How to Start a Chain Reaction of Good Habits

June 6, 2017 | 23 comments

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with exercise. Mostly, I exercise to support my taco habit. And when I do exercise, I expect the results to be instant and spectacular.

So naturally, I have a lot of unrealistic expectations regarding exercise.

Last winter, I suspended my exercise program almost entirely after my boot-camp class stopped meeting at my preferred time. I could have gone to the class offered at o-dark-thirty, but I have this uncanny ability to convince myself when the alarm goes off that whatever I aimed to do the night before is just not that important anymore.

Short story is this: It is hard for me to pick up a good habit. And it is especially hard for me to restart a habit that I’ve dropped, because of feelings of past failure. I know I’m not alone.

By now, most of us have dropped our New Year’s resolutions. A lot of us have started programs to read the Bible in a year but we abandoned the plan somewhere around Leviticus. I’ll frequently commit to drinking more water but return to my old coffee habits.

Tell me I’m not the only one.

But then, late last month, my friend Melinda issued a challenge to a bunch of people in our corner of the world. The challenge: Everybody runs one mile a day, every day, for the month of June. It’s called “One Mile at a Time.” We post selfies and record our miles each day in a Facebook group.

So, every morning for the past week, our younger daughter Anna and I run a mile along the country roads where we live. One mile. That’s it. It takes about 10-12 minutes.

Suddenly, I am exercising again, along with dozens of others — some who were already committed to exercising daily, but many others who had let their exercise regimen slide over the winter.

I probably wouldn’t have signed up for the challenge if it involved a big goal, like training for a half marathon. But one mile a day? That, I could handle. A lot of others agreed. And in fact, one mile has turned into 2, 3, or more miles for many of the participants. Melinda’s challenge has started a chain reaction of good, daily habits. (It’s called the Domino Effect!)



As I was running this morning, it occurred to me why One Mile at a Time works. And it occurred to me that we can apply the same principle to almost anything we want to accomplish in life.

Think Small

One of the reasons One Mile at a Time works is that Melinda presented us with a manageable but productive goal. Before I even began the program, I could visualize myself being able to handle one mile a day. Before I took my first step, I was already envisioning success. And even on the days when the hills seem especially steep, or the heat especially stifling, I know that I don’t really have that far to go.

Thinking small is the secret to accomplishing big things. Maybe you’ve got a book to write, a work project to complete, a Bible to read in a year, or a house to de-clutter.

Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile found that small, daily progress is a powerful motivator to completing meaningful work.

Let’s say you have a book or paper to write. Stop thinking about the 55,000 word goal and focus on writing 500 words today. At that rate, in 30 days, you’ll have 15,000 words in the bank.

Or consider your home. It’s overwhelming to think about decluttering every room and closet in a home. So today, simply start with the pantry or the laundry room.

Small goals will help you achieve big ones.

Find Accountability Partners

Everyone needs a friend like Melinda. If we pledged to take the running challenge, but miss several days in a row, she doesn’t let it slide. She knows we all need accountability partners.

The same principle applies to our lives as a whole. For instance, as a writer, I have a team of accountability partners around me. My agent regularly checks my progress on books. At my request, my husband — and even our daughters — have gotten into the habit of asking me about word count.

Enjoy the Journey

When I’m running, I listen to my favorite upbeat songs. (Find my happy playlist here).

And when we’re done with our mile, Anna and I come up with a fun selfie to share with our Facebook group. On Saturday, we rewarded ourselves with a special breakfast after our run. We are enjoying the journey, and even if we’re not having fun in the middle of it, we always take a few moments to reflect on what we’ve accomplished. And that always makes us happy. (If you’ve read my latest book, you know that’s a form of “residual happiness.”)

What can you do to create a fun, more lively environment as you complete your goals and form new habits? Consider listening to podcasts while you clean the house. Crank up the music while you’re mowing the lawn. Reward yourself with something cheesy or chocolatey after completing a difficult task.

Some days are harder than others, but after every run, Anna and I high-five each other, take a selfie, and congratulate each other on another run in the books.

We feel fierce, like two warriors creating a fun new habit, one mile at a time. 

What do you want to accomplish?

Fill in the blanks:

The habit I most want/need to develop is ________________.

One small step I could begin to take today is __________________.

I commit to following through for the next ___________ days.

(Consider starting up your own Facebook group to help you — and your friends — launch your own good habit.)


Hey Tell His Story crew! It is a joy to gather here every week with you. The linkup goes live each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great! And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there!

Our featured writer this week is Anita Ojeda. If you’re going through a difficult season or walking a hard road, I encourage you to read this post! Find Anita here.

To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. xo Jennifer


by | June 6, 2017 | 23 comments


  1. karen

    THIS is SO good and does apply to so many areas. (I started running at 51…. 30 seconds at a time. Yesterday I ran for 30 minutes straight! WOO HOO!)

    • dukeslee

      That’s a great example of what i’m talking about, Karen. And that’s a perfect illustration of the Domino Effect.

  2. Lisanne

    Started “bootcamp” last week. Oh my goodness. My daughter said I needed to move and my son said I had to sweat. Well, things are moving and I’m sweating! Let’s Keep on keepin’ on. ❤️

    • dukeslee

      Thanks awesome, Lisanne. Way to take care of YOU!

  3. Michele Morin

    I’m trying to jump-start a sleepy, middle-aged metabolism by walking, moving vigorously, aiming for 10,000 steps a day. Maybe I need to up my game by upping my pace. Anyway, I’m inspired by your progress!

