What Is the Magic of the Snowball Effect?

What Is the Magic of the Snowball Effect

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. —Robert Brault

Years ago, I was scheduled on a red eye from Hawaii to Houston. Shortly after I sat down in my seat, a middle-aged Japanese woman plopped down in the empty seat to my left. “Hello,” I smiled at her before sliding my headphones over my ears, the universal signal that I wasn’t up for conversing. It was close to midnight, after all.

But the woman started engaging with me anyway. Not wanting to be rude, I took my headphones off and answered her questions while our plane barreled down the runway. Pretty soon, we were describing what our days consisted of and which beaches were our favorites. She had never lived anywhere but Oahu; I’d lived on the island for only a year. We were both childless and apart from our husbands—mine was deployed for a year in Iraq, while hers had passed suddenly a month prior.

With the sky stretched out above us and the Pacific below, our lives converged in soulful conversation. She confessed her longtime reliance upon her husband, expressing newfound fears of life without him, being unsure of whether or not her faith would sustain her. I admitted how the thoughts of losing my husband in a war zone haunted me at night.

As the in-flight movie started, she squeezed my arm and offered me half of her snack. After the plane pulled up to the gate, the woman and I embraced, wished each other well, and never saw one another again.

Small Moments Are Snowball Moments

The Best Moments of My Life Don't Belong on InstagramWhy do I remember that trip that happened 14 years ago so vividly? Was it because of how a stranger and I bonded so quickly, or how we shared about our lives with one another so transparently? Was it the similar threads in our stories and emotions, or did her kind gestures make the exchange memorable?

Perhaps the only reason I remember that particular flight was that it highlighted the potential impact of seemingly ordinary moments. That interaction with my seat mate caused me to take stock of the ways I typically engaged with others. It made me notice how often I tended to close myself off instead of remaining open to who or what was before me.

The “whos” and “whats” compose the fabric of our lives—the repetitive events, minor interactions, and outwardly insignificant moments scattered throughout our days. We may dread them or label them monotonous or tedious and hold our excitement for the goals, dreams, and events that will come someday.

But consider the metaphorical snowball effect, and the image of the pristine, rounded ball of white perched atop the mountain. As it starts its descent down the side, it gathers momentum and gradually transforms from a simple sphere into an unstoppable force of nature.

One might say the snowballs are the small moments that direct the course of our lives.

Snowball Moments Can Change Lives

My daughter and I built an unforgettable snowball a few years ago. After finishing an intense day of pandemic homeschool, she was grumpy and on edge. I suggested we walk outside, hoping it would be the outlet we both needed. The first 10 minutes of the walk were tense between her complaints and my exhausted responses. Then, we stumbled upon a pecan tree growing outside the elementary school’s front doors.

“Let’s climb it,” my girl shrieked.

And so we did. I hoisted myself up into those sweeping branches and sat next to her, quietly staring at the layers of leaves above us. We spotted a caterpillar and became mesmerized by its purple underbelly. We laughed as we took turns jumping off the branches, landing hard on the ground. I vowed to climb more trees aloud and noted how our moods had lifted somewhere in that tree. The entire moment took up 15 minutes of my day, yet it snowballed into more positive moments together that evening.

Embracing the Snowball Effect in Everyday Life

Each day, we encounter the magic of snowball moments. We just need to become more aware and intentionally seek them out. Here are three practices to help us do this:

1. Choosing to see the small

Highlighting the small moments requires a fair amount of active choosing and practice. We may be tempted to hurry along, complete our to-do lists, and continue our daily schedule. Is it possible to train ourselves to stop and look more closely at the “insignificant” details, similar to the ways my daughter uses her magnifying glass to inspect the legs of the spider or the dew on a rosebush? I think so, but this requires more practice for some of us. The more we exercise using a fresh lens to see the world around us, the more primed we are to celebrate the small moments in our lives.

2. Embracing the ripples of connection

We can each recall unexpected interactions with strangers or friends that left us speechless. What about when we took the extra five minutes to sit on our son’s bed, allowing him space to open up about his fears and anxieties, or when we reached out to someone in need? Snowballs exist in connections, and those connections can create ripple effects not just in our sphere of relationships but in the broader world around us.

3. Acknowledging the power of the small

We may smirk in agreement with the saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.” But in those words lies a profound message: as minor as we think they may be, our actions, comments, and gestures hold enormous power and can make their way through the halls of our homes and workplaces—for better or worse. The same is true for any changes we want to make in our lives, for all change begins with the small. The major shifts we’re seeking typically require baby steps that culminate into the long-term rewards and outcomes we’re after.

As we celebrate all the small (moments, interactions, and steps) in our lives, we discover more profound beauty in the “whos” and “whats” around us. So always look for the snowballs, dear ones—they’re right there in front of us and may just be the very thing we need.

For more inspiration and encouragement, check out this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: 4 Realistic Ways to Shift Your Mindset in 2020 – 115!

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