How Easy Can it Be?

Do you set yourself up for failure by biting off more than you can chew?

When my coach recently asked this I confidently said no. A couple of weeks later, as I was watering the garden, it hit me – I’d been in total denial. I absolutely did have a pattern of setting myself up for failure; I just wasn’t able to see this through the haze of my high-expectations, e.g. ‘I’m not setting myself up for failure, obviously I should be able to do x, y. z right off the bat.’

It’s so tempting when we set out to make positive changes in our lives to think we have to go for it 100%.  All or nothing. Now or never.  And it has to be ALL right NOW. Total revolution, dramatic sweeping change.  Sounds exciting right?

My pitta constitution loves this sort of thing. I want to start writing out elaborate plans around what this amazing new life is going to look like. Clear-cut rules about what I will and won’t be doing.  I will never eat sugar again, from tomorrow it’ll be pure green juice and salad, everything will be wholesome and nutritious and I will feel amazing and well nourished.  The end.

Baby steps keep your nervous system CHILL

The problem is we’re wired to resist big, sweeping change. Even if it’s positive, our nervous system finds it scary. When we’re changeafraid our stress response is triggered.  The amygdala part of our brain, the part that sets us off into fight, flight or freeze mode, doesn’t want us doing anything too different, too outside the safety and familiarity of our comfort zone. It’s trying to keep us safe, but hijacking our best intentions in the process.

The trick to bypass the stress response and ensure you’re able to follow through to see lasting change and epic results stepsis to not bite off more than you can chew. I know that doesn’t sound very exciting, but that’s precisely the point! Your nervous system stays chillaxed meaning you can keep moving forwards in the right direction, one small step at a time.  You can achieve great and grandiose things, by breaking it down into tiny manageable chunks.


Kaizen – the Art of Small Continuous Improvements

There’s a name for this wonderful technique, Kaizen.  This Japanese concept meanskaizen

to continuously make small improvements and refinements to streamline processes and make things more efficient and effective over longer periods of time. No revolution. No sweeping change.

The concept came to the West during World War II. When France fell to Nazi Germany the American government realized that it would need to supply the allies with arms and ammunition. Many domestic food factories were quickly converted to factories for war supplies. But many of the best managers and workers were leaving to fight in the war.  The situation was dire. Fortunately, it’s well documented that constraints and challenges drive creative genius. And so Kaizen was born in the film The Great Wall 2016 now

The US government created a program called Training Within Industry (TWI) designed to teach the factories how to be more efficient and productive in the easiest way possible.  It was kinda critical, the world was at war, so bigger fish to fry and all that!

One of the important messages of TWI was to avoid complete overhauls or massive makeovers.  There just wasn’t time, all hell was literally breaking loose!  Instead, the focus was on small, continuous improvements. The ‘lots-of-tiny-changes’ that snowball over time to have a huge positive impact on productivity and effectiveness.

Take the Low-Hanging Fruit

What I’ve discovered over the last few months is the power this approach can have in our daily lives. We can kaizen our way to anything we want.

Just leave one bite. Easy!

A common example is losing weight. Ditch the radical crash diets that will either crash before you see any results, or get you results that are unsustainable and see you right back where you started as soon as you’ve run out of steam. Instead, just leave a bite of food on your plate at each meal. How easy is that? After a couple of months if you want to take it up a notch leave two bites. Easy. Your weight will head effortlessly in the right direction over time.

Small steps means no stress response is triggered so you can follow through to the results you want.

The Magic Formula to Achieve Anything you Want

Whenever you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by something that you want to do, follow these two simple steps:

  1. Notice the overwhelm. Notice if you’re setting yourself up for failure by trying to do too much or too many things all at once.
  2. Before throwing the towel in or driving yourself crazy ask, ‘what’s one tiny thing that I can do to step in that direction? What’s the smallest thing I could do right now that’s so easy I can’t say no?’

I was recently inspired by a friend who posted a photo on instagram of her rubbish for the fortnight. It was literally the size of shoe-box. I was simultaneously embarrassed by my own terrible efforts on the eco-front and incredibly impressed and inspired by hers.

It got me thinking about how much greener I could be. I got all fired up and had some big plans to overhaul things, there were so many things I could and needed to do to improve on this front.

BAM the overwhelm hit. I froze. I hit the wall of resistance. It’s too hard. I can’t be bothered.  The problem is bigger than me. Hello-overwhelm-central!

slow and steadyThanks to the last few months I’ve realized my own tendency to set myself up for failure with this mind-set. With kaizen in my toolkit, I know now to just stop and evaluate. What one small thing could I do to step in that direction? A reassuring voice to my inner-overwhelmed child now gently whispers ‘don’t worry about doing everything, just do one small thing.’

I ended up getting my abandoned food compost bin out from disuse and back on the kitchen counter so that all food waste is being composted, as it should. One small step in the right direction.

Where could you apply kaizen in your life?

Author: Sam Vale Noya

Yoga instructor currently living and teaching in Reading, UK.