When a pebble is dropped into water, the force of the impact displaces water and creates ripples on the surface of the water.  Ripples radiate outwards from the point of impact, with undulations emanating from the water disturbance, ruffling the previously smooth surface of the water.  Similarly, small actions can have a larger impact as ripples from the change spread outwards.

The Dalai Lama acknowledged the impact of small changes by commenting: “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects." A number of small adjustments can have a cumulative effect; however a single change made by an individual can have a bigger impact than expected, simply because of the ripple effect. Making a significant change can sometimes seem impossible, especially when the amount of energy and effort required to implement and sustain a big change appears to be beyond the capacity of the individual at that time.  Making a small change, however, might be considered achievable. The impact of making small changes should not be underestimated. Matt Bevin stated, “… the ripple effects of small things is extraordinary."

Habit formation and an enduring change of habit require repetition of an action over time in order for a new habit to become embedded in memory and eventually automatized. When this occurs, cognitive load is reduced, making it much easier to incorporate and maintain a changed habit or pattern of behaviour. A small change in habit can have a ripple effect, spreading the impact of the change much wider.  Daily actions are made up of hundreds of habits; however the brain operates on autopilot for approximately forty percent of the day.  Andreas Horn, a researcher at the Max Plank Institute for Human Development in Berlin, explored the brain's default mode network, which functions when the brain operates on autopilot.

By making small changes, new habits are established, fresh neural pathways formed and the ripple effect of each small change has the potential to have an impact that is greater than expected. Little adjustments, made over time, create incremental change, so the most effective way for students to improve an existing situation is to make a slight adjustment to a current pattern of behaviour. Small changes add up but even a single, small, change can create a ripple effect. By strategically selecting the change to make, a significant impact can be accomplished.​

When an individual makes even a small, achievable change, it is important not to underestimate the impact of the ripples that emanate, sending waves far beyond the small change that has occurred, creating a lasting impact and altering a trajectory.


© Michele Juratowitch (​

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Last reviewed 20 July 2022
Last updated 20 July 2022