Too small to fail.

Kaizen: Tiny actions for big results

The Japanese term, Kaizen, refers to using small steps to accomplish large goals. We may be used to building upon small successes, but Kaizen goes further. It goes into tiny actions that seem trivial and are too small to cause resistance.

Our brains are programmed to resist change. We survived as a species by being able to assign very little energy to repetitive tasks. When we introduce something new, it induces fear or stress, and the amygdala part of the brain becomes alert and goes into fight or flight mode. In this mode, it allocates the majority of our energy to reacting to the change, and restricts functions such as rational thinking.

Sometimes the change can be perceived as excitement instead of fear so it doesn’t set off amygdala alarms. It’s common to have some success starting a new habit, until the excitement wears off, and then not be able to rely on rational thinking to continue. It’s because the amygdala kicked in and transferred our energy to fight or flight mode.

So here’s the trick to not activate that automatic response… Make the changes tiny, and repetitive, until it’s so normal our brain craves it. For example, exercise for one minute a day for a week. Then add a second minute for another week. Keep adding minutes on a weekly basis until you hit the desired amount. Be careful to keep it effortless and not go too fast.

Be sure to give your brain enough repetition at each tiny stage to lay down the neural network required to make the change easy. Repetition, even for a few seconds, signals the brain to start committing cells to the new behavior. You’ll know you’re ready when you start doing the action without thinking about it.

Take action: Not sure where to start? Ask your brain, it loves questions. Just remember to keep it small, and you may need to give it processing time. Here are a few example questions… How can I remind myself daily to drink more water? What can I do today to grow my relationship with ___? Where can I find time to add more learning into my routine?

:: Inspired by Robert Maurer, Ph.D.’s book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.


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