One Small Step Can Change Your Life

by Robert Maurer

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: February 23, 2024
 5 min read
One Small Step Can Change Your Life
One Small Step Can Change Your Life

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What are the big ideas?

  1. Small, incremental steps are fundamental in kaizen, leading to significant habit improvements and inspiring innovation.
  2. Overcoming fear and mental blocks in change is possible through kaizen's approach of gradual, low-key change.
  3. Kaizen encourages reprogramming the brain to embrace change by using small, manageable actions to bypass fear and stimulate progress.
  4. Asking small, consistent questions can foster creativity, personal growth, and effective problem-solving.
  5. Kaizen challenges common myths about change, showing that small steps can achieve results more effectively than large, radical ones.

Summary

The Principles and Impact of Kaizen

  • 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 inventions
  • “In our “bigger is better” culture of IMAX movies, supersize meals, and extreme makeovers, it’s hard to believe that small steps can lead to big changes. But the wonderful reality is that they can.”
  • “Low-key change helps the human mind circumnavigate the fear that blocks success and creativity.”
  • “All changes, even positive ones, are scary. Attempts to reach goals through radical or revolutionary means often fail because they heighten fear. But the small steps of kaizen disarm the brain’s fear response, stimulating rational thought and creative play.”
  • “Small, easily achievable goals—such as picking up and storing just one paper clip on a chronically messy desk—let you tiptoe right past the amygdala, keeping it asleep and unable to set off alarm bells.”
  • “Your brain is programmed to resist change. But, by taking small steps, you effectively rewire your nervous system so that it does the following: ‘unsticks’ you from a creative block bypasses the fight-or-flight response creates new connections between neurons so that the brain enthusiastically takes over the process of change and you progress rapidly toward your goal.”
  • “Small actions satisfy your brain’s need to do something and soothe its distress.”
  • “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. Slowly—but painlessly!—you’ll cultivate an appetite for continued success and lay down a permanent new route to change.”
  • “As you experience success in applying kaizen to clear goals like weight loss or career advancement, remember to hold on to its essence: an optimistic belief in our potential for continuous improvement.”

Common Myths and Misconceptions About Change

  • There are three common myths about change:
    • Myth #1: Change is hard
    • Myth #2: The size of the step determines the size of the result, so take big steps for big results
    • Myth #3: Kaizen Is slow; innovation is quicker

The Role of Questions and Mindset in Facilitating Change

  • “Small questions create a mental environment that welcomes unabashed creativity and playfulness. When you ask small questions of others, you channel that creative force toward team goals. By asking small questions of yourself, you lay the groundwork for a personalized program for change.”
  • “The hippocampus’s main criterion for storage is repetition, so asking that question over and over gives the brain no choice but to pay attention and begin to create answers.”
  • “By asking small, gentle questions, we keep the fight-or-flight response in the ‘off’ position. Kaizen questions such as ‘What’s the smallest step I can take to be more efficient?’ allow us to bypass our fears.”
  • “If you are unhappy but aren’t sure why, try asking yourself this: If I were guaranteed not to fail, what would I be doing differently?”
  • “What is one small step I could take to improve my health (or relationships, or career, or any other area)?”
  • “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!”

Overcoming Fear and Encouraging Creative Solutions

  • “When you want to change but experience a block, you can often blame the midbrain for gumming up the works.”
  • “When you are afraid, the brain is programmed either to run or attack—not always the most practical options.”
  • “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.”
  • “Use times of difficulty to remember that fear is the body’s gift, alerting us to a challenge.”
  • “Your brain loves questions and won’t reject them … unless the question is so big it triggers fear.”
  • “Make your questions small, and you reduce the chances of waking the amygdala and arousing debilitating fear. When fear is quiet, the brain can take in the questions and then pop out answers on its own timetable.”
  • “If you tend to berate yourself with negative questions (Why am I so fat?), try asking: What is one thing I like about myself today? Ask this question daily, writing your answer down in a journal or on a sheet of paper you keep in a specially designated place.”

Questions

  1. How can taking small steps in habits or processes lead to significant changes or innovations?
  2. In what ways does kaizen help overcome the fear and resistance associated with change?
  3. How can setting small, achievable goals facilitate overcoming mental blocks and fear responses?
  4. Why is it important to focus on small actions and steps in the process of personal and professional improvement?
  5. How can asking small, gentle questions help bypass fear and stimulate creative problem-solving?
  6. What role do repetition and small questions play in rewiring the brain for change?
  7. How can overcoming fear through small steps lead to creative solutions and personal growth?
  8. In what ways can changing your question-asking approach transform your mindset and reduce fear?

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