A domino is a small rectangular block used in the game of Dominoes, which are stood up to create elaborate patterns that can look pretty impressive when they’re knocked down. But did you know that the very first domino to fall in a line can cause hundreds and sometimes thousands of others to topple over as well? That’s what inspired the term “domino effect,” referring to the way one action can initiate a chain reaction that affects other actions.
But when people aren’t focusing on building their own mind-blowing domino installations, they’re using the concept to describe how one change can trigger a chain reaction that leads to other changes. When you adopt a new behavior, it can start a series of events that lead to positive outcomes—as long as you stick with the process and don’t stop.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, save money or just become more productive, changing a behavior is like a domino effect. If you want the outcome you’re after, keep going, even when it seems difficult or inconvenient. And don’t stop at just one change, either; it can be a good idea to make several small changes at once.
For example, when you set aside time for exercise, you’re likely to find that your food choices improve as a natural side-effect. This is because your body has more energy when you’re active, which will help fuel other healthy behaviors, such as eating fewer unhealthy foods.
When you’re starting a new habit, it can be helpful to break it down into small steps. This will help you keep the process moving and allow you to see progress, rather than focusing on a big goal that might seem overwhelming.
And while it might seem counterintuitive, the physics behind dominoes can actually inspire some good life lessons. Stephen Morris, a physicist at the University of Toronto, explains that when you stand a domino upright it has potential energy—or stored energy based on its position. But when you nudge it, that energy is converted to kinetic energy—or the energy of motion.
This kinetic energy then transfers to the next domino, providing it with the push it needs to fall over. And the process continues, with each domino transferring energy to its successor until they all fall.
Although the word domino is now mostly associated with a popular board game, it has a more diverse history than just that. In fact, it once denoted a long, hooded robe worn together with a mask during carnival season or at a masquerade ball. It was probably linked to the game because domino pieces were once made with ebony blacks and ivory faces, which reminded people of the priest’s hood contrasting with his white surplice. In the 1860s, the word started to appear in English and French literature. In 1889, the American dictionaries listed it as an acceptable spelling. The British dictionaries also approved it in 1911. By the end of the 1920s, it was the most common version of the word in the US.