The Nova effect is based on the story of a dog where little actions cascade into unexpected consequences. As per the tale, the dog chasing a rabbit leads to the owner ending up in the hospital.
One evening, Eric is taking his dog, Nova, for a walk in the park. As they stroll and enjoy the breeze, a rabbit springs out of the bushes.
Nova reacts like any other dog would, by going after the rabbit in an instant. Since Eric is lost in thoughts while this happens, he fails to hold the leash attached to Nova on time.
Eric runs after Nova and that causes the labrador to run even faster. A few minutes later, the rabbit hides in a burrow while the Nova has lost track of where he or his owner is. Eric has no clue where his beloved pet ran off too either because he could not keep up with the pace.
At this point, Eric has lost Nova and no matter how much he frantically searches that evening, he finds no sign of his dog. Feeling miserable, Eric spends the next few days looking for his dog.
He informs people in the area, the neighbors, the police authorities and the animal rescue squad. He even puts up signs boards and advertisements in the newspaper to no avail.
Eric is devastated about losing his dog. He wonders why did the rabbit have to jump exactly when he was around causing him to lose his dog.
A week later, Eric has almost lost all hope, when a doorbell sounds. When he opens the door, there stands a woman and along with her is what Eric has been looking for the last couple of weeks – his dog Nova. Both Eric and Nova exchange a warm display of affection due to the rendezvous.
The lady who brought the labrador home introduces herself as Vanessa. Eric and Vanessa, exchange pleasantries and start talking. One thing leads to another and over the next few weeks, they even start dating. Vanessa turns out to be what Eric wished in a woman – confident, positive, humorous, fun-loving and beautiful.
The rabbit jumping out of the bushes seemed like a curse when he lost the dog but now it seemed like a blessing.
One day, Vanessa invites Eric to meet her parents. Eric dresses up in his best suit, purchases an exquisite bouquet from a nearby florist and starts driving towards her house.
On route, at the intersection, a truck shows out of nowhere and rams into the side of his car before he can even react. The airbags pop up, the windshield shatters and the car turns into a wreck. Eric lies unconscious with broken bones while still behind the seatbelt.
When Eric regains consciousness a few days later, he thinks, “What a tragedy of good luck and bad fate. Earlier I was enjoying the benefit and now I am suffering.”
The rabbit incident runs through his mind again and he thinks, if not for the rabbit, he would not be lying on the hospital bed today.
The doctor notices that the patient has woken up and starts a conversation after checking how Eric is doing. The doctor tells Eric, “I have good news and a piece of bad news. What would you like to know first?”
Not knowing what bad news to expect, Eric says, “I would like to hear the bad news first.”
The doctor continues, “We found something in your brain.” Distressed hearing the news, Eric shivers in bed.
The doctor goes on, “The good news is, that this has nothing to do with your accident. You escaped with only a few fractures. But because we were scanning your head for internal injuries we noticed a tumor in your brain.
Such a tumor only gets detected when it goes active which in most cases turns out to be too late. In your case, it is not malignant yet, which means we can safely get rid of it.”
Holding his hand, the doctor says, “Eric, the accident saved your life.”
The words from the doctor make Eric seem like the tides had turned again. If not for the rabbit incident in the park, he would have never known about his tumor.
Eric realizes how certain minor events can create a significant impact on a person’s life.
What is the Nova Effect?
The story as you should know by now is fictional. But the Nova effect conveys a real message nevertheless. Psychology also has a similar topic called the butterfly effect. If you have watched the movie by that name, you should know how small changes completely alters the future of the actors.
The tale helps understand how insignificant details in day to day life can lead to a gargantuan impact in the future.
It is impossible to determine if the outcome of an event is good or bad until the future is fully realized.Alan Watts
Do not consider the takeaway from the story of the Nova effect as, “We cannot predict the future because we cannot control it.”
The lesson to learn from Eric and Nova’s story is, what we shrug off as insignificant can shape our lives for good. But we ignore the little improvements we can do which make an immense impact in the long run.
The impact of the Nova effect
Eric’s life changed after the rabbit sprang out of the bushes. But such events occur outside your control and you can do nothing about them.
For example, you hit one red light which causes you to hit subsequent traffic signals, followed by facing more traffic and making you late by 20 minutes. Do not break a sweat over such cases because even if you do, you can change nothing.
Instead, you can focus on some of the small decisions which lie within your complete control
You may assume one lie does not hurt much, but it could lead to many more lies. If you lie to your partner about where you were last evening, you think it ends there.
But you have to further fabricate the truth to cover up for your first lie. Your inaccuracy might lead to suspicion which impacts your relationship itself. What was all that for? A simple lie that you could have avoided.
