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One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer

A really simple and short book that doesn't take a long time to read and has a very good idea to get us moving in the right direction.

A lot of times we overthink what we need to do. If we think of accomplishing a grand goal such as writing a book, the thought of writing 300 pages or thousands of words takes a big mental toll on us and prevents us from doing it.

Breaking the work down into small parts is a lot more helpful and will even help us get started. It's OK to start out only writing a couple of sentences a day to get the idea flowing as opposed to thinking we need to write whole chapters in a day.

That is the big idea in this book and the author refers to this method as the kaizen way. Kaizen is a Sino-Japanese word for improving and in business it refers to the activities that continuously improves a company.


The six different strategies of kaizen:

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

Recognizing the small but crucial moments that everyone else ignores

There are 3 sections of the brain: The brain stem which is the bottom of the brain and is called the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain wakes you up in the morning, sends you off to sleep at night, and reminds your heart to beat. The midbrain which regulates the body’s internal temperature, houses your emotions, and governs the fight-or-flight response that keeps us alive in the face of danger. The third part is the cortex… The cortex is where a human’s rational thoughts and creative impulses take place.

How small steps become giant leaps:

Your brain is programmed to resist change. But, by taking small steps, you effectively rewire your nervous system so that it does the following:

Unstick you from a creative block

Bypasses the fight-or-flight response

Create new connections between neurons so that the brain enthusiastically takes over the process of change and you progress rapidly toward your goal

Even now, I’ve found that the most successful people are the ones who gaze at fear unblinkingly. Instead of relying on terms like anxiety, stress, or nervousness, they speak openly of being frightened by their responsibilities and challenges. Here’s Jack Welsch, the past CEO of General Electric: “Everyone who is running something goes home at night and wrestles with the same fear: Am I going to be the one who blows this place up?”

If your expectation is that a well-run life should always be orderly, you are setting yourself up for panic and defeat. If you assume that a new job or relationship or health goal is supposed to be easy, you will feel angry and confused when fear arises – and you’ll do anything to make it disappear. We may not even be aware of the exaggerated, desperate measure we take to get rid of fear.

When life gets scary and difficult, we tend to look for solutions in places where it is easy or at least familiar to do so, and not in the dark, uncomfortable places where real solutions might lie.

When we sit down to write a speech or a paper, and we ask ourselves, “How do I make the audience spellbound?” we stare at a blank screen because this is a really big question. Ask small questions. Big questions awaken the part of our brain called the amygdala which triggers “fear and flight” mode.

In UCLA’s medical practice, for example, I’ve seen people who simply will not, cannot, floss their teeth. They know they’re at risk for tooth decay and gum disease, and they feel they ought to develop a flossing habit, but they can’t seem to translate that knowledge into action. So I’ve asked them to floss one tooth a day. These people find this tiny step much easier. After a month of flossing one tooth every day, they have two things: one very clean tooth and a habit of picking up that silly string.

As you plan your own small steps toward change, keep in mind that sometimes, despite your best planning, you’ll hit a wall of resistance. Don’t give up! Instead, try scaling back the size of your steps. Remember that your goal is to bypass fear – and to make the steps so small that you can barely notice an effort. When the steps are easy enough, the mind will usually take over and leapfrog over obstacles to achieve your goal.

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.

Sometimes it’s hard to spot small problems because paradoxically, the damage they inflict can be so great that we assume the source of such horror must lie in deeply complicated troubles. This is true for marriages, careers, addictions, corporations, and even for world-wide health disasters. [My note: An example is a million children around the world dying from diarrhea a year. Lots of money gets used to prevent this from happening and it is mildly successful but at the same time it is thinking too broad, and not simple enough. Lots of diarrhea is caused by bacteria in food, so a simple solution of patrons washing their dirty hands is a much simpler solution. This reminds me of Warren Buffett’s quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”]

Pg 136 has a really good example of how NYC subway crime decreased

When we face personal crises, the kaizen strategy of solving small problems offers consolation and practical assistance. If we are involved in a lawsuit, or fall ill, or find that the economic tides are leaving our business high and dry, or our partner is falling out of love with us, we cannot fix our circumstances with one quick, decisive moment of innovation. During these crises, the only concrete steps available are small ones. When our lives are in great distress, even while we are feeling out of control or in emotional pain, we can try to locate the smaller problems within the larger disaster, and perhaps apply any or all of the kaizen techniques to move us slowly in the direction of a solution. But if we are blind to the small, manageable problems, we are more likely to slip into despair.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse

The kaizen approach to life requires a slower pace and an appreciation of small moments.

British Physician, Edward Jenner, notices that a group of milkmaids didn’t get smallpox because they go sick from cowpox much earlier and this exposure gave them immunity to smallpox, which is similar to cowpox. Most people look at what is being effected (in this case who has the disease) and try to come up with a solution. Sometimes the best way is to look at who isn’t being effected (in this case who doesn’t have the disease) and try to find out what they are doing differently).

Many great moments of progress come out of a workaday attention to the little things. I’m talking about moments that may seem ordinary or even tiresome, but actually hold the seeds of importance change.

A study that contained a professor of psychology at the University of Washington named Dr. John Gottman was able to predict with 93% accuracy whether a couple would be happily married after 4 years or whether they would be divorced.

He did this by looking at these small gestures:

Using a pleased tone of voice when receiving a phone call from the partner, as opposed to an exasperated tone or a rushed pace that implied the partner’s call was interrupting important tasks

Inquiring about dentist appointments or other details of the other person’s day

Putting down the remote control, newspaper, or telephone when the other partner walked through the door

Arriving home at the promised time – or at least calling if there was a delay

[An] application of kaizen to relationships is allowing ourselves to be interested in the small details of our partner’s life….Train yourself to focus on the small, positive aspects of your partner.

We spend too much time dwelling in the past and worrying about the future instead of focusing on the present.

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