Monday, January 28, 2019

The Cannonball Effect

Once I was browsing through a library book, "A Complaint Free World" by Will Bowen. One anecdote stands out in my mind, perhaps because we are at the start of another new year. It's about a house painter named Mike who had an idea to dip a standard baseball in leftover paint at the end of each day in his garage, just out of idle curiosity to see how big it would get. The result was astounding.

Will Bowen and his daughter were invited to come and see it after Mike had been doing the daily dip for several years. They found a massive thing, the size of a cannon ball hanging from steel girders. He asked them if they'd like to apply that day's coat of paint, and it took them 15 minutes to get it evenly covered. What amazed them all was the fact that each individual coat of paint was about the width of a hair. Visible proof that lots of small actions, if persisted in, result in something formidably huge.

Bowen took it as an analogy for his complaint free world. Each individual decision to stay cheerful and not make an issue of annoyances may result in a transformed personality which automatically leans toward the optimistic option. I started to reflect that the principle applies to absolutely anything we can think of.

We all know that individually, one delicious chocolate truffle or Cadbury Freddo frog doesn't contain enough calories to put on much weight. If you indulge in them a lot, though, they become like those coats of paint, and your waistline ends up much thicker. One jog up a steep mountain path may result in no difference on the scales, which contestants on "The Biggest Loser" have discovered many times, but making a habit of it can get that flab moving. Brain science has shown that one thought, repeated over again several times, results in an entrenched attitude that wears a pathway, similar to the ones we used to see worn across the paddock near our house, by lots of pedestrians taking short cuts to the wetlands.

Each late December I hear plenty of negative comments about making new year's resolutions.  "We might as well not even bother. By February, we're back to our old habits, or April at the latest." But that's a gloomy attitude masquerading as realistic. By February, the baseball hasn't grown very big at all, and it's easy to look at the thinness of each individual coat of paint. It's right about then that we could benefit from reminding ourselves about the huge, impressive cannonball we could create, if only we persevere. I like new year's resolutions and usually begin a couple every January. I'd encourage everyone to do the same, if there's something in your life you wouldn't mind reversing or changing.

Even if you decide, "I need to accept myself more, and not get into the self-help trap of thinking there's always something wrong with me that I need to change," that's still a resolution. In fact, that may well be one of mine.

Mother Teresa vividly showed this principle with the poor in Calcutta, that thousands of small gestures, repeated over and over, may produce a wonderfully productive and difference-making life. It doesn't have to be that grandiose or self-sacrificing. I'd extend the analogy to smiling at strangers, cooking nutritious meals, reading more books, writing a book, or keeping up a blog like this one. Or maybe we could get into the habit of giving others the benefit of the doubt, choosing to not take offence, or just making an effort to purposefully look out for lovely, mood-brightening things each day.

I wish everyone who may read this a hopeful, healthy and productive 2019.

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