anything about them? And can these effects really be significant enough to make a real difference? I think the answer to all of these questions is yes.
I recently realised this when I was thinking about some of the ways in which my lifestyle has changed over the past few years and I started tracing things back in my mind. I then realised that there were several things that all pointed back to the same event.
A few years back when we were living in Brisbane in Australia, we were in the park on a Saturday afternoon when my wife told me to take my shoes off and enjoy walking in the grass barefoot. At first I refused because I was a stuck up English guy who didn’t “walk around in public without shoes on”. But she did persuade me and that one action transformed my life.
It felt great walking in the grass so I kept my shoes off as we started to walk home down the riverside pathway. But the concrete path was burning hot in the afternoon sun and too hot to walk on so instead of putting my shoes back on, I started running. That felt even better! Not only did it feel great, but I realised that I could run (on concrete) and not injure myself like I had always done in the past. So we started running barefoot on the riverside on a regular basis and developed a passion for barefoot running. My posture improved massively as a result. I developed an arch in my feet (not a big one, but an arch none the less) and my fitness improved. This lead me to read the book Born to Run, in which I learned about Barefoot Ted and as a result later learned about Luna Sandals. But the book also made a reference to the fact that meat consumption was related to cancer. This sparked my curiosity. I had seen one of my Grandparents die of cancer and it is something that I never want anyone to ever have to go through. So I did some research, which led me to the film PlanEat. This fascinating film led me to the work of T Colin Campbell and subsequently many other top nutritional scientists who completely changed the way that I thought about nutrition, health and medicine. My diet has improved massively as a result. I get ill less, I feel more energetic and I’m able to tolerate higher loads of stress than before.
Best of all though, barefoot running gave me confidence for the first time that my childhood belief that the answer to all our human problems can be found in nature was actually true. This shifted my perspective on my entire life and helped me make better decisions for my health and happiness, and it gave me confidence in myself. I no longer worry about what’s normal and am much better at shrugging off doubts about what other people think, instead treating life as one big experiment and letting the proof be in the pudding.
My life changed for the better as a result of one small action. But it is a small action that required an initial leap of faith to try something positive and new. And it took a positive attitude to embrace each and every step on the journey that followed that initial barefoot walk in the park.
The point that I am trying to make is that if you make an effort to do positive things in your life, take a few chances and embrace everything that comes your way, small actions can end up transforming your life for the better in ways that you could never have imagined. In much the same way, turning down opportunities in life and treating small situations negatively could result in you missing out on many more opportunities and could potentially create a negative chain reaction of unintended consequences.
So be positive, embrace what life gives you and create your own positive butterfly effect.