Welcome to the final post in my series on kaizen. If you haven’t read the previous posts, go back and read them here and here. In this blog I will outline some common situations in our personal lives and how we can use the principles of kaizen to deal with them.

Ask small questions. Our brains love questions. Whether asked by others or by ourselves, they get our brains working much more actively than a statement of fact. Repetition is key here, too.

If you’re trying to accomplish a specific goal, ask yourself every day: What is one small step I could take toward reaching my goal? It’s crucial that your self-questioning maintains a positive tone. Can you think of a time you’ve asked yourself a negative question like, why can’t I ever do this right? You need to try to eliminate this type of thinking for the sake of your kaizen.

Practice mind sculpture. Akin to visualization, mind sculpture is a great way to begin to approach a task that you’re afraid of or makes you uncomfortable. Give yourself at least a month to train your brain with mind sculpture before you attempt this task.

In order to practice mind sculpture, decide how many seconds you will devote to imagining yourself doing this task. Again, the time allotted should be so low initially that it does not take much of your time at all and allows the time to be reasonably increased going forward.

Now imagine yourself completing this task calmly and confidently. If it’s confronting a certain person, imagine everything about the situation. How is your body language? What does their body language say? How large is the room? What colors and objects are in it? Are there smells, heat, sound?

Many of our greatest champion athletes are famous practitioners of mind sculpture including Michael Phelps and Jack Nicklaus. By visualizing all the elements of a successful completion of your task, you literally train your brain to perform those same actions in real life.

Take small actions. I mean really small. If you come up with a small action you can take towards your goal, ask yourself if there’s a way you can simplify it even further. So if you’re committed to becoming more fit and starting an exercise routine, you could start by marching in place for one minute like the woman in the last blog did. Or you could do a push up every time you get out of bed or before you get in the shower. These actions will build in duration and intensity little by little.

These actions should be so small that initially they might feel a little ridiculous. That’s ok. Remember, kaizen is a proven, purposeful strategy for instilling change, and it’s in direct opposition to the culturally dominant mode of “innovation,” or making grand, sweeping changes in a short amount of time. Small kaizen actions are also easier to work into your existing life, busy as it may be, because they take very little time or money. It’s about changing your mind first.

Give small rewards. Rewards are a proven way to make people feel loved and appreciated and they work for yourself, too. You need to reward yourself when you do something well, but sometimes we tend to go overboard and make those rewards a little too big. Big, luxurious rewards remove intrinsic motivation, or the desire to just do a good job at what we said we were going to do. Instead, all of a sudden we’re doing things more for the big exciting reward than the pleasure of doing the thing well.

Make sure your rewards are free or very inexpensive and make sure they aren’t counterintuitive to the goal. If you’re trying to quit smoking, a cigarette would not be a good reward. Perhaps some other small indulgence like a piece of candy or a 5 minute nap would work. As much of a cliché as it is, life’s small things are truly the most enjoyable.

The advice “don’t sweat the small stuff,” seems patently absurd now when we see that it’s all small stuff. The power to change truly lies in the incremental. Bit by bit, through inquiry, action, and observation we have the ability to brush aside the insurmountable. One small step can change your life; that is the power of kaizen.

What changes are you looking to make? What will your first kaizen step be? Let me know in the comments or contact me directly at scott@doubledareyou.us. And for further reading on the topic of kaizen I highly recommend One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert D. Maurer, Ph.D.

photo credit: White Mountain via photopin (license)