October 4, 2017

Think Small: Kaizen

Another thinking aloud post today. Thoughts not fully formed, but ripe for pondering and putting into practice. And so many synchronicities and convergences it's ridiculous; I'd say full circle, but that's not quite right. More like a joining and overlapping of ideas forming a trail, a curved trail, a trail that becomes a warm embrace. What the hell am I talking about, you ask? I'll attempt to explain.

As you know I've been exploring the concept of "small" through this Think Small series of posts. Some of the concepts I've touched upon, attempted to unravel and pursue, are influenced and supported by the content and contributions by my classmates in the year-long Squam Art Workshop Magic of Myth: End of the Quest. One classmate posted - a month ago? two months ago? - about a new to her magazine that she thought the group would enjoy, womankind, published in Australia.
image source: http://www.womankindmag.com/
Womankind looked right up my alley, but I didn't hold much hope for finding it on the newsstands in Philadelphia. I pretty much forgot about it. Until we were in North Carolina and went to the little, independent bookshop in town that I remembered as having a fantastic magazine section. Although, "magazine" sounds too tawdry, too pulpy and mass-market-y to describe the small room dedicated to periodicals. There. The Regulator had, and continues to have, a fantastic periodical selection. Art, literature, and cultural titles that are not stocked other places. New discoveries and adventures await in the little room just inside the front door.  And, wouldn't you know it, there on the shelf was one last remaining copy of womankind.

I started reading the wolf issue (#13) yesterday. The first news piece is a short article entitled The Secret to Motivation (which put me in mind of this post about momentum). The article relates the findings and practices of clinical psychologist Robert Maurer. It mentions his book One Small Step Can Change Your Life, which, as you might imagine, intrigues me. Making small efforts, rather than get discouraged by the enormity of the overwhelm, is partly what I was trying to get at in this post about gestures. Maurer credits the Japanese philosophy kaizen for this technique of his, to encourage clients to take small actions in order to establish new habits. Kaizen is defined in the article as continual improvement. "Instead of wild, sweeping, radical change, one aims for infinitesimally small improvements." (Adding to the embrace of overlapping ideas, I first heard of kaizen years and years and years ago from one of our friends we just visited in North Carolina.)

Maurer explains that our brains resist change. Which pretty much sucks when you want to change, know you need to change, say improve your health for instance.
While the rational, thinking brain (or cortex) may point out the benefits of squeezing in some physical movement each day, the midbrain (or amygdala) will prevent it from happening. You see, any shift in routine, or change, any new idea, or opportunity, will trigger fear in the midbrain. Every time you stray from your safe and familiar habits, the midbrain will do its utmost to put a stop to it. It's why we typically fail at changing our routine, instead continuing to do what we've always done, even if it makes us unhappy, unhealthy, or uninspired.
His advice for overcoming the fearful amygdala is kaizen. Taking teeny tiny steps to firmly establish new habits (which relates to this post). Rather than jump right into a workout regimen, dip your toe in for a month or a week, repeating the same tiny action every day. The add a second tiny action to extend this new habit, repeating those two tiny steps daily for a given period of time. Build up to a workout regimen slowly, ever so slowly, with small, repeated actions.
The technique can be used for whatever it is you wish to change in your life: each day you drink one sip less of coffee; draw a line on a page in an art book; write one word of a poem; sit at your piano and press a single note; learn one foreign word. When an action is so small it is laughable, the brain does not go into self-protective lockdown mode.
I'm not convinced I explained how discovering this article, in this magazine, about this topic fully integrates so many of the things I am thinking and doing and practicing lately, so just trust me. It is a warm embrace, many ideas and examples and synchronicities and practices encircled by this interpretation and implementation of kaizen.

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