11 min read ⌚
The Kaizen Way
It’s just like Lao Tzu said millennium and a half ago: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
You know why?
Because making the same small step every day will eventually get you to your goal – be it a thousand miles in the distance!
And that’s the essence of the Kaizen Way, summed up perfectly by Robert Maurer in the title of his book:
Who Should Read “One Small Step Can Change Your Life”? And Why?
Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “change for the better” but usually (and more aptly) translated with the phrase “continuous improvement;” originally developed and practiced in Japanese businesses after World War II, its philosophy has been applied in many spheres ever since, ranging from psychotherapy to life-coaching, from government to healthcare.
It’s so popular, in fact, that it’s certainly one of the few things – if not the only one – that Tony Robbins, Robin Sharma and (of all people) Nassim Nicholas Taleb have in common.
Believe it or not, each of them has dedicated a chapter of their most celebrated books – The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Awaken the Giant Within and Fooled by Randomness – to kaizen, the Japanese art of gradual and continuous development to perfection.
Written by a renowned psychologist, One Small Step Can Change Your Life functions as an introductory self-help guide to kaizen, both explicating its foundations theoretically and stressing the significance of applying them to your life, one by one.
It is – as its blurb states – “for anyone who wants to lose weight; or quit smoking; or write a novel, start an exercise program, get out of debt, or conquer shyness and meet new people.”
About Robert Maurer
Robert Maurer, Ph. D. is an American clinical psychologist.
Currently, he is the Director of Behavioral Sciences for the Family Practice Residency Program in Spokane, Washington, an Associate Clinical Professor at the UCLA School of Medicine, and a faculty member of the University of Washington School of Medicine.
He also runs the Science of Excellence, a consulting firm whose clients include (among others) Walt Disney, the U.S. Navy, Bank of America, Electronic Arts and even the British Government.
He has written several books on the art of self-improvement, including One Small Step Can Change Your Life (published in no less than 20 languages), The Spirit of Kaizen, and Mastering Fear.
Find out more at http://www.scienceofexcellence.com/.
“One Small Step Can Change Your Life PDF Summary”
One Small Step Can Change Your Life purports to be – to quote its blurb yet again – “the essential guide to kaizen, the art of making great and lasting change through small, steady steps.”
As such, in its introductory first chapter – “Why Kaizen Works” – it first describes the power of kaizen to change your life and the mechanisms by which it does; then, in the following six chapters, it portrays each of the main six kaizen techniques you should use to apply the philosophy in any sphere of your life:
• asking small questions to dispel fear and inspire creativity;
• thinking small thoughts to develop new skills and habits-without moving a muscle;
• taking small actions that guarantee success;
• solving small problems, even when you’re faced with an overwhelming crisis;
• bestowing small rewards to yourself or others to produce the best results; and
• recognizing the small but crucial moments that everyone else ignores.
In the eighth chapter of the book – “Kaizen for Life” – Maurer brings his discussion to a close, suggesting his readers that kaizen “is more profound than a tool for simply crossing the finish line,” and that one should think of it much more in terms of “a process that is never done.”
If so, he says, kaizen will invite you “to see life as an opportunity for continuous improvement, for ever-higher standards and expanding potential.”
Interested in such a leap?
Then join us!
Innovation vs. Kaizen
Whether in business or your personal life, there are two ways to break the old routines and introduce something new: either through innovation or through gradual improvement.
The former is radical and usually initiates something revolutionary: that’s what Whitney Johnson – translating Schumpeter and Christensen into the language of self-help books – talks about in Disrupt Yourself.
Gradual improvement, on the other hand, means doing something better than the day before, no matter what, no matter how small.
The difference between the two?
Innovation is a short-term make-or-break strategy that can either bring you great success or result in complete and utter failure; gradual improvement, on the other hand, is a long-term approach and, patience granted, works every time.
In other words, if you want to stop smoking cigarettes, you can either do that by deciding to stop smoking them overnight (radical innovation) or eliminate one by one cigarette over a certain period of time until you have no interest in them whatsoever.
Sure, in the first case you can lose the bad habit earlier, but studies have shown that the latter approach is far more successful and has an enduring effect.
And that’s the very essence of kaizen, described by Maurer as the process of taking small steps for continual improvement.
Despite the foreign name, kaizen is actually an American product, first applied systematically in Depression-era America.
Developed by none other than management guru W. Edwards Deming, its principles were subsequently developed into management courses called Training Within Industries (TWI), which greatly accelerated America’s manufacturing capacity during the war.
