How A Small Step Can Change Your Life? – Kaizen Training

One Small Step Can Change Your Life – R.Maurer (summary)

How A Small Step Can Change Your Life? - Kaizen Training

In One Small Step Can Change Your Life – the Kaizen Way, Robert Maurer describes the power of Kaizen in a personal environment. Implementing small and easy improvements, the basics of the Toyota Production System, can also be applied to achieving personal goals.

Maurer describes why you need to take small steps if you want to change people’s behavior and then describes six techniques to apply Kaizen in your personal life: Asking small questions (1), thinking small thoughts (2), taking small actions (3), solving small problems (4), bestowing small rewards (5) and identifying small moments (6).

In the introduction, Maurer describes WHY TAKING SMALL STEPS are the best way to change routines. The answer lies in the way our brains are built. Brains consist of ate least three parts: the brainstem, the midbrain (amygdala) and the cerebral.

The brainstem is the automatic pilot of our body, which takes care of functions breathing and sleeping. The midbrain (amygdala) is our survival instinct, our fight of flight response. The third part, the cerebral, includes our creative abilities. Each part of the brain has different response times.

The brainstem will response the fastest, followed by the midbrain, and only after that, the cerebral will respond to outside stimulus.
This means our creativity can only be accessed when the stimulus does not bring out fear in our midbrain.

By implementing small changes at a time, the flight response, which blocks creativity, can be circumvented.

The remaining chapters describe six strategies of kaizen, starting with ASKING SMALL QUESTIONS. Our brains small questions to canalize creativity. For example, when you show a picture of a dog to a toddler and tell him ´this is a dog´, the toddler will hardly respond.

However, if you show the picture and ask the toddler: ´what is this? This is a dog! ´, the toddler will be show big eyes because he seems surprised by the answer.
Asking questions helps to overcome fear, and therefore the flight response.

One should not be anxious about finding the answers though, a creative answer pops up automatically after a day or two, or even after just a good night sleep.

The second kaizen strategy to circumvent the flight response is THINKING SMALL THOUGHTS, or visualization. By simply thinking about your response in a certain situation beforehand, you can prevent the flight mode in an unexpected difficult situation.

People who try to give up smoking or eating candy often give up their fight when they are in a difficult situation because they do not have the time to take the right decision because the situation is ´new´.  Being tired also makes it easier to fall back into old behavior.

By thinking about difficult situations in advance, you can trick your brain into thinking the situation is not new, and therefore prevent yourself from falling back to your old routine behavior.

Strategy number three is TAKING SMALL ACTIONS, again, to circumvent a flight response. Maurer writes that starting a new routine can be done with starting only one minute per day, which familiarizes your brain with the new activity.

Examples of Maurer´s patients who have changed their routine using this strategy are: Starting to exercise with one minute of moving in front of the TV (1) or just standing on the treadmill for one minute (2). One patient that wanted to get more sleep started to go to bed earlier, one minute every day.

After a few days, the action becomes so comprehensible, that people feel the urge to lengthen the activity, and perform them more minutes per day.

SOLVING SMALL PROBLEMS is the next kaizen strategy. Don´t wait with solving a problem until it has become a real problem, but learn how to recognize small things that can lead to problems in the future. Small irritations today could lead to huge irritations in the future. It might be easier to act on that today, than it is in the future.

BESTOWING SMALL REWARDS can motivate to continue new learned behavior.

The best rewards are free, spending time on a hobby, should fit with your goal (eating a bag of chips after achieving your goal of eating a healthy Meal is not a good idea) and should fit the person who receives it (not everybody s the same way of receiving compliments).

In your private life, a spouse can help with rewarding new behavior, for instance by taking on an extra chore in the household leaving you with 10 minutes for yourself, or to do something fun with the kids.

The last strategy Mauer describes is RECOGNIZING SMALL MOMENTS, cause the small moments are the moments that bring happiness to one´s life. Mauer describes two recommendations: Live in the present (1) and focus on small gestures (2).

It is one´s task in life to find happiness and significance in every moment. Children are the perfect example. They play, learn and grow in the moment, without worrying about the future or regretting the past.
It is the small positive gestures that form the foundation of every relation between two people.

Research in the VS shows that one could predict whether or not a couple would still be together four years later, by looking at small gestures with 93% accuracy! These gestures include putting down the newspaper or remote control when your spouse comes home (1), always answering your phone in a friendly way – even though you are busy (2) and showing interest in your spouse´s day (3).

The six strategies of Kaizen all focus on continuously making small efforts to change behavior by circumventing our natural flight response. These strategies work at work and at home and for anyone. If it were up to me, we´d all start asking small questions to ourselves and to others, today.

Continue to:

First Things First – S.Covey (summary)


Book Summary: One Small Step Can Change Your Life

How A Small Step Can Change Your Life? - Kaizen Training

  1. The art of making great and lasting change comes through small, steady steps.
  2. Kaizen circumvents the brain’s built-in resistance to new behaviors.
  3. Small rewards lead to big returns.

The Five Big Ideas

  1. Kaizen is a process of improving a habit using very small steps.
  2. Small steps can lead to big changes.
  3. Kaizen disarms the brain’s fear response making change come more naturally.
  4. By asking small, gentle questions, we keep the fight-or-flight response in the ‘off’ position.
  5. By taking steps so tiny that they seem trivial or even laughable, you’ll sail calmly past obstacles that have defeated you before.

