Recently, I rediscovered a book that has been on my shelf for years, called One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer. I love it so much that I want to share it with you.
Dr. Maurer’s big, audacious, surprising notion is that we don’t need to take (and in fact aren’t served by taking) big, audacious, surprising steps. Instead, harness the power of small steps. It’s called the Kaizen Way, after a Japanese principle of manufacturing improvement.
Big Changes Tend to Backfire
The idea here is that those crazy big steps, promises and pivots encouraged by our “CAN DO” culture, are actually more likely to spark fear, overwhelm and cause frustration. When we make big promises, our subconscious puts up big resistance, and while we might start off with a bang, we’ll ultimately lose momentum and feel discouraged. By taking small steps, we avoid setting up that dynamic of internal resistance, finding a natural, graceful way to move securely toward our goals.
Playful, Creative Change Instead of Forcing It
Change – big or small – is scary. By practicing the strategies of the Kaizen Way, we work around our brain’s natural fear response. These strategies lay down new neural pathways that unleash our brain’s natural capacity for creatively and playfully creating change, instead of forcing it.
Instead of making big promises, figure out small steps. Here are three of the six small steps outlined by Robert Maurer!
Three Strategies of the Kaizen Way
Number 1: Ask Small Questions, Repeatedly
Our brains LOVE to play and questions help open the door to our natural creativity. Small, gentle, open-ended, positive questions allow us to tip-toe past the fear and playfully explore! Big questions may trigger our automatic fear response.
Here’s how it works: Instead of asking yourself “how can I lose 30 pounds?” try asking “how can I be physically active today?” Instead of wondering “how can I find my soul mate?” wonder “what would an ideal mate be like?”
Part of this strategy is repetition: ask yourself repeatedly over days or weeks. Post your questions in places where you see them regularly. Mull it over, don’t force it…But do noodle on all the possible answers to your questions. Try writing the answers down.
Number 2: Think Small Thoughts
Dr. Maurer explores the technique of mind sculpture developed by Ian Robertson. With this strategy, you use your imagination/mind to develop new skills. Mind sculpture is more than guided imagery, visualization, or just thinking. It is a total imaginary immersion, engaging all the senses. When you practice mind sculpture, you use your mind to fully immerse yourself in the activity. Your brain believes that you are actually engaged in the activity. This way of practicing engages your mind and neutralizes fear at the same time.
Number 3: Take Small Actions
This is the heart of the Kaizen Way. No matter how much you entertain your brain with puzzles or questions or mental rehearsals, at some point you have to take action in order for change to unfold. These actions need to be so small and seemingly insignificant that they trick that brainy brain of yours! They might even seem small, trivial–even laughable. But they will comfortably, naturally, organically lead you to a second step, then a third, and so on until you have accomplished your goal!
Examples include marching in place for one minute (instead of pledging 45 minutes in the gym), going through one quick conversation in your French textbook (instead of vowing to do a whole chapter), or cutting down your portion size by one bite at each meal (instead of cutting out a meal).
Gentle, Playful, Compassionate Change
The Kaizen Way is a life-long practice that kindly and respectfully encourages you to move towards your goals. Don’t force these small steps: They only work if you allow them to work in a comfortable and easy manner.
All change takes time. Building these new habits requires compassion, trust, optimism and patience. Be kind to yourself, and open to the possibility that small can be huge.