Table of Contents
To change your life, you need to know something.
You need to know about the word "kaizen."
It's a small Japanese word with a big meaning for your life and mental health.
It means small changes. Incremental improvement.
The idea is that getting a little bit better each day is more powerful--and sustainable--than trying to make big, sweeping changes all at once.
And Robert Maurer, Ph.D. has written one of the most approachable guides to adopting a kaizen way of life.
Understanding the main sections of his book and some of the most impactful quotes pulled from his writing will help you make tiny (but substantial) changes in your own life.
Maurer is a master teacher.
He uses the kaizen approach in his writing to demonstrate how it can work in your life.
Each section builds upon the last to illustrate the great power that is the kaizen way of life.
Let's look at each section, one by one, to bring the word kaizen to life for you.
Ask Small Questions
When you think of getting things done, you probably don't think of asking questions as the place to start.
Asking questions seems to be the opposite of action.
But the questions you ask can start you down the path you need to be on.
And the type of question is as important as the mere act.
Here's what Maurer suggests.
You need to ask as small a question as possible.
More important, you need to ask a question that is so small that you can't help but notice specific areas of your life that you can begin to change today.
Small Steps Quotes of Note
What shapes our lives are the questions we ask, refuse to ask, or never think to ask. -- Same Keen
What is one way I can remind myself to drink more water?
What is one aspect of your job that makes you happy?
Your brain loves questions and won't reject them...unless the question is so big it triggers fear.
Think Small Thoughts
Thoughts are like questions, but they are more directional in nature.
What that means is that small thoughts nudge you down a productive path.
It's the smallest of thoughts that give you the motivation to actually change your life.
Thinking too big right from the start will disappoint you before you even begin.
It's great to have big dreams and ambitious goals, but the greatest endeavors start with small thoughts, which lead to small actions.
For this, Maurer focuses on the mind-sculpture technique.
What this comes down to is imagining yourself, with the finest detail possible, doing what you want to be doing.
Creating a mind sculpture was developed by Ian Robertson and involves imagining yourself feeling, doing, smelling, seeing, and experiencing yourself in a future state of your choosing.
It is this process that gets your brain ready for the actions you need to take next.
Take Small Actions
It's interesting that Maurer put this section in the middle of the book rather than starting with it.
So much that has been written about kaizen focuses on taking action.
Maybe that has more to do with the Western mindset than the kaizen approach itself.
We want action above all else.
But what good is action if you don't even know why you're doing what you're doing?
First, before anything else, you need to ask yourself questions to understand your "why" in life.
Then, you need to think a bit to notice what it is you can change in the here and now.
Only then can you take small action to move forward.
Small Steps Quotes of Note
To keep the house clean: Pick an area of the house, set a timer for five minutes, and tidy up. Stop when the timer goes off.
By taking care that your first step truly is a small one, you give yourself the best shot at success. Once you've experienced the joy of taking the first step, you can decide whether it's appropriate to take another. You'll know you're ready when your current step becomes automatic, effortless, and even pleasurable.
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.
Solve Small Problems
This section of the book pairs well with the "Small Thoughts" chapter.
It does you no good to tackle the biggest problem you possibly can.
Maybe you need to pay off $40,000 in debt.
Unless you win the lottery or get a surprise gift from your Grandma Gertrude's estate, it's not going to happen.
It's much better to think about small financial mistakes you've made recently.
Look around your living space to identify items you've purchased but never use.
Tackling this problem is a better, more practical way to start paying off your debt than worrying about a huge problem you can't currently do anything about.
Small Steps Quote of Note
Confront the difficult while it is still easy; accomplish the great task by a series of small acts. -- Tao Te Ching
Bestow Small Rewards
Something that many of these chapters have in common is how the illusion of "big" is actually a deeply demotivating force.
Big thoughts lead to hopeless feelings.
Big problems crush your spirit.
And big rewards actually make you work less.
How could that be?
It's because big rewards don't actually happen very often.
And they are often used in a threatening manner.
If you work really hard, maybe you'll get the reward, but maybe you won't.
And the payoff is too infrequent to change your behavior.
It's more effective to reward yourself in small ways as you make progress with the kaizen approach.
If you walk half a mile around your block to lose weight, give yourself a reward.
If you walk another half-mile, give yourself another reward.
The reasoning behind this is that small progress seems manageable and attainable, even with the busiest of schedules.
And the more you do it, the more small rewards you'll get, which will encourage you to take even more action.
Before you know it, you've built habits, and you'll keep up your good behavior without even thinking about it.
You brush your teeth, right?
You shower most days, right?
These are things you don't have to do, but you like the reward of clean teeth and a clean body. I'm sure others appreciate your good hygiene as well!
Identify Small Moments
Kaizen is all about the moment-to-moment.
Because, if you stop to think about it, that's the only time where life is lived.
You don't run a marathon only for a few hours. You do it in all the moments leading up to the race--and then during the race itself.
You don't enjoy your food only during the last bite. You savor each moment to get the flavor profile of every taste and smell of the food.
That is what gives life meaning.
If you're thinking about all the big things you need to do, you're not actually in the moment, improving and making progress.
Incremental growth starts with the present moment, the only time in your life you can ever do anything.
This is the ultimate lesson that Robert Maurer teaches with One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.
It is the small and the possible--the lone, precious moment where all change happens.