    • dukeslee

      Good for you, Michele! 10,000 steps a day is a great goal.

  4. Mary

    I love this idea and know in my head that goals are reached one small step at at a time. Not sure why I keep thinking that going from zero to fifty is going to get me there any faster. Thank you for the encouragement and motivation to get going.

    • dukeslee

      Right there with you, Mary. For my next book, I keep thinking about the 55,000 words, and have to remind myself to focus on 500-1,000 a day instead.

  5. Lynn Morrissey

    Jennifer love. this. post. And I can’t believe it! For the past week or so, God kept putting the words “domino effect” in my head. What are the chances of that, as a precursor to reading here, AND He told me to make my bed today–and then I promptly told (asked) my daughter to, b/c I was heading out the door to a funeral rehearsal. But reading your words here, I know is His challenge to me! And I love how your small-step habits are careening forward into more comprehensive ones! Granted, I do not think I will ever be a runner (too jarring for me); however, I kept adding more steps to my regular walks last January and added walking up hills and stair climbing. All that practice, in ever-increasing amount culminated in my climbing the highest point on the Isle of Iona last March on my very first day! I STILL can’t believe I really did that. So thank you for this wonderful challenge!! Love you!!!

  6. Elizabeth Morgan

    Thanks for the post. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit to guide, teach and counsel us, which is a major benefit in helping us to form good habits. I like to remind myself that my body is God’s temple, and He has instructed me to take care of it. A great way to drink more water is to buy a large, pretty glass, fill it with water first thing in the morning & refill it when it’s empty. (Mine is a 32 oz. beautiful aqua plastic glass that I got at Walmart!) I can testify to the health benefits of years of drinking water. My skin looks 10 years younger than my age, I don’t have bladder infections anymore, and drinking a healthy amount of water helps prevent “brain fog”, too. Since running can be hard on the joints, we got a recumbent eliptical bike that we can use daily, even in bad weather. We put a C.D. player and our fav. C.D.’s beside it & we’re encouraged to exercise. Now, if I can just form good house cleaning habits!! Yikes!

  7. Theresa Boedeker

    I am with you in wanting instant and big results when I start exercising. Never works that way, though.

  8. Gayl Wright

    Jennifer, this is about the third post I’ve read about exercising. It’s interesting bc I’m about to start a new exercise/nutrition program and I have an online coach to help keep me accountable and a facebook group. 🙂 I think you are right about small steps and big changes. I’ve been far too sedentary and I’m excited about making some changes. Thanks for your encouragement! Blessings to you!

  9. Angela Howard

    We’re twins! I too have an on again, off again relationship with exercise. Love this quote: small goals will help you achieve big ones. So true.

  10. Maree Dee

    I started back up the exercising. I am still in the mode of convincing myself I just don’t have the time. Setting small goals helps. Great idea. I think I will shoot for exercising once a month. haha No, I am starting with 10,000 steps a day and bike/weights 3 times. You have encouraged me to put my computer down and get my last 1000 steps for the day. Thank you!

  11. Sarah Geringer

    Love the inspiration here. I will apply this “thinking small” plan to my piles of clutter and my exercise routine this week. Thanks Jennifer!

  12. Barbara H.

    Good thoughts! My son and I were just talking about this a few days ago in regard to changing eating habits into healthy ones – starting small, one thing at a time. I really chafe with the amount of time exercise takes, with so many other things I want to do, but I need to look at it as a worthy investment. I’ve also been frustrated over wanting to write a book and not seeming to have time and asking God for wisdom to know how to arrange my schedule differently if this is something He wants me to do.

  13. Bethany McIlrath

    Such great points, Jennifer! Thank you! On a humorous note because of your taco habit, my husband and I enjoy the show Leverage and the episode we just watched (I think it was 10?) had a hilarious moment where all the information the team was trying to glean from a man came easily as soon as they gave him a taco! : ) Anyway- thanks for the wisdom and inspiration!

  14. Karrilee Aggett

    Oh I love this… and you… (and tacos!) 😉

  15. Sue Donaldson

    Elizabeth George said that 15 minutes a day eventually becomes a lifetime habit. Now, to find that fifteen! Small chunks are always helpful. Great post (and great job!)

  16. Nancy Ruegg

    What a great cheerleader you are, Jennifer! I copied down that statement about small goals helping us achieve big ones, and am going to apply it to a personal project that only receives bits of time here and there. MUST make the time for concentrated effort and make the habit of chipping away at the steps involved. (I’m thinking appointments on the calendar with this project might help.) Thank you for your encouragement!

  17. Crystal

    Such a great time during the summer to start small and create one great personal change! Love your statement to bring it home and put it in writing. Just what I needed today:)

  18. Julie Loos

    You go Jennifer! A mile is a feat!
    I need to get on the exercise train again. I was really good about it in the winter and then got sick and sprained my toe and haven’t gotten into it again.
    Thanks for this great, encouraging post!

  19. Susan

    Jennifer, I love the whole one mile at a time thing. I bought a stamina treadmill this past winter. As in no electric, but stamina-operated. It literally kicks my behind. But every Mon-Fri morning I climb on it and do as many minutes as I can without dying. I am up to nine. My daughter thought “what?” Until she got on it and began the stamina (hers) and thought she’d have a coronary!!!! LOL. One mile, one minute every day and one will see progress!!!! YAY!



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