You know that whole cliché butterfly effect thing that gets recycled on the internet from time to time?

From Wikipedia: In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.

For those preferring plainer English (courtesy of my new, unlikely acquaintance, ChatGPT): The term “butterfly effect” is derived from the metaphorical example that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in one location could potentially set off a chain of events that ultimately result in a tornado occurring in another location. 

Aside: you know you’re a 21st Century blogger when your Grammarly Editor desperately wants to correct your ChatGPT-generated quote – it really did not like the word “metaphorical” (said it was, get this…cliché!). It’s like The Battle of the AIs.

I promise the rest of this is all me.

Anyway, the butterfly effect idea plays out in all sorts of ways in all kinds of disciplines. The original concept was related to weather patterns of course, but similar thoughts can be found in everything from songs to quantum mechanics to children’s books.

Chaos theory and insects aside (and boy can I go down a fun rabbit hole on that stuff), I think there’s much to dig into here that relates to life order. I’ve had some great conversations lately with people noticing that something small they innocently test out, without expectation, moves some energy around. And that energy eventually turns into something bigger, unexpected, and often quite helpful. This phenomenon is more in line with the original idea of the butterfly effect – we can’t really predict what might happen. It might be fantastic, or it might be nothing – but either way at least we’ll know more.

Another way to look at it is the idea of shaking something loose, like from a tree (Aside #2: Did you know that “tree shaking” is also a term for removing dead code in computing? Who else out there might like to remove some dead code in their life 🙋‍♂️? ). It could play out like this:

  • Bear shakes tree to scratch its back
  • Acorn falls from said tree
  • Squirrel nabs acorn, hides it for a midnight snack
  • Squirrel is subsequently taken out in an ill-conceived plot to cross the street
  • Acorn does its thing in the dark dirt, biding its time
  • In 5-6 years, voila! There’s a new tree in the world.

Five or six years? Good Lord, Sara, you think I have five or six years to get everything in my life ship-shape? Well in the world of acorns and dirt, that’s pretty much how long it takes, and that’s assuming all the other conditions line up too. But…how long did it take you to get where you are in life right now?

Of course, time aside, all of these potentialities are predicated on the fact that the butterfly must be willing to, well…flap. If it sits there on its leaf, stuck and fearful, nothing happens. If the bear refuses to shake the tree (and how silly is that when you stop to think about it – the bear and the butterfly don’t scratch their heads about these things; they simply do), there might be one less tree in the world. If we immobilize ourselves in service to waiting for definitive confirmation that our flapping or shaking efforts will result in the just-right thing, we ain’t going anywhere.

It’s also worth noting our friend Squirrel gained nothing by waiting to eat that acorn.

Close-up of a squirrel.
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People come to me with huge pain points, frustrations, and/or desires to make lasting changes with everything from their bedside table drawer to their plans for launching a business (all valid). Sometimes they think I’ve got all the answers for them. Oof – if it were that easy, they probably wouldn’t need me to be in business, and I’d just bottle and sell answers. On the front end, most folks are not interested in hearing how some tiny little action they make (or have already been making) will, over time, result in transitioning to something they couldn’t have imagined. Or maybe it’s not that they aren’t interested – more that they can’t bring themselves to believe it.

But that’s pretty much how it works, in my humble observation. How often have we all sweated or disregarded making a small move because it didn’t seem impactful or massive enough? 10 years ago, I nervously walked up to a booth at a conference expo that led to me taking my first coach training class – now I get to coach, and help train other coaches. I get that many more little actions happened in between those two things, but stepping up to that table, and asking a question or two, set a current in motion.

So, what do you want to shake loose? What happens if you:

  • send the resume?
  • make the call?
  • set the alarm?
  • push the button?
  • write the sentence?
  • unpack the box?
  • fill out the form?
  • ask the question?
  • say no?

Share some thoughts here, and let’s see what kind of tornado you might start.

p.s. Must also share…roughly 10 days ago, some wee puppies came into the world, and one of them will be coming to live with us later this summer (yup, a new Labradorganizer!). Who knows what she’s going to shake loose for me? Stay tuned…