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There’s Magic in Those Small Steps!

Magic Of Small Steps And Kaizen

To me there is something truly magical about the philosophy and practice of Kaizen. After all, how could such small actions and thoughts create such amazing results?

But, when I speak about Kaizen in front of a group, I occasionally get the eye roll and the “Ugh! Not this again”. This is from women who have grown up in companies that employ Kaizen as a quality control process. Or they had to certify in Six Sigma, another improvement methodology. In these settings it is about streamlining and continuous quality improvement that result in financial returns.

No, no! I exclaim. This is different.

While it’s true that Kaizen came out of manufacturing, the way that Dr. Robert Maurer presents it in his book, The Kaizen Way: One Small Step Can Change Your Life, makes it so much more approachable. It becomes a softer science. Continuous improvement for you, a lovely, warm, flesh and blood being. Not hard, cold manufactured stuff. It offers a way to live as we create a rich, Multidimensional Life, a life more truly connected to who we are at our core.

Sneaking past the amygdala

When I talk about Kaizen I’m talking about actions and thoughts, questions and rewards that are small enough to bypass the attention of the brain’s amygdala. That ancient section of gray matter, developed for the fight or flight response, is just waiting to squash any attempts to make a change, to do something a daring, take a risk, be yourself. It must hang out with the ego. It’s for your own good, dearie!

I see the amygdala sitting on the front porch, kicking back, feet up on the railing, filing her nails. But she’s alert. She snaps to attention if she hears any rustling noises or sees you sneaking out the side door or attempting anything out of the usual.

The beauty of the small steps, questions, thoughts and rewards of Kaizen is that they help you tiptoe right past her.

The four elements of Kaizen

Small steps that are so small that it’s almost impossible to not do them. But in doing them, they accumulate and give you traction. That leads to momentum. All of a sudden, your taxes are done because you’ve broken it up into tiny steps, small increments of time, and the dread and angst never get a toehold.

Small questions that don’t overwhelm and don’t require an immediate answer. They are small enough to bypass the amygdala and make their way to frontal cortex, the creative part of the brain. The frontal cortex goes to work while you go about your own business. These small questions are probably my favorite; they feel like magic. I prescribe them to my coaching clients all the time and utilize them myself. For instance, I wanted to know what one of my fiction characters was keeping from me. I asked myself the question frequently but didn’t struggle with it. Then one morning I woke up startled as I realized what her secret was. And even now as I prepared to write this post and remembered this example, I just got another download. Because my brain continues to chug away in the background.

Small thoughts which can sculpt our mind. Similar to visualization, it involves all the senses. Athletes have used mind sculpting to “practice” while sidelined from injuries or to improve their skills. The brain doesn’t really know the difference – real or imagined – and the results are tangible. In Kaizen small thoughts/mind sculpting is taken a few steps further. Dr. Maurer suggests that we experience what it is we want (public speaking, writing, weight loss) in our minds utilizing all our senses. Feel it, hear it, smell it, see it, taste it. It’s not just seeing or visualizing ourselves doing it; it’s participating in our minds. Maurer gave a great example in a lecture I attended when he confessed that he really didn’t enjoy writing. But he needed to get his book written. So, he spent 30 seconds at a time imagining himself writing. How his body felt in his desk chair, the sensation of his fingers tapping the keyboard, the sound of the tapping, the ease of words flowing from his brain to his fingers to the page, the joy of the creative expression. His brain didn’t know that this was only his imagination; it created the habit he needed to get his book written. His brain chemistry changed, new connections were made and new patterns emerged. More magic?

And finally, small rewards. Often the bigger the reward the harder we try. We strain and struggle because the stakes are high and we don’t want to fail. The result is that nothing – or nothing special – happens.  By contrast, small rewards – a cup of coffee after writing 500 words, a manicure after losing 5 pounds, a new pair of fun socks for reaching a workout goal – don’t involve a lot of risks. As a result, we are more willing to take a bigger risk and stretch a bit more. After all, the stakes are low and there’s not much to lose.

