“The Kaizen Way” by Robert Maurer

Change is Hard !

What comes to your mind during the year end and when we are going to start another wonderful year?

New Year Resolutions?

I strongly feel every one of us make a list of goals for the coming year. Some may take self-resolutions like to become fit/lose weight, start reading at least 10-12 books, resolutions out of personal interests like learning music, etc. But again we will welcome the New Year and start making these changes for a week or so. And then you skip for couple of days and by the time we try to remember about our resolutions, it is already a little bit old year again. 😦 This happens to me every year and I hope the same with most of you.

Survey suggest that the only people who ever succeed in keeping their resolutions usually do so only after 3-4 years of broken promises?

So, the quick question that comes to our mind is even after taking resolutions, why do most of us fail in keeping those resolutions alive? The answer is because all changes even positive ones are scary. Attempts to reach goals through revolutionary means often fail because they heighten fear.

“The fear of change is rooted in the brain’s physiology.”

The book ‘THE KAIZEN WAY: One small step can change your life‘ by Robert Maurer will show you the how to harness the power of Kaizen: Using small steps to accomplish large goals.

Kaizen is an ancient philosophy captured in powerful statement

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”-Tao Te Ching

Kaizen means small steps for continual improvement.

Kaizen has two definitions:

  • Using very small steps to improve a habit, a process or product
  • Using very small moments to inspire new products and innovations.

Till the time I read this book, like everyone I was under the belief of 2 myths :

  • Change is Hard.
  • The size of the step determines the size of the results. So take big steps for big results.

Why Kaizen works?

Kaizen is an highly effective, enjoyable way to achieve a specific goal, but it also extends a more profound challenge: to meet life’s constant demands for change by seeking out continual but always small improvements.

The author developed a theory about why kaizen works when all else fails. He encompassed 6 different strategies.

  1. Ask Small Questions to dispel fear and inspire creativity
  2. Thinking Small thoughts to develop new skills and habits- without moving a muscle
  3. Taking Small actions that guarantee success
  4. Solving Small problems, even when you’re faced with an overwhelming crisis
  5. Bestowing Small rewards to yourself or others to produce the best results
  6. Recognizing the Small but crucial moments that everyone else ignore

1.Ask Small Questions

This is the powerful step to program your brain

“What shapes our lives are the questions we ask, refuse to ask, or never think to ask.”                                                                                                                         -Sam Keen

Questions are simply better at engaging the brain. Your brain wants to play. A question wakes up your brain and delights it. Questions turn out to be more productive and useful for shaping ideas and solutions than commands.

Instead of asking someone “Tell me the color of the car parked next to yours” if you ask “What is the color of the car parked next to yours?”, It will be more productive and useful. In this, the first one is a question whereas the latter one is a command.

To reiterate, your brain love questions.

We should make our questions small that allows us to bypass our fears. Questions should not be big that can wake up our brain that arouses fear. When fear is quiet then only the brain can take in the questions.

By asking small, gentle questions like

  • What is the smallest step I can do to be more efficient?
  • What is the smallest thing I can do to improve my health?
  • What can I do for 10 min in a day that can improve my learning?

By asking these kind of small questions often enough and you’ll find your brain storing the questions, repeating these questions over and over and eventually generating some interesting and useful responses.

Build the kaizen habit of asking yourself small (and positive!) questions. As you begin, remember that you are reprogramming your brain and that it takes time for new mental pathways to develop. So choose a question and ask it repeatedly over the course of several days or weeks.

2.Think Small Thoughts

The author mentions the easy technique of mind sculpture which uses “small thoughts” to help you develop new social, mental and even physical skills – just by imagining yourself performing them.

Mind Sculpture, developed by Ian Robertson, is a newer technique that involves total but still- imaginary sensory immersion. It requires its practitioners to pretend that they are actually engaged in the action not just seeing but hearing, tasting, smelling and touching. In mind sculpture, people imagine the movement of their muscles and the rise and fall of their emotions.

