The snowball effect: Why small things add up to big weight loss

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Have you ever watched a cartoon where a snow ball rolls down the hill? In the beginning, the snow ball is small, but as it rolls down the hill and gathers more snow, it becomes bigger and bigger until it reaches the bottom of the hill and crashes into whatever is in its way.

Losing weight and changing your body shape is a little bit like that — without the crash at the bottom!

A lot of people — especially those with a diet mindset — think losing weight is all about BIG changes. These people tend to take an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach because they believe that changes to their weight or body shape will only happen if they make big changes to their diet or exercise program. And for them, big changes often mean being perfect.

However, the biggest changes happen when you’re consistent. Consistent doesn’t mean doing things perfectly. It means making progress every day, even if those days are less than ideal and you make mistakes along the way.

Because when you’re consistent, you’ll be able to enjoy the compound effects of small changes that will lead to big weight loss results.

What is the compound effect?

The compound effect is the strategy of reaping the outcomes from seemingly insignificant actions. It’s what happens when small actions, done consistently over time leads to a certain outcome — for your weight, business and life in general. But beware, it can work for you, or against you.

You see, each day we make thousands of big and small decisions, each of which ‘compounds’ with other decisions to determine what our outcome will be. Some decisions will work for us, and help us reach our goals, while other decisions lead to negative outcomes.

One of the best ways to illustrate the power of compounding is to look at a fable.

A wealthy man nearing the end of his day summoned his twin boys to his bedside and told them he wanted to give them the opportunity to experience the richness in life that he had. He told them he was giving them a purse to finance their own adventures, but what would go in the purse would be their own choice.

They could choose $1 million in cash, or a penny that would double in value every day for the next 31 days. But whatever they chose, they would have to leave in the purse, under the butler’s care for a full month, so they had time to think about how to use it. However, they could open a line of credit with their father’s bank in the meantime. The father told their boys to think about their choice overnight and let them know of their decision in the morning.

The first son almost immediately decided he wanted the $1 million, and spent that night thinking about how he would spend it. The second son thought carefully about his choice. The next morning, both sons advised their father of their decision. The first son chose his $1 million, delighted in receiving such a fortune. The second son chose the penny, despite his brother’s scoffing.

The first brother immediately opened his line of credit and hired a team of staff — an executive director, investors, market analysts and financial advisors. He also rented an expensive house where they spent their days working out how to transform the million dollars into an even greater fortune.

On the second day, the second son had 2 pennies. On the third day, he had 4. By the end of the first week, he had 64 pennies — a lot more than what he started with, but hardly a great fortune. By the end of the second week, the pennies had added up to just over $81 — not even enough to buy a nice meal.

On day 28, the executive director gave the first son some troubling news. The markets had experienced a downturn and the financial projects would have to be revised, but he would have more news in a couple of days. On the morning of the 31st day, the day the sons were to visit their butler to finally receive their purses. Before the first son could leave, his executive investor came to give him some news.

Some of the investments had performed well, but some had not. All in all, they had made a 50% return, meaning the $1million was now worth $1.5million. However, after all the expenses involved, plus the staff salaries, the bill was $1.75 million. The first son had not only lost his $1 million, but he was $250,000 in the red!

Meanwhile, the second son when to visit the butler. On day 28, the number of pennies had passed the $1 million dollar mark. On day 29, it was over $2.5 million. Day 30 it had exceeded $5 million, and on the final day, day 31, the butler handed over a fortune worth $10,737,418!

If you don’t believe us, take a look at the image below.


That’s the power of compound interest.

How the compound effect helps you

The compound effect starts off small, but actually adds up over time to some very big gains. It’s how your superannuation grows over time. You start with an initial amount, but each month you add more into your account which is added to the amount you had the previous month. And with a growing amount in your account every month, there is more to invest, which reaps you even bigger dividends.

This principle of compound interest, or the snow ball effect works in all areas of your life — business, career, and even weight loss. By consistently making progress through your daily choices, you will eventually notice a big change in your circumstances, even if your daily progress seems small.

How the compound effect can derail you

However, just as your daily choices can propel you towards success, they can also be your undoing. Imagine in the example above what would have happened if the second son chose to spend twice as many pennies every day, instead of gaining them. Over a month, he would have spent nearly $11 million dollars! In the beginning, the choice to spend 2 pennies or even 64 pennies would make very little difference to the second son’s purse. But over time, it would have made an enormous difference.

You see, in life, and particularly with changing your body shape, it’s not the big choices that you make that matter the most, but the ones that you think don’t matter. For example, choosing to eat a 50g chocolate bar every night doesn’t sound extreme. Certainly, eating 50g of chocolate won’t cause you to gain weight. However, over a week, this equates to 350g of chocolate. And over a year, this equals over 18 kilos of chocolate. Would you say that may have an impact on your weight over 12 months?