General Douglas MacArthur introduced them to Japan after the end of the Second World War, and thousands of Japanese business executives took them.
The rest – as they say – is history.
Why Kaizen Works
Just like our society and our businesses, your body is also not built to be able to absorb and implement radical changes overnight; “all changes,” writes Maurer, “even positive ones, are scary.”
As we’ve told you numerous times here, your brain consists of at least three parts:
• the brain stem, aka the reptilian brain, the part of your brain which “wakes you up in the morning, sends you off to sleep at night, and reminds your heart to beat;”
• the midbrain, aka the mammalian brain, the one which “regulates the body’s internal temperature, houses our emotions, and governs the fight-or-flight response that keeps us alive in the face of danger;”
• the cortex, which is “responsible for the miracle of being human. Civilization, art, science, and music all reside there. It’s where our rational thoughts and creative impulses take place. When we want to make a change, or jump-start the creative process, we need access to the cortex.”
Now, the problem is that to access the cortex you need to first go through the brain stem and the midbrain and the latter one has something called the amygdala.
Now, the amygdala is responsible for your flight-or-fight response and is not that keen on changes; it also blocks access to the cortex when it thinks that something is too dangerous to deserve contemplation.
If there’s a lion, your amygdala says, you don’t really need your brain to think what you should do; you need to either fight or (more probably) run.
The problem is – the amygdala can’t differentiate between lions, weight loss and exams; it reacts the same way in all three situations.
But that’s exactly why kaizen works!
It basically tricks the amygdala, telling it: “oh, come on, you, this is nothing too big or dramatic…”
Key Lessons from “One Small Step Can Change Your Life”
1. Ask Small Questions
2. Think Small Thoughts
3. Take Small Actions
4. Solve Small Problems
5. Bestow Small Rewards
6. Identify Small Moments
Ask Small Questions
Robert Maurer introduces the first kaizen technique thus:
Small questions create a mental environment that welcomes unabashed creativity and playfulness. When you ask small questions of others, you can channel that creative force toward team goals. By asking small questions of yourself, you lay the groundwork for a personalized kaizen program for change.
Your brain loves questions and riddles: it treats them as something harmless and accepts them with childlike wonder.
And that’s true even for toddlers who, though inattentive to didactic statements (“This is a doggie”) are wide-eyed when they hear a question, even if the answer is supplied by the one posing it (“What’s this? This is a doggie.”)
However, when you ask questions, you have to be careful and aware not to wake the amygdala; big questions induce fear and this, in turn, shuts down your cortex; in contrast, small questions communicate directly with it.
Here are a few ideas Maurer shares with his readers:
• For the unhappy: If I were guaranteed not to fail, what would I be doing differently?
• For those with a specific goal: What is one small step I could take toward reaching my goal?
• For those who have a conflict with someone: What’s one good thing about this person?
It’s kaizen, so don’t forget: you need to ask yourself these questions more than once.
Think Small Thoughts
Thinking small thoughts is a strategy much akin to visualization; aptly named “mind sculpturing,” thinking small thoughts should help you form a certain response to a certain situation beforehand so that your brain can ignore the panicky amygdala when the time comes.
This is how the technique works, broken down into 10 small steps:
#1. Isolate a task which makes you uncomfortable and give yourself at least a month before actually doing it;
#2. Allot a few seconds (not minutes!) you’re willing to devote to mind sculpturing this task every day;
#3. Sit down in a quiet, comfortable spot and close your eyes;
#4. Imagine yourself in this difficult or uncomfortable situation; what do you see? Who’s there? What do the people look like?
#5. Now expand your imagination to the rest of your senses: sounds, smells, flavors, textures.
#6. Imagine that you’re actually doing the task – but don’t move a single muscle; remember the words, the voice, the physical gestures;
#7. Imagine a positive response to your actions;
#8. Do this every day, until the imagining becomes effortless; then increase the length of allotted time for mind sculpturing; if it doesn’t work – go back a few steps; never force kaizen;
#9. Once you’re comfortable, imagine the worst-case scenario and start imagining how you would react to it;
#10. When you feel ready, start with a few small steps before actually doing the big task.
Take Small Actions
The last step of thinking small thoughts brings us to the third kaizen strategy: taking small actions.
This one’s self-explanatory, and can best be understood in terms of how it works in real life:
• If you think you’re spending too much, then remove one object from your shopping cart before heading to the cash register;
• If you want to tidy up your house, you don’t need to call Marie Kondo; just pick a small area, set your timer for 5 minutes, and do the work; stop when the timer goes off no matter how into the task you are;
• if you want to get more sleep, start by going to bed just one minute earlier at night.
