How Making Tiny Changes Can Change Your Whole Life Forever
Rev. Dr. Kitty Boitnott, NBCT, RScP
Heart-Centered Career Transition and Job Search Coach | Life Strategies Coaching
Have you heard of "Kaizen?" I admit the term is relatively new to me. But the meaning behind the word is certainly not new.
The Sino-Japanese word, "Kaizen," means "change for the better." Specifically, it refers to any improvement, whether it is a one-time change or a continuous change.
It also refers to improvements both large and small.
It is a term that is used in Japan in a business context, while in English, it typically applies to the concept of "continuous improvement."
Over the next few weeks, I plan to offer a series of articles on how the concept of taking small, simple actions each day can lead to significant improvements in different areas of your life over time.
The title of the series is "1% Better Every Day."
So, how do you go about changing your life? It isn't a matter of flipping a switch, after all. And you don't go to bed one night to wake up a whole new person in the morning. That's the stuff of movies but not reality.
Indeed, changing any area of your life takes small, incremental steps over time. In the Kaizen method, you might think of it in terms of making 1% improvements over time.
Changing any aspect of your life takes time, dedication, and sustained effort.
As human beings, we are creatures of habit.
And unfortunately, once those habits have become ingrained, they are difficult to change. This is the result of a physical phenomenon that can be seen inside the brain.
Have you ever been a smoker or lived with a smoker? If so, you know how hard it is to quit.
It isn't even just the nicotine addiction that is hard to overcome. There are other actions that smokers grow to enjoy. Handling the cigarette before lighting it, for example, can bring a smoker satisfaction. Holding the cigarette to your mouth satisfies an oral need of some kind. Inhaling the smoke can feel awful to a non-smoker but brings comfort to a smoker. All of these actions are linked to the addiction of smoking. I know because I was a smoker for fifteen years.
And quitting that habit was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Even though many of us know about the psychology of habits, we still sometimes kid ourselves that we can make considerable changes to our lives quickly. It may be one reason why New Year's Resolutions are so popular.
Admit it. Have you ever told yourself that starting tomorrow (or Monday or next week), you're turning over a whole new leaf? You're going to go to the gym four days a week. And you are junking the junk food forever in favor of healthy eating from now on.
How long did that last?
Did you even start? Or are you still waiting for tomorrow, next Monday or next week?
Consider that there might be a better solution, and it's called Kaizen.
As I mentioned before, Kaizen is the Sino-Japanese word for "improvement." The name and the concept have been adapted to represent a particular approach to improvement. That approach includes making tiny improvements--baby steps--toward a goal that you want to achieve.
You have heard the old saying, "Even the longest journey starts with a single step."
When you look at challenges in your life this way, anything becomes achievable.
In this series, you will learn how to take this concept and squeeze it for everything it is worth.
Whatever it is in your life that you would like to improve, Kaizen can help you to get there. You can apply the concept to your relationships, for example. You can do the same in the areas of health and fitness. Want to improve your career? Apply this concept.
Get ready to change your life for the better.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what Kaizen is and why it works, let's consider the alternative.
As I already mentioned, the approach many of us take toward self-betterment is to try and change everything at once.
The problem is that this kind of approach ignores human psychology.
Think about it. If you are currently out of shape, then it's because you aren't working out enough, and you probably aren't eating right, either.
But why is that the case?
Maybe it's because you're tired and unmotivated.
Perhaps you come home from work feeling weary to the bone. You just don't have the energy--or the will power--to go back out to the gym to exercise. Yikes. Just kill me now, right?
And that's completely understandable.
Do you think you can go from being too tired to work out at all to suddenly working out four times a week?
There are dozens of reasons why you can't expect yourself to change your routine so abruptly. Oh, you might make it to the gym a day or two. You might even make it four days the first week. But chances are you won't stick with it for the long haul.
Then you start feeling bad about yourself and give up. And the whole while, you don't realize that you have the deck stacked against you.
You don't even realize that neuroscience--the way your brain is wired--is working against your success.
Our brains are highly plastic, which means they are adaptable to change. They physically restructure themselves according to our behaviors. You might think that would be good news when trying to form new habits or lose old ones.
But in fact, it also works against you. That's because the brain adapts hard to repeated stimuli. The brain adapts and changes shape according to a straightforward rule: neurons that fire together, wire together.
So if you repeatedly do one thing followed by another, then those two experiences become linked in the brain over time.
And each time you do those things together, you further reinforce and strengthen that link. The connections become myelinated, meaning that the tendrils are insulated, and signals travel faster down them. They grow more nodes at the connection points.
Eventually, it gets to the point where you no longer have to think about the association.
Doing behavior "A" automatically triggers behavior "B." Changing this takes a HUGE amount of work. In some cases, it is nearly impossible.
To attempt to make this kind of wholesale change across many different habits all at once is, in fact, nearly impossible.
But that's where Kaizen comes in. And it's why this is such a powerful and transformative tool.
At this point, you might now be wondering how this happens. When you lay it all out like that, it appears evident that making massive changes to your routine would never be sufficient.
If that's true, then why do we still spend our time determining that we're going to "change our lives starting tomorrow."
There are a few reasons. The first is that it's that much more appealing.
Nobody likes the idea of all the hard work that goes into changing.
The idea that "everything can change" in a single day is gratifying. And so it should come as no huge surprise that we can get caught up in this notion.
The other issue facing us is the media messages we receive. It makes a whole lot of sense for advertising agencies to want us to take a more one-and-done approach to our self-transformation.
Gyms wish to sell gym memberships. They do that by telling us that we need to "go all-in or go home." They tell us that we should buy all the workout equipment, the expensive protein shake, the year-long membership. You get the drift.
Do you see how making a tiny change at a time may be more realistic and help you be more successful in making the change in your life that you want?
If so, hang on until next week. I am going to offer more information about how Kaizen can help you change your life for the better.