Dental Practice: The Sorites Paradox

By Dr. Jason Tanoory

March 30, 2022

Small Changes, Huge Results

I Spent the last week going through all my notes on habit formation and came across this principle which I had completely forgotten about.

The Sorites Paradox is an ancient parable that teaches the lesson of how very small changes over time can lead to huge results (positive or negative). The lesson trying to be taught, at least from my perspective, is that it’s impossible to identify which of these little specific behaviors actually lead to the result. Instead it was a combination of all of them repeated over time.


Two Sides of  the Same Coin

Can one coin make a person rich? If you give a person a pile of ten coins, you wouldn’t claim that he or she is rich. But what if you add another? And another? And another? At some point, you will have to admit that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him or her so.

Another classic example is water boiling. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. Does that mean the the temperature increase from 89 to 90 is less important that the change from 99 to 100? No. each incremental temperature change needed to occur in order to get water to boil.


What Makes Habits Difficult

The same is true with habits and our repeated behavior, no matter how small the behavior. Does one burger and fries for lunch cause you to be fat? No. Just like one garden salad with grilled chicken on it for lunch doesn’t make someone healthy. The consistent repeated behavior over time is what has the huge effect. Using the above example, a few years later you are either 15 pounds overweight or you are a lean and mean healthy individual.

For this reason, it’s so hard to start new habits like eating healthy because it takes a while to see any benefit to performing that habit.

For the same reason it’s so hard to stop a bad habit because in the moment the bad habit feels good but it takes a long time for the detrimental effects of that habit to rear its ugly head. The classic example is a cigarette that can reduce your stress in the short term moment but cause lung cancer in the long term.


Staying Hungry

We can say the same thing about habits. Can one tiny change transform your life? Not in the short term. But what if you made another? And another? And another? At some point, you will have to admit that your life was transformed by one small change.

The secret of getting results that last is to never stop making improvements. It’s remarkable what you can build if you just don’t stop. Small habits don’t add up. They compound.

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