New Year Resolutions are just around the corner. Normally they are big things, like I will lose 15kg, I will hit the gym 5 times a week, I will quit smoking, I will read one book every week… Then we start with good energy until you, I, we give up soon, way too soon. Are we bad people? Absolutely not, we are just humans.
All starts in our brain, our instinct to survive rejects changing our stablished routines if they have been proven succesful; and as we are still alive, whatever we are doing is already succesful for the brain. Not all the brain though but the amygdala, as per the experts opinion, which is responsible to make quick decisions to keep us alive by instigating fear and rejection to the unknown. What is known as the fight-or-fly response.
We humans prefer situations where we feel in control versus those situations in where we are not in control. These situations cause anxiety, which comes from fear, and anxiety makes us quit soon after we started or even before we start. So we go back to our safely proven routines.
Thankfully, we have the rest of the brain to counteract the amygdala and fight our fears. Exceptionally, under the right circumstances, we all can take big endeavours and succeed but these feats are highly taxing and become more difficult as we age. Thus, a more conservative approach will be better for the majority of us. This is the subject of Kaizen.
Kaizen is all about taking small steps towards a big goal. Which reminds me of that old Chinese saying: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Let me recommend you Robert Maurer’s book, The Kaizen Way, which elaborates deeply in this subject.
There are 6 stratgies that you can combine to apply Kaizen in your life:
- Ask Small Questions
- Think Small Thoughts
- Take Small Actions
- Solve Small Problems
- Offer Small Rewards
- Identify Small Moments
Ask Small Questions
Big questions with long and complicated answers inspire fear and anxiety. Don’t ask yourself how to lose 15kg. It’s demoralizing. Keep the amygdala off by asking small questions that require small easy steps to be accomplished. For example:
- What small step can I do today to get fitter?
- What small step can I do today to learn Chinese?
- What small step can I do today to improve my trading?
Good answers could be:
- I will order water instead of coke
- I will learn 2 new kanji
- I will write down my trading entry and exit signals
Think Small Thoughts
Kaizen advocates for mind sculpting, which is to train your brain to visualize you performing a certain desired activity. The previous small questions shall derive in small answers that then you can use to visualize yourself performing them.
Take few seconds every day for this mind sculpting exercise. Seat in a quiet place, close your eyes and visualize yourself ordering water instead of coke and feeling good, enjoying one beer without smoking, or trading once a day accordingly to your rules.
Visualization of the desired outcome will help your brain to concentrate and focus when performing those small steps towards the big goal.
Take Small Actions
People struggle with Kaizen not because the steps are hard, but because they are easy. Kaizen requires patience and consistency. Kaizen shall become a habit in your life as you do a small action every day. This habit will pretty quickly overcome the mind’s initial resistance to change.
To take small actions daily, you shall set lower goals. Set daily and easily achievable goals. The aim here is to do them and succeed. We want to be succesful in small amounts because we are building a bigger success.
Which small action will you take today to improve yourself?
Solve Small Problems
A small noise in the car can be the symptom of a bigger issue. If you ignore it, it may be the cause of a bigger repair in the future. In the art of Kaizen, small problems are solved first, as any small problem could be the first signs of bigger issues to come.
Remember that in the world of medicine the early detection of cancer can literally save your life. Detailed observation of any anomaly is key to identify a small problem that can be solved today.
Be critical and think what small problem requires your attention today.
Offer Small Rewards
This Kaizen concept reminds me of dog training. The most optimal way to train a dog is trough positive reinforcement. Whenever the dog obeys our orders we shall reward him/ with just a small snack not a feast of meat and candy. This shall be the same way that we reward ourselves. Every time that we solve a small problem, that we do a small action due to a small question we shall reward ourselves in a small way.
The aim is not the reward itself but the feeling of appreciation, in this case self-appreciation. This is a tough question for some of us: How can we reward ourselves in a small way?
Identify Small Moments
The last step is close to the principles of meditation. Identifying small moments is related to the concept of awareness, of feeling the now. There are plenty of small moments that are a joy to experience. For that you need to be awake, not in the literary way but in the mental way. Think about those small moments that you feel grateful for. They could be simple things like the aroma of warm coffee, the feeling of fresh air or the quietness of a late night backstreet.
Wake up your mind to identify and feel those small moments. They will last only few seconds, but definitely can make you a happier person.
- What small step can you do today to achieve my goal?
- Visualize yourself performing that small step
- What small action will you do today?
- Which small problem requires your attention today?
- How will you reward yourself? (in a small way)
- What small moment did you feel today?