Why perfectionism doesn’t work

A common mistake that people make is believing that big efforts are the only way to make progress and achieve big things. When it comes to losing weight, this usually implies going on a diet and ramping up your exercise program, and then being perfect in both. But being perfect is impossible. Not only does it rely on willpower, which doesn’t work (read our blog to find out why), but it also causes an enormous amount of stress, which makes it harder for you to lose weight, or in some cases may cause you to gain weight.

When people try to be perfect in their eating or exercise program, they usually end up bingeing as a result. This is because going on a diet requires you to restrict your food in an effort to control your calorie intake to lose weight. This high level of control involving starvation, restriction and rules, leads you to overeat through bingeing. Which then causes you to restrict your food even more, in an attempt to make up for the bingeing. This just creates a perpetual vicious circle of starving and bingeing, which only takes you further away from your weight loss goals.

Dieting, quick-fixes and restricting your food creates a similar situation to the first son, who spent all his money and put himself into debt. It may seem like it’s the answer, because it’s full of ‘big’ actions — overhauling your food and exercising a lot. But all it brings you is a world of pain, because it takes you further away from your goals.

Why are habits important?

The power is in the small things you do. While they may seem small and insignificant, just like the pennies in a purse they will add up over time. However, the only way to ensure that you’re creating a positive snow ball effect is to build habits that will take you towards where you want to be.

Habits play a huge part in your weight loss journey because they are unconscious patterns of behaviour that you do without even realising. Effectively, they run your life without you even noticing. That means in order to lose weight, and have the life you desire, you must develop habits that support these goals.

We have written a lot of content about habits, which you can find within our blogs. However, common habits that prevent people from losing weight are listed below. Many of them might surprise you, so if you want to know more about a particular habit, be sure to click on the link to read more.

All of the above habits, have their own sets of behaviours that compound to take you further and further away from your goals. The good news, is that you can change these habits into ones that will help you lose weight.

To find out more on how to change your habits, be sure to read our blog How to break your bad habits.

The snow ball effect at work

By understanding how the snow ball effect works, you can harness its power and create some outstanding results. The snow ball effect works in two ways.

  1. The compound effect of doing the same thing over time
  2. The effect of one action snowballing into another positive action.

Let’s explain how these work.

The power of tiny gains

We saw in the example above the effect that doubling your pennies every day has in just one month. This is what we mean by the snow ball effect over time. Initially, a handful of pennies didn’t seem that significant. Honestly, you could take them, or leave them. But by choosing to take them, the second son reaped a great reward.

Your daily actions compounded over time have the same effect. When you look at these actions individually, it’s easy to think they don’t have much power. But when you compound them, you’ll see that they do.

For example, going for a walk each day might seem like a small action. However, even if you only walked 4 times a week, over a month, that’s 16 walks. Over a year, that’s 208 walks. Over 2 years, that’s 416 walks. Now imagine if you decided not to walk. Over 2 years, you’d miss the opportunity of walking 416 times. As an added bonus, over time, walking will have become a habit, so you’ll no longer have to think about doing it. It will just be something you do in your week.

Often, we convince ourselves that change is only meaningful if there’s a large, tangible outcome associated with it. We put pressure on ourselves to do something big, or make an enormous improvement, that everyone will notice and talk about.

However, if you focus on improving by just 1% every day for a whole year, you’ll end up 37 times better over that time.

Imagine being 37 times better at the things that will help you lose weight, such as:

If you got 37 times better at any of the above, do you think that would have an impact on your weight?

What about your business? Would you have a more successful business if you were 37 times better at:

Of course, you would! Small choices don’t make much difference at the time, but add up over the long-term.

Small choices lead to positive choices

The snow ball effect also works with regard to making better choices.

For example, let’s say that on a Sunday, you decide to spend a few hours food prepping for your week. This helps you feel organised and on top of things before your week even begins. This helps you relax and reduces stress about your upcoming week. Because you’re feeling relaxed, you’re ready to go to bed earlier than usual and you sleep really well. You wake up before your alarm and feel energised. You get your morning workout done, and you have your post-workout meal ready to eat when you get home. Because you’ve nourished your body, and haven’t felt stressed, you head off to work in a positive mood. You also grab the healthy lunch you prepared when you did your food prep, because you want to keep making good choices to fuel your body. Because you worked out in the morning, you’re still experiencing the effects of all of those feel-good hormones, so you have a happy day. You also work productively, and feel confident because you know you’re doing positive things for your health by working out, and eating healthy, nourishing meals, instead of junk food. At the end of the day, you leave work feeling positive and energised, having achieved a lot. You feel so good, that you decide you’ll go for a quick walk with your partner before dinner. While walking, you spend time catching up with each other and come back feeling connected. You and your partner then prepare dinner together, happily chatting and laughing, before sitting down to eat with the rest of your family. After dinner, you spend some quality time with your kids, before heading to bed for another good night’s sleep.