One Small Step Can Change Your Life Summary

Kaizen has two definitions:

  1. Using very small steps to improve a habit
  2. A process, or product using very small moments to inspire new products and inventions

Common Beliefs About Change

  1. Myth #1: Change Is Hard
  2. Myth #2: The Size of the Step Determines the Size of the Result, So Take Big Steps for Big Results
  3. Myth #3: Kaizen Is Slow; Innovation Is Quicker
  • “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.”
  • “There are two elements of the spirit, or purpose, in which kaizen plays an essential role: service and gratitude.”
  • “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.”
  • “When you want to change but experience a block, you can often blame the midbrain for gumming up the works.”
  • “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.”
  • “When you are afraid, the brain is programmed either to run or attack—not always the most practical options.”
  • Small actions satisfy your brain’s need to do something and soothe its distress.
  • “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.”
  • “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.”
  • “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.” (Sam: this is similar to Anthony Robbin’s strategy of asking “quality questions” in Awaken the Giant Within.)
  • “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.”
  • “Ask yourself, ‘If health were my first priority, what would I be doing differently today? What is one way I can remind myself to drink more water? How could I incorporate a few more minutes of exercise into my daily routine?’”
  • “Your brain loves questions and won’t reject them … unless the question is so big it triggers fear.”
  • “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.”
  • “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 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.”

Quality Questions

  1. “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?”
  2. “If you are trying to reach a specific goal, ask yourself every day: What is one small step I could take toward reaching my goal?”
  3. “What is one small step I could take to improve my health (or relationships, or career, or any other area)?”
  4. “Is there a person at work or in my personal life whose voice and input I haven’t heard in a long time? What small question could I ask this person?”
  5. If somebody’s annoying you, ask yourself, “What’s one good thing about this person?”
  6. “What is one small thing that is special about me (or my spouse, or my organization)?”
  • “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!”
  • “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.” (Sam: the idea of “taking steps so tiny that they seem trivial or even laughable” is similar to Stephen Guise’s strategy of making new habits stupidly small in Mini Habits.)
  • “If you ever feel yourself dreading the activity or making excuses for not performing it, it’s time to cut back on the size of the step.”
  • “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.”
  • “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 stimulate the internal motivation required for lasting change.” (Sam: the idea of rewarding yourself for doing a new behavior is a crucial part of BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits program.)
  • “The larger the external rewards, the greater the risk of inhibiting or stunting the native drive for excellence.” (Sam: Dan Pink writes about this in Drive.)
  • “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 give you a daily boost toward excellence.”
  • “As you experience success in applying kaizen to clear goals weight loss or career advancement, remember to hold on to its essence: an optimistic belief in our potential for continuous improvement.”

If you One Small Step Can Change Your Life, you may also enjoy the following books:

  • Essential Zen Habits: Mastering The Art of Change, Briefly by Leo Babauta
  • Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise
  • Biography and Memoir Book Summaries

Or, browse more book summaries.


One Small Step Can Change Your Life

How A Small Step Can Change Your Life? - Kaizen Training

How should you proceed implementing positive changes and making them permanent in your life?

One Small Step Can Change Your Life is a nice little book that answers this question by showing a simple and effective approach. In fact, this approach is so amazing that I consider it to be nothing less than the greatest personal development tool when it comes to implementing changes that really last.

The Kaizen Way

The tool I’m talking about is small, continuous improvement – or Kaizen, as the Japanese call it. Although the concept was originally created to be used in factories and production lines, it really shines when used as a personal development tool. Its core idea is so simple that it barely needs any adaptation and can be summarized in a single sentence:

Commit yourself to continuously take small steps towards improvement.

If you make and maintain this one commitment, you’ll naturally overcome the fears and other psychological responses often associated with changes, such as procrastination and feelings of resistance. Instead of attempting to achieve increasingly larger steps, your challenge should be quite the opposite. In every step of the way, try answering the question:

“How can I take a step so small that it is impossible to fail?”

  • By focusing on making the steps as tiny as possible, you guarantee small successes you can build on and gain momentum.
  • By focusing on continuously answering that question, you lay out the foundation to transform the change into a new habit – which is the best way to implement effortless and sustainable life changes.

A Small Step Towards Kaizen

In the very spirit of kaizen, instead of trying to cover such a fascinating topic in detail all at once, I decided to take a smaller step instead: sharing a summary for the book I mentioned earlier – One Small Step Can Change Your Life, by Robert Maurer.

The book is very readable and does a great job of introducing Kaizen in the context of personal development. It provides several strategies and useful insights on solving many challenges, such as starting an exercise program, stop overspending, and many others.

The book summary is formatted as a mind map – which is a great way to summarize a book, since it makes possible recalling it in 5 minutes or less whenever you want.

A Quick Note on Mind Map Formats

The book summary was originally created using the great MindManager software. This program remains open in my desktop most of the time, and I just couldn’t recommend it more.

But, despite all its greatness, not everybody is willing to invest money in a commercial mind mapping application. For that reason, I exported the file to the free, multi-platform FreeMind.

While not as full-featured and usable as many paid solutions, it has a nice interactive online mind map viewer.

Bear in mind that the interactive version does not contain all the graphics and formatting as the original – but you will be able to check out the book summary without downloading or installing anything.