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  • Susan Keeler

One small step can change your life

Kaizen is a counter-intuitive approach to change.

Let's face it, change is hard, whether you are trying to free yourself from a bad habit, establish healthy habits or just trying to get some traction on the journey to your best life. If you want to rock your world, read a tiny little book called One Small Step Can Change Your Life -- The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer. Maurer gives you everything you need to know about kaizen, a Japanese approach to incremental business improvement. But for our purposes, kaizen is an amazingly effective tool for personal or professional development.

Kaizen magically tricks your brain!

What happens when you try to make a positive change? Answer: nothing! Your change effort typically goes to the land of nowhere, like a new year's resolution in the second week of January. When inspired to make a change, most of us go out of the gate too quickly, get overwhelmed, and then give up. It's astonishing how often we somehow go unconscious and totally forgot our good intentions less than a week in! You can thank your amygdala for this terrible track record. The amygdala is the part of your brain that's trying to keep you on an even keel, that's trying to make sure you survive life on the savanna with the saber tooth tigers; in short, the amygdala's mission is to be vigilant and make sure nothing changes. Your amygdala is in charge of the fear response which throws you into fight, flight, or freeze. If it finds out that you are trying to make a change, you are screwed. Kaizen bypasses the fear response by designing tiny tiny tiny changes in order to stay below your amygdala's radar.

Here's an example.

A British lady has been taking 4 teaspoons of sugar in her tea her entire life and is inspired to reduce sugar in her diet. She employs the standard approach. She drinks one, maybe two cups of tea sans sugar and then...she forgets her goal entirely. Plus her tea tastes terrible. Her amygdala has "rescued her" from making the change to a sugarless life. In contrast, here's the kaizen approach:

Day 1: She puts 3 teaspoons sugar in tea, takes 4th teaspoon, removes 1 grain of sugar from spoon, dumps the rest in tea, enjoys the tea; life is sweet!

Day 2: She put 3 teaspoons sugar in tea, takes 4th teaspoon, removes 2 grains of sugar from spoon, dumps the rest in tea, enjoys the tea; life is sweet!

Day 3: She puts 3 teaspoons sugar in tea, takes 4th teaspoon, removes 3 grains of sugar from spoon, dumps the rest in tea, enjoys the tea; life is still sweet!

Do you see where this is going? "But wait," I hear you say, "at this rate she'll never get through it!" Actually, she will get through it and much faster than she would if she makes it her new year's resolution year after year. And notice: she has already made it to day 4 without her amygdala finding out! This is the fun and (literally) fearless path of positive change. If you notice that you are trying to make changes and keep getting stymied, chances are the changes you are making are not small enough. I know, it's weird.

Where do you want to make a change?

I am currently using kaizen to build my core strength. In the tiniest way possible, I'm introducing planks into my routine. I decided to do planks between seeing clients. I started with one plank a week. I'm now up to about 12 planks a week. Where do you want to make a change? Put a note in the comments and let's design a tiny tiny tiny kaizen action you can try. After all, one small step could change your life.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Lao Tsu


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