Often what we want can feel so overwhelming that we never get started at all. If that’s true for you, here a secret: One tiny step at a time. And it often doesn’t matter which step. Just take one. Then take another. Repeat until you’ve gotten where you want to be.
Want to lose 50 pounds? Concentrate on losing one by cutting out fried foods. (A male client of mine lost 17 pounds by doing just that.) Or switch to light mayo. (A woman who lost 43 pounds began that way.) The successes each met with that first small change allowed them to keep on going and up the ante to reach their goal. Want to change careers? Take one class or read one book or have one conversation. Then figure out your next small step. Want to write a book? Commit to writing one line a day.
This technique has a name–kaisen, a Japanese strategy for change that relies on tiny, continuous improvements. It actually originated in the U.S. at the beginning of WWII, and was introduced to Japan after the war. Why it works has to do with the brain structure I wrote of in Week 1. Whenever we initiate a change, even a positive one, we activate fear in our bunny brain. If the fear is big enough, the fight or flight response will go off and we’ll run from what we’re trying to do. The small steps in kaisen don’t set off fight or flight, but rather keep us in the thinking brain where we have access to our creativity and playfulness.
And when they say small, they mean small. Practitioners such as Robert Maurer give assignments such as flossing one tooth to someone who wants to create the flossing habit, or marching in place for 1 minute for a person who wants to learn to exercise. Want some scientific proof? Researchers at the University of Bristol divided 78 people into two groups. One was told to take 10,000 steps per day, the other 2,500. Which group hit their target more often? The 2,500 group succeeded twice as often as the other.
Breaking it down into small steps gives you the chance to experience success, which provides momentum to keep on going. It’s also a great antidote to procrastination. You don’t have to do it all, just one small thing. The success you create will give you the courage and enthusiasm to persevere and perhaps even up the ante. Once you’ve done step one, put step two in place. As the great basketball coach John Wooden once said, “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur … seek the small improvement one day at a time.”
To try: What’s the first small step to what you want? Go ahead–underwhelm yourself by making it really tiny. When and how are you going to do it?
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In this monthlong learning series, M.J. Ryan, author of the best-selling book This Year I Will…: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True, will take you through four steps, each lasting one week, to help you figure out what your most important intentions are and give you the tools to make each a reality. Just joining the learning series? Go here to start at the beginning. Intent.com provides content and community for who you aspire to be–personally, socially and globally.