The cartoonist Rube Goldberg was famous for the whimsical gadgets he invented via illustrations. These “machines” consisted of ridiculous combinations of strings, pulleys, and household gadgets that would each trigger an action until a simple task, like scratching a person’s back, was accomplished. (You can watch a great video of a real-life Rube Goldberg machine here.) Based on Goldberg’s machines, the board game “Mouse Trap” was made in 1963. One by one, each piece of the Mouse Trap causes another action in the chain of events until ultimately the mouse is caught.
All of us, with our goals for change, hope to “catch the mouse.” While it isn’t always clear what the chain of events will be for us to achieve our goals, we can focus on high-leverage habits that will start things in motion. This is exactly what a Vital Behavior is, because it will set in motion a chain of behaviors that will ultimately lead to change. It’s an action that, more than anything else, will ensure your success.
Here’s an example: A powerful vital behavior for someone trying to lose weight might be “No snacking after 8 PM.” What are the possible results of this behavior? 1) You’ll reduce your food intake, especially of foods (like dessert) that are high-calorie. 2) You’ll likely sleep better. Some experts say that by giving yourself more time to digest food before sleeping, your body can rest more easily while sleeping. 3) With better sleep, you may find it easier to wake up and be productive in the morning. You could exercise, or read a book, or get ahead at work. 4) Without snacks in the evening, you might cut back on watching TV, since snacking and TV often go hand-in-hand. 5) With less TV, you may be able to enjoy more time building relationships with friends and family. The list goes on…
See how the chain of events is set in motion? By doing something as simple as not snacking after 8 PM, a person could see huge benefits in health, productivity, and even in their relationships. While these things may be tangential to the end goal (in this case, losing weight) they will all ultimately contribute to achieving that goal.
Now, what’s the best way to take advantage of the Mouse Trap effect in your life? Find really good Vital Behaviors. In fact, you likely only need ONE behavior. By narrowing in on one truly vital behavior–one that will lead to a positive cascade of change–you can trap the bad habit “mouse” and achieve your goal.