“These little actions usually sound bizarre to the uninitiated,” writes Maurer. “But if you have struggled to make a big change-to drop twenty pounds, to change careers, or to steady a sinking romance-and failed, then you might appreciate how small changes can help.”
And, indeed, they can: big, bold efforts to make a change are usually counterproductive, resulting in aversion; small changes result in a new habit; this time – a good one.
Solve Small Problems
You know how you say to yourself “I’ll do the dishes tomorrow – after all, there are only three today!” And you know how, a few days later, there’s not one dish clean in your apartment, and every part of your body rages against you getting up of your bed and just going near to your sink?
Well, that’s because you’re unconsciously allowing kaizen to devolve to a situation when radical innovation is the only way out.
Why should you do it?
Solving small problems usually means the absence of big ones; and small problems are always around you; you just need to identify them and act:
We are so accustomed to living with minor annoyances that it’s not always easy to identify them, let alone make corrections. But these annoyances have a way of acquiring mass and eventually blocking your path to change. By training yourself to spot and solve small problems, you can avoid undergoing much more painful remedies later.
Bestow Small Rewards
In the end – let’s face it – you’re just an animal; and as such, you can often be easily trained to act properly in much the same manner Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate whenever they heard a bell.
The best thing?
You don’t need Pavlov to do it.
You can do it yourself by bestowing yourself small rewards which can motivate you to continue your path to improvement in the right direction.
What does this mean in practice?
Simple: find a suitable reward and treat yourself with it!
However, always have in mind these three rules:
#1. The reward should be appropriate to the goal: it’s certainly not smart to treat yourself with chocolate if you’re on a weight loss program;
#2. The reward should be appropriate to the person: you know yourself best, so don’t let other people tell you what the appropriate reward for you is;
#3. The reward should be either free or inexpensive; anything from a few more minutes to relax or to spend on your hobby to watching television, playing your favorite piece of music, or soaking in the tub.
Trick your brain into thinking that you’ll not get the reward if you don’t do the job which grants it.
Identify Small Moments
“The kaizen approach to life,” writes Maurer, “requires a slower pace and an appreciation of small moments. This pleasant technique can lead to creative breakthroughs and strengthened relationships, and give you a daily boost toward excellence.”
Unfortunately, everything’s going too fast nowadays, so we’ve forgotten to appreciate these small moments.
Maurer offers a series of steps “to help your mind stay open, playful, and alert to small moments, even in emotionally charged situations”:
#1. Look for a person – preferably a stranger – who has an opposite opinion from you on a hot-button topic;
#2. Start a conversation with him, but not with the goal to sway him from his beliefs: just ask him questions about his position;
#3. Try not to argue, persuade, or sound judgmental;
#4. Notice if the person is becoming more relaxed and chattier; if so, you’re succeeding.
Remember: it is through these small moments (and your reactions in them) that Dr. John Gottman was able to predict (in staggering 93% of the cases) if marriages will fail or work.
Believe us: ignoring small moments (pleasant phone calls, arriving home at the promised time, inquiring about dental appointments) is not worth the risk.
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“One Small Step Can Change Your Life Quotes”Change is frightening… This fear of change is rooted in the brain's physiology, and when fear takes hold, it can prevent creativity, change, and success. Click To Tweet Small questions create a mental environment that welcomes unabashed creativity and playfulness. When you ask small questions of others, you can channel that creative force toward team goals. Click To Tweet The easy technique of mind sculpture uses ‘small thoughts’ to help you develop new social, mental, and even physical skills – just by imagining yourself performing them. Click To Tweet Small actions are at the heart of kaizen. By taking steps so tiny that they seem trivial or even laughable, you'll sail calmly past obstacles that have defeated you before. Click To Tweet Whether you wish to train yourself or others to instill better habits, small rewards are the perfect encouragement. Not only are they inexpensive and convenient, but they also stimulate the internal motivation required for lasting change. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Susan Jeffers, author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, says that One Small Step Can Change Your Life is “a wonderful, very readable book that describes a peaceful and simple way of handling all the difficulties in our lives. You will breathe a sigh of relief as you read it!”
Now, it’s not that Robert Maurer’s book says something revelatory or unearths something surprising and shocking; it’s just timeproof mystical wisdom served in a more digestible package if not more merely because organized and rationalized.
And considering the time we live in, we suppose that that’s something worthy of appreciation.So, do yourself a favor and read One Small Step Can Change Your Life in one sitting (it’s neither long nor complicated book); however, start applying its principles immediately afterward and do that as long as you live.