What’s your big domino?

I recently got sucked into the rabbit hole of credit card hacking. It all began with the purest of intentions. I wanted to ditch my Chase Sapphire card’s annual fee in favor of a straight 2% cash back card.

But this five minute task quickly devolved into a 4 hour long expedition – robbing me of my entire morning. Before I knew it, I had 12 browser tabs open cross-referencing The Points Guy, FIRE blogs and card issuers. I even had some random Google sheet explaining how to calculate the intrinsic value of a point. (I mean, you gotta amortize the sign-up bonus.)

Conventional thinking says a point is worth a penny. But did you know that if you commit your life to Virgin Airlines, it can reach 5.9 cents?!?!

Thankfully a friend snapped me out of this time-suck with an offer I couldn’t refuse: 10% cash back.

No annual fee. No application process. In fact, you could start using it immediately.

Oh what is thy name, you mythical unicorn of a credit card?

Paying for everything with cash.

In the blind pursuit of the next penny, I was missing the big picture. I was overlooking the highest-leverage behavior – the big domino.

Make your spending real

Cash is a speed bump. It inserts friction. Adds a mental trigger. Here’s Movement Capital’s Adam Collins on making ditching all of his credit cards:

Then I stumbled across research on how the average person spends more with a card relative to cash. Basically, using a card makes money feel less “real” so you tend to be less rational with it. In January, I switched to using cash for all in-person spending and put card-only payments on my debit card. My discretionary spending has been 10% lower this year compared to 2018. No credit card is going to give you a 10% return on everyday spending. The highest “return” on everyday spending might, ironically, be through avoiding cards and using cash.

Hacks often masquerade as high-leverage behaviors. Identifying your big dominoes is difficult and requires a few critical skills:


  • Asking the right question
  • Identifying your “true north”
  • Focusing on execution


And our lives are rich with poorly scoped “questions” that never get us out of trees and into the forest. Thus we stay stuck in the trees. We focus on inbox zero over that extra 30 minutes of sleep; we confuse effectiveness over efficiency; and we schedule more meetings to avoid making important decisions.

Identifying your big domino

The book Experiment Without Limits by productivity coach Chris Sparks provides an incredible (and free) masterclass on identifying your highest leverage actions. It contains a series of prompts that are deceptively simple, yet hard to answer:

Big dominos compound

One of my coaching clients recently came to me frustrated about his inability to meditate regularly. But he had a plan. He re-committed to his fancy task manager, re-read David Allen’s GTD bible and was conducting a time audit. He even bought two little doohickeys for his desk that would force him to single-task.

He was determined to extract more minutes from his day, so that he could meditate more. Which made him blind to his big domino.

His highest leverage behavior was quite simple. Keeping his phone out of his bedroom for the hour leading up to his bed time. This gave his lizard brain time wind-down (which, btw drove his desire to meditate more) and improved both his sleep quality and duration. Then, awakening fresh (and without snoozing) he’d meditate before work, launching him into his work day with incredible energy and momentum.

In Atomic Habits, James Clear calls this compounding effect habit stacking:

Habit stacking allows you to create a set of simple rules that guide your future behavior. It’s like you always have a game plan for which action should come next. 

And this kicks off a self-reinforcing cycle that increases the probability that the behavior change sticks.

So the next time you find yourself scouring the Internet for the hack that will snap your life into place, instead consider: What’s your big domino?

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