The Think Smaller Blog is an eight-part editorial series that strives to change the world by empowering anyone to take small, yet potent actions in their community. Taken collectively, we believe these changes can add up to make an incredible difference. Check back every Monday for the latest update.

A Perpetual Motion Machine

The dream of creating a perpetual motion machine has eluded physicists and engineers from the dawn of modern science. As it turns out, the ever persistent laws of thermodynamics are not easily broken. Time and again, through every attempt, friction has proven the reigning victor.

The basic scientific position says any device requires one of two things to keep moving: It either needs an isolated system (i.e. a total vacuum). Or it needs some external source of power. Otherwise, it will always eventually slow to a halt.

But what if we told you creating perpetual motion is – in fact – not only possible, but unbelievably simple?

Full disclosure: We are not engineers nor physicists. We actually have no idea how to create a machine that can move continuously under its own momentum. Even for a few moments – much less forever.

But we do know how to create something equally as cool. Perhaps even better. And it all begins with one simple action: Performing an act of kindness.

Believe it or not, when you do something nice for someone else, you are in fact flipping the switch to your very own perpetual motion machine.

The Power of Kindness

Social scientists have recently made a discovery that has the power to change the world. Kindness, they have learned, is incredibly contagious. Witnessing or being the recipient of an act of goodwill is, in fact, a powerful motivator for someone to extend a kind gesture themselves!

Whats more – this inspiration stretches up to three degrees removed from where it started. In other words, every one act of kindness has the potential to inspire three more people to take action. Those three people will inspire three more. And on the chain of positive action grows.

These acts of kindness need not be large and grandiose, either. It is entirely possible your buying coffee for a stranger this morning has already benefited someone you’ll never meet, a town or a time zone away. And perhaps by tomorrow it will have affected a person on another continent altogether. Such is the beauty of the intensely connected world we live in.

What this phenomenon does require, however, is that you take notice of the generosity and altruism you see every day. It requires that you listen to the warm feelings conjured inside you. And especially that you make the effort to pass that gift along.

Important is not the size of the gesture; simply that you keep the ball rolling.

Seeing it in Action

Are you thinking this seems awesome in theory, but may be a little far fetched in practice?

We could implore you to give it a try and see how things play out. But perhaps this hypothetical scenario might help to tie it all together:

Imagine you’re driving on the freeway. It’s the middle of rush hour. You’re navigating bumper to bumper traffic. A vehicle enters the roadway a few dozen car lengths behind you. Instead of merging smoothly into one of the handful of spots his fellow drivers have left open, he opts to race all the way to the end in an aggravating attempt to budge his place in line.

You feel your blood begin to boil. Your first reaction is to become infuriated by his selfish disdain for common courtesy. Instinct tells you to close the opening he is shooting for. The twinge of a smile on your face offers a small glimpse of the satisfaction you would feel in forcing him become stuck at the end of his lane – especially if all of your fellow drivers followed suit.

At the last moment, though, you have a sudden change of heart. Instead of blocking his path, you decide to allow some space and give him safe passage on his journey. And to your surprise, he offers a wave of thanks. Your tense muscles relax and you breathe a sigh of relief – feeling better for having chosen kindness over vengeance.

One lane over, a woman notices your gesture of patience. She is currently on the phone, aggressively chastising an employee over a botched sales call that was potentially worth a lot of money for her company. Suddenly, she is able to hear the tone of regret and shame that colours her subordinate’s solemn apology.

She realizes no measure of badgering and criticism can fix what has already been done. Perhaps more importantly, though, that her employee has clearly learned from this mistake and it definitely will not happen again.

Taking a cue from your example, she softens her tone and decides to move the discussion in a more productive and decidedly optimistic direction. The vein on her temple stops pulsing and the white-knuckle grip she’s been holding on her steering wheel begins to loosen.

In a coffee shop, clear across the city, a young professional is standing in line waiting his turn to place an order. He feels relieved that a difficult conversation with his boss just ended on a much more positive note than how it began.

A loud beep sounds from the credit card machine up at the till ahead. It’s a familiar message to the young, now embarrassed mother standing there.

“Declined,” it says.

Our young professional can’t help but notice. And the way her shoulders slump in response tells him she doesn’t have the money to cover her bill. A flash of inspiration touches his heart and he pulls a $20 bill from his wallet.

He slides his way to the front of the line. Leaning in, he quietly lets the cashier know he would like to pay for the young woman’s order. Adding that he’d also like to pay for however many future orders the money will cover.

As he walks outside, he feels his posture rise. An optimistic smile rinses away his previously pensive expression.

Jake Shapka is the Coordinator of Brand & Culture integration at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. He holds a degree in Communications Studies from the University of Calgary and is passionate about inspiring communities to come together to create a world where everyone feels a sense of purpose, connection, and belonging. You can find him on Twitter by following @jakeshapka.