Kaizen and creativity

Kaizen is about continuous improvement through small steps. I combine it with principles of creativity. The process becomes unique and powerful.

Consider yourself as the creative work. Discerning what you want, beginning to see it and to take the small steps to begin the journey to it. This is the most important work you will ever do!

Do you want a life that’s rich and full and constantly evolving and growing? Try practicing these four principles. In fact, pause for a moment right now. Ask yourself: “what is one small step I can take today to get me closer to my goal.” And then just listen.

Contact me to find out how this can help you…whatever your dreams.

Grinds and Gifts

Dude With 'Tude
Dude with ‘Tude original art by Donna Mills at donnamillsart.com

You’ve made the journey into your 40’s and beyond. There have been grinds as well as gifts. The former is easy to recall, the latter often goes unacknowledged.

You’ve had a successful career, maybe raised a family, given your time to causes that align with your personal values and so much more.

You are quite amazing.

And yet there are times when you wonder what else there is. What’s next. There’s a vague sense of wanting. A grain of sand in your spiritual sneaker. After all, you’ve done these things for so long, what else could you possibly do? What are you prepared for outside of this career, industry, your home, community?

Life is good

Overall, life is good, you remind yourself. Who am I to want more? Who would want me now? Do I have what it takes to try something new? I wish I had done something else when I was younger. Maybe I should just wait it out, coast along until retirement. I’ll think about this another time.

You bank these questions on the back burner of your heart. But every now and then, in the course of your busy life, they reach out and tap you on the shoulder.

I hear you and if I could pass on just one nugget of wisdom before I leave this worldly adventure, it would be to assure you that you have a rich, sparkling vein of gold in you. I would tell you that everything you’ve done in life – paid and unpaid, at home or in the workplace – has given you an enormous stockpile of skills and knowledge for whatever you want to come next.

I know. I had those thoughts on my back burner, too.

The vein of gold

But here’s what I found out: What I thought was a grind, had a sweet gift in its center.

The grinds: The slog of going to work every day, year in and year out, when I didn’t feel like it, when I was tired and cranky. Fixing problems not of my making. (Ever feel like the sweeper behind the circus elephant?) Working with difficult people; managing difficult people.

The gifts: I have discipline. I can stick to something even when “I just don’t wanna.” I’m good at problem solving; I’m a good listener. I can distill a tricky situation down to its elements and figure out how to put them back in a way that works better. I’ve learned ways to deal with difficult people. I know that I don’t like to be a manager but I’m a good teacher and mentor. I’ve learned so much about myself and what my natural talents are. I learned that I can be successful in an environment that’s not a good match for me, but that the cost may be higher than I care to pay.

I can now bring order and discipline to my own business (although I’m still wrestling with how much is too much.) My problem solving and listening skills have translated into coaching skills as I listen deeply to what my clients are saying – and not saying – and help them get to the heart of their dreams and goals, find creative solutions and take the steps toward those dreams.

I also know that I can take these skills and so many others acquired over a long work life and apply them to other situations to assure a successful outcome.

You can too.

Recapturing your essence

This isn’t necessarily about career changes or 180˚ life changes. This is about discovering the multidimensional you and recapturing the essence of who you are. It’s about first small questions and first small steps.

First small question: ask yourself what it is that you love about what you’ve been doing. Not job specific but rather you specific. Your skills and gifts. Did you love working with different groups of people? Small groups? Large groups? One to one? Did you prefer the numbers folks or the creatives? Did you enjoy training your staff or mentoring new employees? What innate skills served you well? Your writing, creative eye, problem solving? Remember to ask the questions often and let the answers come gradually.

Then a small step: begin to assemble a list of grinds and gifts, a few at a time, over the course of a few days. Create a resume of these non-job specific traits and skills and begin to look at them differently. Where else could you use them? Who could benefit from what you know? What would be fun? Make a long list and include those things that seem crazy.