What starts as one exception will require more follow up actions to straighten up.
Stepping into a casino:
Assume you are a person who falls prey to temptation with ease, therefore, you have stayed away from casinos. One evening your friend compels you to accompany him. You think, “heck, why not? I have stayed away all these years, what harm can one visit cause?”
Once you step into the casino, your greed kicks in and urges you to visit again the next weekend. In a month, you start gambling multiple times a week. In a year, the casino turns into your second home making you a gambling addict.
One drag of a cigarette:
A smoker who quit smoking a few years ago decides to take a drag from a fellow smoker during a party. “I will smoke a few drags and stop again”, he thinks.
Little does he know that the few drags today turn into some more puffs in no time. Soon, the smoker relapses back into the habit of smoking a pack or more a day.
How to use the Nova effect for improvement
Just like the negative impact of the Nova effect, positive outcomes happen too. You must use them to your advantage.
When you think of the gym, you believe skipping one day makes no difference. But in a few weeks, laziness takes over and you never think of working out again. Instead, even if you work out only a few days a week, over the long term you reap significant benefits.
If you exercise an hour thrice a week, you can lose over 5 pounds in a few months. But the activity of one hour seems so insignificant that you do not both trying.
Buying the fancy watch you noticed in the mall or ordering a steak tonight instead of cooking seems like a small expense. Like little drops add to form an ocean, tiny expenses total up to a big figure. If you save this money instead, the compound interest over decades shoots up like a volcano.
Saving 1000 $ a month seems meager. Try guessing how much the money would compound if you diligently put aside 1000 $ a month? You would be a millionaire in 30 years considering a 6% rate of interest.
Sure, the million may not hold the same buying power in 30 years, but we are talking about money you would spend on unnecessary things anyway.
Do not spend all you have because it looks like little savings make no difference. The nova effect can make you a multi-millionaire or a pauper.
Making your partner happy every week
You take your partner for granted and assume your love to speak for itself. Therefore you do not make an effort to make your partner happy.
How about buying a small gift or a rose each week? The gift does not have to always be materialistic. A sincere compliment and a hug can go a long way too.
When you put an effort week by week, every month, your partner will experience a great amount of happiness and consider herself lucky to be with you.
Reading 10 pages a day
When you plan to read a book, you hold it across, check the thickness and place it back on the shelf. The thought of reading those many pages seems like an uphill task. By reading 10 pages a day, completing a book would take forever, you think.
Do you know how many books would you finish if you read for 30 minutes every day? Most people can easily read 10 pages in half an hour. An average book personal development book consists of 200 pages.
At your reading pace, you would have gobbled up 18 books in a year. In 3 years, with over 50 books under your belt, your knowledge and awareness will skyrocket.
The nova effect doesn’t seem that bad now, does it?
Darren Hardy explains in his best-seller book, The Compound Effect, how cultivating minor good habits in your daily schedule can change your life for good. But you choose to ignore such changes as trivial.
When a javelin thrower changes the angle of his throw by a small margin, the difference can bag a gold medal. Similarly, a paltry change in your trajectory can lead you in a different direction, maybe good, maybe bad.
Minor errors such as eating a piece of chocolate, blaming somebody else, waking up after 2 snoozes, checking social media a few times between work may seem harmless. Simple positive changes such as adding half the sugar to coffee, planning your day for 10 minutes or thinking about your growth for 15 mins appear to cause no good or bad results.
And you are right because the changes remain invisible with no impact for months or even a couple of years. Fast forward five years, these good habits will produce massive results in wealth, health and happiness.
But since the wait seems hard and far, not putting in any effort seems like an easy choice. Anything that is simple to do is even simpler to not do. The instant gratification of current comfort seduces you with a hug of laziness and a kiss of procrastination.
As per the Nova effect, whether you choose to do or not do can cascade in bigger outcomes.
Anthony Robbins explains such a situation as the no-mans-land where you are neither happy with your current state of affairs but not so unhappy either to put in the effort to change. Unfortunately, this comfort zone becomes your story of life.
The Nova effect story provides a message that the choices you make every day, both big and small are the root cause of all your success and failure. You have far more control over your decisions but most people sleepwalk through daily actions.
If you change nothing, nothing changes. You will get what you tolerate. If you tolerate people arriving late for your appointments, soon every person will make it a habit. If you allow a few coworkers to look down upon you, soon will the entire team. If you tolerate your partner nagging you for no reason, you will end up nagged for the rest of your life.
Every day, you go through various opportunities to make decisions that change the future course of your life. You have the control and influence many such decisions to work in your favor.
Will you let them pass by on autopilot or will you apply the brake and make the right choice?
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.