Originally published on The Yellin Center blog
When we talk about the lead domino with our students, it’s often in the context of school.
If you can finish the missed homework assignment in math from Monday, you’ll have a better, more complete understanding of that section, then you’ll be able to finish your review packet, which will set you up for focused studying material for the chapter test next week…
However, we face situations where our lead domino is something outside of academics or work; it’s actually just a small change we could implement in our everyday lives that would make things run more smoothly.
One of our favorite lead domino examples to help people start their day off on the right foot is the landing/launching pad. For adults, the landing pad is where we drop our wallet, keys, and sunglasses as soon as we walk in the door. When we leave, it becomes our launching pad. Because we’re taking the step to place our necessities in the same spot every time we come home, we aren’t scrambling the next time we head out the door. Everything is right where we left it, every time. We can simply scoop up those essentials and leave on time. For students, a launching pad can be an organized backpack sitting by the front door each morning. At night, if you and your student can take the time to pack their laptop, chargers, pencils, all binders, etc., and even make lunch before heading to bed, you can prevent the majority of conflicts that usually take over your mornings.
Another lead domino that can positively affect our day is exercise—we know that exercise is the miracle drug. Exercising helps us activate neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. When we find ourselves stuck, unmotivated, or overloaded, getting up to go for a 20-minute walk can change the trajectory of our whole day and our productivity. This exercise increases blood flow to the brain, triggers those neurotransmitters, and helps us concentrate. When we return to our to-do list, workload, or whatever it is that’s overwhelming us, we’ll find that our focus has improved significantly thanks to that exercise and its impact on our brain. When students are stuck on a homework assignment and have been sitting in front of a computer for too long, the action they need to take is entirely non-academic; they just need to get up and move.
One of the most important, and hardest, lead dominos that sets us up for success, is sleep. Sleep can dictate almost every aspect of our lives: focus, mood, energy level, etc. It has the power to positively or negatively define a day, or even a week. However, getting more sleep is never a quick fix. Behind better sleep is a routine that must be developed and maintained.
The lead domino can be, but does not always need to be, an action or a task that defines your whole day. It may simply be a choice that can help you move forward in a small series of events, and you probably have a few lead dominos that you could choose from that would all result in the same outcome—you just have to get started. Common examples of this include: jumping in the shower, making a cup of coffee, or choosing to face the one task you’ve been putting off that’s hanging over your head. All of these actions can help you move forward in a small way, but that little bit of momentum can make it easier to tackle the rest of your day. Two hold-ups we see, in both adults and in adolescents, are: struggling to follow-through with the lead domino, and getting caught between two actions and not being able to decide the best way to move forward.
For example: You’re trying to brush your teeth and get out the door to go grocery shopping. As you’re putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, you realize you have a load of clean laundry that needs to be moved from the washer to the dryer. So you put down your toothbrush to go flip the laundry, but on your way to the basement you stop to pick up and put away shoes that were a tripping hazard. As you’re putting them away, you notice some empty mugs on the coffee table, which reminds you that you haven’t had a single sip of water all morning. You pause for a minute to go grab and drink a nice, big glass of water. As you set the glass down, you remember the laundry, but you also remember that your toothbrush is sitting on the bathroom sink, locked and loaded for you to brush your teeth. What’s your next move?
Brush your teeth, flip the laundry—you just need to decide. Committing to that decision and moving forward will help propel you to achieve your original goal: getting out the door and making it to the grocery store.
Does this series of events sound familiar?
As parents, educators, or just trusted adults, we can get so focused on helping students succeed that we forget—everything we relay to our students also applies to us. We’re not above facing those daily challenges, they just typically don’t come to us in the form of math assignments. When we can apply our own advice to ourselves, we model real-world efforts and accomplishments for our students, showing them the effectiveness of our lead dominos outside of school.