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Randall Bell, PhD
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The Butterfly Effect
The Butterfly Effect - blog post image

Whenever one of my children goes off to a dance, I give him or her the same advice my mom gave to me when I was a teenager. She told me to be sure to ask some girls to dance who hadn’t yet been asked.

She told me that tiny things could change the trajectory of a person’s life. I didn’t know what a “trajectory” was, but I did what she asked.

The Butterfly Effect is a term coined by mathematician Edward Lorenz to describe how a small change in one place can set off a chain of events that has a large effect somewhere else. The Butterfly Effect demonstrates that the tiny amount of air stirred up by a butterfly’s wings can actually set off a series of events that can change the weather patterns on the other side of the world. Likewise, just a tiny drop of rain in Palau or Saipan can start a chain reaction that creates a wave in Laguna Beach.

In a world full of fast, loud, thundering messages, tiny things still matter. Both sailors and pilots agree that an error of just one degree will mean missing their destination by hundreds of miles. In sports, milliseconds, millimeters, or the tiniest angle of a tennis racket or golf club can mean defeat or victory.

Life offers time and freedom. In a society where the average person is assaulted with hundreds of distractions a day, the Be habits are small and are simple concepts that can be built upon with just moments a day. We are the sum of tiny thoughts and habits.

The Butterfly Effect teaches that tiny things matter, and there is no such thing as a tiny drop in the bucket. Our daily choices truly matter. These efforts all add up to a powerful life with purpose and can have an influence that can be felt around the world.

More than thirty years after my last high school dance, I was at a dinner party where one of other guests was a woman I had gone to high school with. She took me aside and started to cry. She told me that she had once gone to a dance feeling very nervous about some deep personal problems. She thanked me, thirty years later, for simply coming up to her and saying, “Hi,” and asking her to dance. It not only changed her entire outlook for the rest of the dance, but it helped her change her outlook of a bleak situation. I simply had no idea. I was just doing something that my mom told me. But this was a profound moment when I realized that my mom was right.

So I went home and finally got a dictionary and looked up that word, “trajectory.”


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