Now, let’s look at a different scenario.

It’s Sunday afternoon and you’re sitting on the couch watching Netflix and drinking wine. You know you should probably do something a bit more productive, but you tell yourself you’ll just watch one more episode of your current show. Before you know it, it’s dinner time and you haven’t organised anything. You decide on a take-away pizza because you just can’t bear the thought of having to cook now. You figure you may as well finish the bottle of wine, and promise yourself that you won’t drink all week. However, after dinner, you don’t feel so well — a combination of too much wine and greasy pizza. You head to bed, but are unable to get to sleep. By the time you eventually doze off, it’s after 1am. You end up sleeping through your alarm and miss your early morning workout. Because you’re running late, you start the day feeling stressed. You have no food in the fridge that you can quickly grab for lunch, because you didn’t do any food prep the day before. You race out the door without even eating breakfast because you’re running so late. On the way to work, you go through a fast-food drive-thru to grab something for breakfast. You feel guilty, but tell yourself it’s better to eat something than nothing at all. By mid-morning, you’re starving again and starting to feel cranky. You head to the nearby café and buy a large coffee and a muffin. While it fills the gap, it doesn’t really hit the spot and you spend the next few hours feeling bloated and even more guilty. You’ve also developed a headache and are feeling irritable and tired. You can’t wait until lunchtime where you decide that a greasy burger and fries is probably what you need to feel better. The afternoon drags slowly and you feel exhausted, and really cranky. You haven’t even made a dent in the pile of work that you needed to get through today, so you know that you’ll have to work back late which really pisses you off. As you leave work late, you realise you have no food at home and once again, you can’t bear the thought of cooking. So you grab take-away again. Because you’re tired, stressed and feeling guilty about your food choices for the entire day, you snap at your partner and end up yelling at your kids. You pour yourself more wine to soothe the stress and turn on the TV, trying to block out your day. By the time you get to bed, it’s already midnight and you’ve got another headache.

Can you see in the above examples how your choices compound and contribute to you making other ones? If the example above, the choice to spend time food-prepping led to a happy, productive day that included exercise, and time with the family. In the second example, the choice to drink wine and watch Netflix led to increased levels of stress, poor eating, and a bad attitude.

This shows you how one, seemingly insignificant choice, can snow ball into an entire situation. Whether that situation is positive of negative often depends upon that one choice that seemed so unimportant.

How a body and lifestyle transformation makes your life better

The great news is that the snow ball effect doesn’t just apply to weight loss, or to business. It applies to your whole life. By making changes to one area of your life, they can snow ball and improve other areas of your life. For example, when you undertake a body and lifestyle transformation, you can expect to:

  • Improve your health, which means you won’t have to worry about developing chronic disease as you get older, which means you’ll have more time, energy and money to spend doing the things you really want to be doing, such as travelling, or spending time with you grandkids.
  • Increase your confidence, which means you’ll finally feel good about yourself and how you look, which means you’ll want to wear the clothes you’ve always dreamed of, and you’ll be excited to go to social events and have your photo taken, instead of hiding away in the background, wearing clothes that cover up your body.
  • Be more successful. Your new-found confidence will mean you’ll finally have the courage to ask for that pay rise, go after that promotion, or take the steps to grow your business. You’ll stop comparing yourself to other people, and start to see the strengths that you have. You’ll also stop worrying about what others think of you, which means you’ll have the freedom to make decisions that are right for you, and the future you want.
  • Have more money. Getting that promotion or pay rise will mean more money. Having better health means you’re not spending it on doctors’ appointments or medications. When you feel good about yourself, you won’t spend money on unnecessary items to fill the void inside you.
  • Love yourself, which will mean you’ll put yourself first, and you’ll no longer put up with toxic relationships, or spend your time pleasing others at the expense of what you need. You’ll also stop comparing yourself with others and stop worrying about what other people think of you. This will also lead to a better relationship with your partner, your kids, your family, friends and colleagues. You’ll find that the relationships you have will be supportive and encouraging, rather than toxic and enabling.
  • Be a better role model which will mean you’ll have a positive influence on those around you. You’ll be able to pass on healthy habits around eating and nutrition to your kids, and help them develop better mindsets, so they can avoid the mistakes that you’ve made, and have the future that they deserve. You’ll also influence people you work with and socialise with, and may even be the catalyst for change in their life. Just imagine how you’d feel if you knew that your decisions to change your life, ended up changing someone else’s, which then snow balled into helping other people!

