The Domino Effect


A small, rectangular block used as a gaming piece in a variety of board and tile-based games. Each domino has a line that divides it visually into two square ends bearing either an arrangement of spots, called pips, or blank; 28 such pieces make up a complete set. Other names for domino include bones, cards, stones, men or pieces, and the term is also used for any of the games played with them.

Unlike a rolling pin or a basketball, a domino has no kinetic energy; it is completely immobile and inert until a small force pushes it past its tipping point. That small nudge causes the first domino to fall over, and its potential energy is converted into kinetic energy that in turn sets off a chain reaction that brings down all the other dominoes. This principle is referred to as the Domino Effect, and it can apply to almost any series of events that stem from one small trigger.

The Domino Effect is a powerful way to get a new behavior started, and it can work in the real world as well as in our imaginations. The key is to start with something small and easy to maintain, so that the momentum builds up and eventually overtakes more challenging behaviors. This strategy capitalizes on the principle described in the classic book Influence by Robert Cialdini, which states that if you can get someone to commit to an idea or goal, even in a very small way, they are more likely to honor that commitment.

For example, if you want to establish a healthy eating routine, start by making the small change of choosing fruit instead of candy for a snack. This small action may seem insignificant, but if you can stick with it for a few days, the habit will build on itself until it becomes automatic. Over time, this small change will have a bigger impact as more and more of your habits become healthier.

Another useful application of the Domino Effect is in plotting a novel. Whether you write off the cuff or follow a meticulous outline, each scene in your story is a kind of domino that helps dictate what happens next. The more dominoes you have, the stronger your story.

Whether you’re playing dominoes or writing a novel, every scene should add up to an overarching theme or argument. Think of each scene as a domino that falls naturally to influence the next scene. When each scene has a purpose, it’s easier to keep the rest of the story moving forward.