One Small Step Can Change Your Life: the Kaizen Way
by Robert Mauer, Ph.D.
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company (2004)
review by Deb Vierling

Recently I received an email about a book entitled, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: the Kaizen Way, by Robert Maurer, Ph. D.  Now that title enticed me to check it out, and I ended up buying it. I am very glad I did!

I don’t know about you, but I have a few areas in my life in which I procrastinate doing things. Three of my biggies are working on clutter, losing weight, and exercising. Interestingly, one article I read a few years ago said that by uncluttering, one would lose weight. That makes sense to me on an energetic level since the outer world is a reflection of the inner world, and vice versa.

The book by Maurer compares two ways of making changes in one’s life. One way is by taking more drastic steps to make changes. The other way is by taking very small steps.  The problem with the first way for so many people is that drastic changes and drastic steps often tend to evoke fear, which awakens the amygdala. This part of the brain, when it perceives a threat, shuts down nonessential functions, from the viewpoint of the fight-or-flight reaction of the body. A third way for dealing with fear, if the threat can’t be fought or fled from, can be paralysis. Procrastination can be a form of emotional paralysis. The perceived largeness of a project or of an envisioned change can, thus, awaken the amygdala and evoke emotional paralysis, in which little or no action is taken at all on an ongoing basis.

Maurer suggests another way to solve problems without awaking the amygdala. It is by taking such small (even tiny), comfortable steps in the direction of the change that a person wants to make, that the higher cortical areas and creative areas of the brain remain open.

Now to the ego, the nonthreatening questions one asks and the ensuing tiny steps that are actions to take this day in the direction of the desired change may seem utterly preposterous because they don’t amount to a hill of beans, the ego would say.  

Actually my creative, intuitive part has suggested to me over the years- when I have felt calm and relaxed- to take tiny steps in the direction of the change I wanted to make, but I would succumb to the ego’s critical voice, and then would continue with nothing being accomplished. Maurer’s book has helped to give me permission to thumb my nose at my ego’s insistence on doing things its way in this area of my life.

I am sure that the reader is asking similar questions that my ego has asked or is raising objections to the notion of taking tiny steps. After all, if only tiny or ridiculously small steps are taken, it will take way too long to finish the project. It is mainly for that reason that I succumbed to my ego’s rational explanation. The thing about the ego that Maurer says, in so many words, is that the cognitive functioning is much more limited in its knowledge level than the ego thinks it is. The creative, intuitive aspect knows so much more and/or is connected to fuller sources of knowledge much more easily than the cognitive aspect of our ego is. The creative, intuitive aspect can be counted on to keep on working on the situation so that it won’t take forever to accomplish the envisioned goal. In addition, enthusiasm and confidence increase as one builds on many small, even tiny, steps of success. The enthusiasm and confidence help to transform the formerly daunting nature of the project into one that feels less and less daunting, and a person then becomes/feels more and more able to take larger and larger steps.

Now how does this book with its content tie in with the National Association of Nurse Massage Therapists and its members’ interests, you may be asking. Well, first let me ask you some questions that I would like you to consider answering. The answers you come up with, if they involve small, even tiny steps, are the ones I would like you to consider doing. For example you might ask yourself, what is one small sounding idea that I can think of today that could, in a tiny way, benefit the organization? Now remember, you don’t even have to send in the idea on the day you think of it. Just think of one tiny idea, one tiny suggestion, that you’d like to see NANMT do that it hasn’t done or that it might do in a different way.  If no answer comes to mind in a comfortable period of time that you have designated, such as in three minutes, for example, just continue asking the question on the next day and the day after that until an answer does come. If the answer you come up with sounds stupid or ridiculous or too small or preposterous to your ego or your critical self, then you are on the right track. Those are the ones we especially want to hear about. Sending the ridiculous, small, preposterous, or stupid sounding idea by email might be another tiny step to do on a different day. Another example is, what one photo from my nurse massage therapy practice might I want to send to NANMT for its website? If I don’t have a photo from my nurse massage practice, what kind of photo from my practice might I like to send in? Taking the photo or sending the photo in on a different day might be another small step to take. Another example is, what is one idea in one minute that I can think of today that I feel passionate about that ties in with nursing and/or massage? On a different day, you might ask yourself, what is one tiny step involving three minutes that I can take today on behalf of that passionately felt idea that ties in with nursing and/or massage? I am sure you can come up with your own questions involving small steps that feel comfortable to you time-wise and energy-wise on a particular day.

In summary, I heartily recommend Maurer’s book. Perhaps, the book could be condensed because it does repeat the same ideas in many ways. It is replete with examples from various walks of life. Personally, however, I find the repetition and the many examples that flesh out the ideas to be especially helpful. I hope you will consider reading it and using its information for your personal and professional benefit and for the benefit of NANMT.