The Snowball Effect Rules the World

When David Loffert was 31, his life trajectory was impressive.

“I had published/presented 54 medical papers, published 6 peer reviewed medical papers, was contributing author on one book, owned and operated my own consulting company in respiratory medicine, developed a patent for respiratory devices, and was progressing successfully in my Ph.D.”

~ David Loffert

That year, David had a bout with migraine headaches and went to see a doctor about it. Over the next 9-10 years of his life, things went horribly wrong. Loffert writes,

“Shunned from my profession, disenchanted from my family and friends, and homeless, I fell into a deep depression. It was at this time that I wrote a suicide note and attempted to commit suicide. Over the next nine years I attempted suicide one more time, had 35 toxic overdoses, and 45 seizures. All of which brought me close to death each time.” (source)

What went wrong?

David’s doctor (haphazardly) prescribed him vicodin, and David became addicted to it. That’s all. That’s the small individual event that snowballed into a miserable decade that almost killed him multiple times.

This story is so interesting to me because I was in the same position as David. I’m also 31 and had debilitating, extremely painful headaches earlier this year. I went to urgent care three times in the span of 10 days.

Every time the doctor suggested drugging me with something to take my symptoms away, I questioned it. I asked about and researched both the drugs and the dosage instead of just taking it (something I highly recommend doing). I was prescribed muscle relaxers, but it was my intent to avoid taking them unless absolutely necessary

I won’t go into much depth on my view of prescription drugs, but I don’t like most of them (and how they’re used). Did you know that the side effects of some drugs include things like death and cancer? Side effects. Ugh.

Prescription drugs don’t need to be an addiction to snowball. Taking them to “treat” something is often the first step into a rabbit hole of drugs (people taking drugs to deal with the side effects of other drugs they’re taking).

The Snowball of Death

Life is precarious, because seemingly harmless things can snowball into worsening or even ruining your life.

One of the most embarrassing and humiliating parts of my past is that I let a single spider bite scare me into two years of crippling anxiety before I was able to recover (I’m all better now!). Yep. One non-life-threatening spider bite basically ruined 2 years of my life. 

I was so ashamed about freaking out over basically nothing that I deleted the post on this blog that talked about it. My fear snowballed into severe anxiety, and that taught me something that’s remained useful to me—be very careful which snowballs you allow to gain momentum. 

That’s why I ignored the doctor’s suggestion to “just take ibuprofen” and continued to look for a real solution. That’s why I immediately stopped taking muscles relaxers when I felt I could. 

My headaches could have snowballed into addiction or drug dependency if I made the wrong choices. They could have snowballed into chronic headaches if I didn’t find the cause. But I found it.

Through skilled massage and chiropractic care, the trigger points that gave me headaches are now gone (and so are the headaches). The extreme muscle tension in my upper back and neck have greatly subsided, and for the third week in a row, I’ve seen steady, lasting improvement. I have no pain, my range of motion is back to normal, and I’m sleeping well again.

It’s strange to think about the ways this could have gone, because I tried so many things to solve this problem: hot epsom salt baths, self massage, professional massage, complete couch potato rest for days, physical therapy, heat therapy, cold therapy, magnesium supplementation, sensory deprivation floats, rearranging the ergonomics of my desk, and using various spiked back rollers and balls. None of those could fix the problem.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I persisted to find the right solution. If I hadn’t, I could have had terrible back, neck, and head pain for the rest of my life (plus an addiction or dependence on drugs to deal with the pain). It’d negatively affect my physical and mental health on multiple levels. The total negative impact over many years would be incalculably large.

It would be a snowball of death. I mean, I could learn to cope, but it would be terrible.

I found the right masseuse who got those trigger points in my neck to release, and a chiropractor who relieved the tension in my back. The difference between this solution that worked and the ones that didn’t is tiny. Tiny like a snowball.

I suspect that many people would have said, “I’ve already tried everything,” and given into medication. I think people do this in general with drugs, but I don’t want you to think this is an anti-drug rant. This is about the importance and life-defining power of the snowball effect—drugs are just a great example of it. 

Rewind: The Snowball From 3 Years Earlier

Before we look at my back problem as the first snowball that could cascade into drugs or pain issues (or solved to avoid those), consider that my back problem wasn’t first. It came from another tiny snowball.

Leading up to my back problems, my posture-related computer habits over the last three years was atrocious. I gave very little thought to it. On any given day, my postural habits probably didn’t do much harm, but over time, they did a lot of harm. The repetitive strain on my back and neck continued to build until I physically noticed it. This is, of course, an extremely common “bad snowball” today. 

Lower back pain is the number one cause of disability worldwide. Back pain is the third most common reason people visit the doctor. (source)

If people practiced good desk ergonomics and sitting/standing posture from a young age, and took some time to strengthen the muscles that hold them upright, it would greatly reduce the number of debilitating back issues.

This is the snowball effect: 

  1. You have you screen or chair at an improper height.
  2. Your poor ergonomics cause repetitive strain on essential areas of your back and neck.
  3. You end up with chronic back pain or disability.

It’s absolutely possible for something small like that to become devastating. With the neck issue I had, if I hadn’t gotten an effective treatment, it would have continued to erode my posture because I couldn’t move normally without pain, the tension would create more tension, and so on.

A classic “bad snowball” is when a problem causes further and more severe problems. David Loffert went from headache to vicodin to the verge of death (by drugs or suicide).

Good Snowballs!

Whew. Enough thunderclouds. How about some sunshine? Here’s a cute snowball.

Snowballs don’t have to be bad! I owe nearly all of my current success and happiness to the snowball effect. One example:

  1. I started doing one push-up per day (a pretty tiny snowball, right?).
  2. My brain changed and exercise became normal instead of special.
  3. I began exercising frequently.
  4. Increased exercise greatly improved my physical and mental health, my athletic ability, my general mood, and my confidence. 

And…

  1. I started a small snowball of writing 50 words a day.
  2. It rolled into a full-sized book!
  3. That book, Mini Habits, became an international bestseller in 17 languages.
  4. I’ve written 3 books now, all of which I get emails about from people around the world telling me how the book(s) changed their life.

I’m only really aware of the possibility of “bad snowballs” because the good snowballs in my life have been incredible. It opened my eyes to the power of small beginnings to create great or monstrous ends. It works both ways.

Life’s greatest wins and losses are almost always the result of the snowball effect. Aside from random tragedies or windfalls—and both are rare—every good or bad thing can be traced back to a tiny snowball that started it. Take a moment to consider your blessings and problems, and see if you can trace it back to something small.

If a bad snowball has already gotten out of control, you need to look for good snowball solutions. Did you notice how small and simple my solution was to my growing and increasingly worrisome back problem. I’ve created a positive snowball of massage, chiropractic work, and sensory deprivation sessions to help my body repair itself. This positive snowball is rolling me back to health!

Bad snowballs can get huge. But remember how they started—small and insignificant. Let this encourage you to find the good snowballs in your life (and to beware of the bad ones that are gaining momentum).

All The Small Things

The lesson I’ve learned from transforming my life with mini habits is that life is all about the small things. But it’s vital to understand why that is.

It’s because the small things never stay small, they’re snowballs rolling down snowy hills.

Let’s pick our snowballs wisely and get rolling in the right direction, shall we? 

(photos by kamshots and ryanne)

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