The snowball effect is simple.
You begin with a baseball-sized ball of snow and, by rolling it along the ground, it grows larger the more you push it. Pretty soon, you’ve got a snow boulder big enough to serve as a base for your own version of Frosty the Snowman.
If you were to take your snow boulder and roll it down a hill, it’d grow even larger as it used momentum to carry itself down the hill. Suddenly, you’ve got yourself an icy asteroid hurtling downhill at high speeds. And to think, this massive bringer-of-doom started from the humble beginnings of one tiny snowball.
The snowball effect is simple—but also very powerful.
This is especially true when it comes to eating patterns when you’re trying to improve your health, weight, or fitness.
Recognizing the Roll
The snowball effect is essentially one action that causes a chain reaction of many similar actions. It most commonly happens after a series of events that are different from your normal schedule or occur in a new/challenging environment.
For example, you might notice yourself “rolling” during or after:
- the end of year holiday/new year stretch
- an extended vacation
- hosting guests at your house
- a big life change such as new job, moving, new baby, loss of a loved one, etc
- a week with a high amount of events or meals out
It can happen throughout the year and under any circumstances, but the key at all times is to recognize that you’re rolling as early as possible.
Here are some common ways the snowball effect manifests itself during these times:
- Using one choice to validate another choice.
- “If I already had one too many/blew my macros at lunch, I may as well keep going for dinner”
- Constantly setting a timeline for change in the future.
- “I’ll start next Monday, month, or year”
- All or nothing type thoughts
- “Since I ate poorly at the party last night and I have one coming up tomorrow, there’s no point in trying to eat healthy today”
Bring awareness to these patterns as quickly as possible. The more you think about, say out loud, and/or journal how you notice your actions are different in recent days, the more likely you are to create a plan to turn it around.
Once you have that awareness, you can begin taking steps to return to the habits that are in line with your goals.
Slowing Your Roll
Now that you’ve identified your snowballing behaviors, it’s time to take actions to slow the speed of that momentum.
Using our metaphor of rolling down the hill, this will be like finding level ground more than will be an immediate full stop. By expecting that it won’t be a perfect re-entry, you can avoid the all or nothing mentality creeping in and more effectively get back to your solid habits.
Make the Next Best Decision
Momentum will only be slowed down by actions taken in the opposite direction. The first one against that momentum is always the hardest because resistance is the highest.
Take your full focus to whatever your next eating decision will be, whether that’s a meal, the next day, or walking through your kitchen where all the goodies are. Ask yourself, “what choice would be most in line with my goals?”
Then, act on that one thing. As simple as it sounds, it won’t be easy, but it’s the first step in slowing down your negative momentum.
Plan for Remaining Obstacles
Now that you have one positive action in the bank, it’s time to focus on making future ones easier.
Controlling your environment and creating a plan for any upcoming events are the easiest ways to capitalize on that action you just completed.
How can you best set up your home environment for success?
- What do you need to eliminate? (Donate it, trash it, create barriers to make it harder to access.)
- What can you add to make the right choices easier? (Grocery shopping, meal prepping, healthier options, etc)
What types of meals will you have less control over and what’s the plan for them?
- Do you have restaurant meals coming up? (pre-select what you want from the menu and plan the rest of your day around it)
- Are there any parties or trips upcoming? (start by choosing the outcome you’d like to see based on the event’s importance to you and work backwards to create an action plan)
Using the Snowball Effect to Your Advantage
Momentum works in both directions.
This is excellent news because it means the same powerful forces that can derail you are the same ones that can be harnessed to keep you on track and making progress.
Here are a few ways to use this power for good:
- Habit Stacking: adding small positive items to things you already do everyday. This makes them more likely to happen on a regular basis.
- ex) Adding a glass of water to every meal, taking a walk every time you’re on the phone, ordering a salad to start any meal you have at a restaurant.
- Simplifying Necessary Tasks: make the things you need to do easier. That way the less ideal alternatives won’t seem that much more attractive.
- ex) Creating meals using the crockpot to spend less time in the kitchen, using a meal prep or grocery delivery service, having easy backup options on hand for last-minute protein needs or meals.
Now that you have momentum working for you rather than against you, the positive feedback cycle will naturally produce good feelings and results which will only increase the likelihood of continuing to take these actions.
Remember to keep your awareness high for negative snowballing, follow the steps above if you’re in that cycle, and then work to create your own “positive snowball effect” once you’ve reversed momentum.
The Snowball Effect has officially come full circle!