This small kaizen strategy is actually perfect for anyone who’s struggled and struggled to achieve a goal that remains out of reach. Mind sculpture is so effective in neutralizing fear. It’s such a safe, comfortable step to take that it allows you to walk right past any mental obstacles that hold you back.

Whatever your goal, mind sculpture is a terrific way to ease into your kaizen program for change.

Kaizen Tip:

Small questions are a powerful way to generate ideas for mind sculpture. Just ask yourself: what is a tiny step I could make to achieve my goal? Keeping asking the question yourself for days or weeks. When you have an answer, you can then use mind sculpture to imagine yourself taking that step.

Once you practice this mind sculpture strategy, the next kaizen step is to take small actions.

3.Take Small Actions

No matter how much you prepare of practice, eventually you must enter into the arena of action. Your first actions will be very small ones- so small that you might find them odd or even silly. It’s helpful to have a sense of humor when you’re trying to change your life.

Always remember Small actions are the heart of kaizen. By taking these tiny steps which may see even laughable, you’ll sail calmly past obstacles that have defeated you before. It happens slowly and when it happens, it lasts!

Small actions take very little time or money and they trick the brain into thinking.

Hey, this change is so small that it’s no big deal. No need to work hard. No risk of failure or unhappiness here.

By bypassing the fear response, small actions allow the brain to build up new, permanent habits. Here are some examples doing with small actions that you can take:

  • If your goal is to begin exercise program, then take kaizen action – Stand yes, Just Stand! On the treadmill for a few minutes every morning or Walk for 5 minutes in the TV room.
  • If your goal is to finish reading a book, try reading 5 pages every day.

Don’t small steps yield slow results?

Kaizen steps may be small, but they can often lead to rapid change. When the goal is to perform an activity that you deeply resist (Say, exercise) or to give up an ingrained habit, you may find that small step isn’t quite enough. But that step does lead you comfortably to a second step and then a third, and so on, until one day you discover that you have mastered the change.

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 the 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.

4.Solve Small Problems

“Confront the difficult while it is still easy; accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.” -Tao Te Ching

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.

When we are trying to make a change, it can be tempting to ignore the subtle warning signs, ones that say: Something’s wrong here. You need to slow down, retrace your steps, and investigate. But if we continue to avoid these small problems, they will grow and grow until we create a mess so spectacular that we are required to stop the assembly line of change, announce a recall, and proceed with the painful and time consuming process of undoing the now-big mistake. Focusing on the small mistakes now can save us years of costly corrections.

Kaizen Technique                                                                                                                              Learning to spot small problems

Recall a major mistake you’ve made at some point in your life. Now, take some time to consider there were small signs along the way indicating that things were not going according to your plans or wishes. What measure did you have to take the correct the problem?

By paying attention to small mistakes, you will reduce its frequency. If you feel the mistake indicates a more significant problem in your life, ask yourself : what kaizen step can i take to correct this situation?

5.Bestow Small Rewards

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”-Aesop Fables

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 stimuli the internal motivation required for lasting change.

Small rewards are not only sufficient as an incentive to get a job – especially a dreaded task -done, but they are optimal. This is true whether the reward is used as part of a corporation-wide initiative or in your personal life.

Small rewards encourage internal motivation because they really a form of recognition rather than material gain.

Kaizen Technique                                                                                                                                       The Perfect Reward

Think hard before deciding on a small reward. You want the reward to have these three qualities:

  • The reward should be appropriate to the goal
  • The reward should be appropriate to the person
  • The reward should be free or inexpensive

6.Identify Small Moments

The kaizen approach to life requires a slower pace and an appreciation of small moments. This pleasant technique can lead to creative breakthroughs and strengthened relationships, and gives you a daily boast toward excellence.

Whenever you’re implementing a plan for change but find yourself bored, restless, and struck, look around for hidden moments of delight. People who are most successful at improving their health habits are those who can transform exercise or eating well into a source of excitement and pride.

Focus on the moments of change that bring you pleasure.

Kaizen for Life

Try to see kaizen as a process that is never done. Don’t put it in a drawer, forgotten, once your goal has been reached. Kaizen invites us to see life as an opportunity for continuous improvement for ever-higher standards and expanding potential.

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