As you can see, the snow ball effect is everywhere. But it’s up to you to decide if you’re going to harness it to make positive changes in your life and the lives around you, or if you’ll continue to let your current habits and mindsets snow ball into a negative direction.

Because whether the snow ball effect works for you or against you, is down to your choices.

How to make better choices

The key to making better choices is in developing better habits. And the way to develop better habits is to create an environment that promotes these.

Change your environment

Your environment is the invisible hand that shapes your behaviours. And when you choose to repeat these behaviours you turn them into habits. The choices you make will be influenced by external factors, such as the people around you, and the physical environment around you, and your mindset and habits.

In the example above, the fridge full of healthy meals led to a great sleep, and a morning workout, and a great day. The great day led to more positive behaviours such as walking, cooking a healthy meal and time with family.

On the flip side, the environment of watching Netflix led to the behaviours of sitting on the couch and drinking wine, instead of spending time food prepping. The empty fridge led to buying fast-food not once but 5 times!

When you set up your environment in the right way, it will be easier to make the better choices. Be sure to read our blog “How to set up your environment for weight loss” for further details on this.

Set yourself boundaries

We’ve already talked about the importance of habits and why you need to develop habits that support your weight loss goals, and enable you to create the life you’ve always dreamed of. Another strategy to help you develop positive habits, and create the snow ball effect that you’re looking for is to utilise the boundary strategy.

Put simply, this strategy is a way to create more structure in your life, and provide you with a guide on what you will and won’t do in certain situations, to ensure you’re progressing consistently. You might also call them non-negotiable behaviours.

Boundaries aren’t rules. They’re guidelines that you get to develop around what works for you and your lifestyle. For example, if you set a boundary that you don’t watch Netflix until you’ve done your food prep, you’ll avoid a similar situation to the one we looked at earlier. You’d also avoid that situation if you had boundaries around how many times you ate out each week, when you go to bed, and when you finish work.

Weight loss is an emotional journey, but when you get caught up in emotions, you end up making decisions that derail your progress. Having boundaries in place helps you avoid the emotional decisions and fallout that occurs as a result, and instead helps you stick to the plan that you know will lead to success.

We cover the boundary strategy in great detail in our blog “Forget diets and food rules. Try this weight loss tip instead.” Be sure to read it to understand the power of boundaries, and to see some examples of types of boundaries you could apply in your life.

Be patient while your snow ball grows

The thing with snow balls is that you have to start out small. Remember the son with the pennies? It wasn’t until almost the end of the month that he noticed any big pay-off. He had to be patient and wait. Now granted, a month isn’t long to wait to make $11 million! But when you compare the one penny he had, to the $1 million his brother had on the first day, the discrepancy was large!

This fable also shows that the fast way, isn’t necessary the quickest way. The slow way is.

Diets promise your quick results in lightning fast time. That’s part of their appeal. Combine the hype with an amazing before and after photo, and it’s easy to see why people fall for them all the time. However, as we know, diets don’t work in the long-term. The ‘amazing’ results you get in a short-time never last, and before you know it, any gains you’ve made are lost, and you’re even further behind than you were when you started — just like the first son who chose the $1 million.

Long-term weight loss doesn’t happen overnight. Big results don’t happen straight away. If you get them, then you’re dieting, which will only leave you worse off. Just like the second son patiently waited and trusted the compounding process when it came to his single penny, you also need to be patient and trust the process. Get your snow ball rolling, and trust that what you do today will compound into great results down the track.

Because the truth is, the most successful people in the world, whether it’s related to weight loss, business, or something else, are those who delay gratification. But they’re able to delay it, because they understand the snow ball effect and they know that something better is coming if they’re patient.

Helping your snow ball gather momentum

The snow ball effect is working in your life right now, whether you like it or not. Whether it’s taking you closer to your goals, or further away depends upon the daily choices and actions that you’re currently taking. However, as we’ve seen, most of our choices and actions are based on our habits, rather than our conscious choices. And unless these habits support our goals, we’ll be forever sabotaging our own success.

But we can help you get your snow ball moving in the right direction. And once it is, we can help it gather momentum, so over time, your wins become bigger, and the effects of your choices compound to create your ideal life.

The key to making choices that will have a big return of investment down the track, is to become aware of the things that are taking you in the wrong direction. This is difficult to do on your own, which is why you need a coach. Because we’re not emotionally involved in your situation, we are able to identify the things that may be causing your snow ball to roll the wrong way. Once we do, we can develop a personalised plan, with structure and accountability, to get you on the right track.

By working with us, you’ll finally be on the right path to losing weight and having the body and life you’ve always wanted. You’ll finally be free around food, comfortable in your own skin, and not afraid to hide away. You’ll also be making a positive impact on those around you, which will mean your kids and other people you love will have their snowball on the right side of the hill, ready to gather momentum towards the life that they have always dreamed of.


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