You will see in black and white just what you’re capable of, how resilient you are, what you like and don’t like, how you can get through a difficulty and come out on the other end.

The gift

This is the gift of decades of life and work. And from where you stand now, there are more decades when all these skills, this mountain of self-knowledge can be re-purposed. And this time it will be an even better fit. This is the path of your Multidimensional Life unfolding before you.

You’ve struck a vein of gold.

p.s. If you would like my kind and loving eye looking with you at where you’ve been and how that can support where you want to go, let’s work together. Contact me here to request a consultation. The world needs more of who you are!

A Journey of Becoming

The Journey Of Becoming
At the Seashore Original art by Donna Mills at Donna Mills Art

We are all on a journey of becoming. I used to think it was about growing up, but in fact it’s about growing. The world is a bit quieter and clearer right now. It’s a great opportunity to pause and see just where you are on your journey.

When I was in high school, and for many years later, my friends and I would ask each other “are we grown up yet?” It would usually come up as we celebrated deliberately belated birthdays. Our tradition was to delay, delay and then launch a guerrilla style celebration. We amused each other. What can I say? But on the silly card selected for the occasion, we would usually include that question: “Are we grown up yet?”

It was as if “grown up” were a place at which we would arrive. I’m not sure what we thought it would look like or feel like or how we would know we arrived. I do know that eventually we stopped asking and started living a grown-up life with all the normal accoutrements. We married, went to work, purchased homes; some had children, some married into children. We put our heads down and, well, I guess we grew up.

End of story? Oh, of course not!

In the introduction to his book “The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born To Be”, Mark Nepo mentions how the journey of becoming who we were born to be never ends. We don’t arrive. We grow.

As I read that, the question from my teenage years – about whether or not we were grown up yet – popped into my consciousness. We weren’t really asking about growing up; it was more about becoming a grown up. And, as Nepo reminded me, we don’t arrive; we continue to grow.

My friends and I are all mature, responsible women, now. But we haven’t finished growing yet. We’re still on the road.

On the journey

And it occurs to me that the journey of creating a Multidimensional Life never ends, either. A Multidimensional Life (MD Life) is one in which we tune in to what wants to be done on a deep level. It’s not a place at which we arrive. Rather, it’s a constant state of becoming, an ever evolving, dynamic process that heeds our inner wisdom as well as informs it. It’s an invitation to live from the inside out; from your magnificent essence. Yours. No one else. (They can ride along; they just can’t steer.)

It’s a time of liberation.

Liberation

As we move forward in this process of becoming, liberation asks for curiosity as well as hope. It asks that we put aside our comfort and discover the raw, unpolished beauty in the unedited version of ourselves. Liberation invites us to take small steady steps to create and express our truest selves. It reminds us that we have a deep well of wisdom; that there are possibilities of growth and transformation; that we have everything we need for this journey.

Paradoxically, there’s comfort in our familiar discomfort and liberation’s not always easy. It requires spiritual courage. However, in the end, it is so worth it.

Where do you begin?

Take a moment – now, if you can – and look up from your busy “grown up” life. Notice the road you’re on. Is it rutted and narrow? Uncomfortable? Are you ready for something new? If you’re not sure what that looks like yet, that’s okay. In the beginning the less certainty, the better. Just decide to start.

Questioning

Here’s a small question to nudge you. Don’t strain for answers. Just listen and let them bubble up.

Are you at a tipping point where your yearning for something truer to self surpasses the need for the safe and known?

Just being conscious of the question will begin a shift. Listening to your responses and the emotions it arouses will evoke more questions.  And, just like a tiny alteration in direction can ripple into a totally different destination for a ship, so too, will this questioning move you in new directions. You will become wakeful, attentive, liberated.

You’re not alone. We are legion on this journey of life.

Grab a partner for the journey

Don’t do it alone.  Contact me and we’ll talk about the nudges from your questions. We’ll draw on your creative spirit and to begin to look at your life as a journey of becoming. Together we can take the first small step into the rest of your MD life.

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