Kaizen Principle Week 3: Think Small Thoughts

So after another week of keeping weight off my foot (week two of “No Exercise,” by podiatrist order), I’ve come to see this challenge as an opportunity to lighten my load both mentally and emotionally. Now that I’ve been forced/encouraged by the universe to slow down physically, I can consider bringing this concept to other areas of my life. Rather than fight it, gnashing my teeth, I can embrace it.

So what I’ve noticed this week, is not so much what’s on my plate, but rather what I tell myself about what’s on my plate.  I’ve started examining the impact of these thoughts on my well-being. To the best of my ability, I was able to step to the side, and like an innocent bystander, witness the collision of my commentary, beliefs, reactions, and stories. This set in motion a remarkable momentum; a veritable 5 car pile up. I am fascinated by what
I find; it’s the stories we tell ourselves which cause the most stress and strain in our lives. Stories about ourselves fashioned from beliefs from the past can steal the vitality and joy from our everyday lives. For example, I can review my things to do list, which on some days feels as weighty as the NY Yellow Pages, from a place of stress and concern. I query, “Will I get done?”, feeling resentful and angry. “Why should I have so much to do?”, I whine.. Alternatively I can go through the list with curiosity. “Where will I hit blocks, what activities feed my soul, and which ones zap them.? Is my energy drained by limiting beliefs and old stories?” Maybe these tasks are out of line with my skill set and interests, but still they stubbornly demand my attention.

In either case it’s still the same list, but depending on my perspective, a very different experience emerges. One leaves me energized and fulfilled, albeit sometimes with a delicious exhaustion born of having utilized my gifts and stretched myself in new areas. In contrast, the alternative path would likely leave me burned out and feeling broken.

While this is happening on a personal level, I see a similar theme in my practice this week. My clients who are smart, creative, and accomplished, making fundamental, foundational shifts are struggling with the same issue; funny how that works. They notice their tendency to second guess their actions, hearing the ceaseless drone of their “itty bitty committee,” those stressful self-sabotaging, internal voices bouncing about within their skulls like hard rubber Spalding balls. I hear it in their comments :“Maybe I should do….,” “Someone else is doing the …… route,” “it’s not going fast enough,” “I’m wondering if I should do that too.” In the 80’s they called it “shoulding on yourself.” We know where that leads.

One client in particular, after giving her committee the floor, comforts herself by throwing in “at least I have control in one area of my life.” Her voice and body portray a tension without joy or satisfaction. I interrupt, “May I make a small but significant suggestion here?” “Of course,” she responds her beautiful eyes shining. “What if, instead of thinking that you had “control,” in this area, you substitute, the concept of “choice.” “Control is not only an illusion, but leaves you alone, constantly on guard and strenuously pulling it together. In contrast, choice allows you to take ownership, without having to run the whole game yourself.” With that awareness her body softens and her wonderful smile returns. “You’re right. I love the idea of choices, there’s so much more freedom in that.”

Coincidentally, this week of Kaizen, we’re on “Think Small Thoughts,” one small but significant shift can be substituting “control” for ”choice.”

So as you move towards the next level of your Completion Initiative, you can choose to do just that. Thoughts like, “Hmm, that’s not a productive concept. What would be more productive?” “Just stop and breathe,” “I love the smell of my little boy’s hair,” “I can just show up and see what happens, I don’t have to know the outcome.” The list goes on.

I look forward to hearing from you this week about what happens when you ask yourself small questions.

Brain Candy

This section is dedicated to wonderful books, training and teaching that I see as life enhancing. Enjoy!

I have a wonderful book to recommend, “Women, Food and God,” the author, Geneen Roth, had a profound impact on my life. Geneen is an extraordinary writer, who knits together our cultural obsession with diets, weight and body image exposing it as a mask for the belief that one is broken and needs to be fixed. I highly recommend it .The universal concepts presented in the book are clearly laid out.  Her principles encourage one to come back to self in a rich and authentic way. What a gift.

Kaizen Principle Week 2: We Make Plans and the Universe Giggles

Part 2: “Ask Small Questions”

So here I am on my “Accessing My Inner Vixen” rampage, noticing some unconscious eating, but totally grooving to the beat of hip hop and belly dancing.  I’m getting more sleep and becoming more connected to my body and essence. Then. Slam! A combination of insufficient stretching, high heels and too much walking results in a strained tendon on the tibialis anterior muscle, in plain language, the top of my right foot. My podiatrist informed me that for the quickest recovery, I should get “No exercise,” and precious little walking for two weeks. Holy physical and emotional setback! Exercise has always been my Prozac, regulating my moods and being a big contributor to my zest for life.

After hearing my podiatrist’s diagnosis, I was amazed at my reaction, a surprising sense of peace and gratitude. I was just happy there were no broken bones but also aware of that voice guiding me. Like my own personal Zen-Master saying, “Time to slow down and stay put for a while.” It’s so easy to be angry when parts of our body or life breakdown, like they’re “out to get us.”  I saw my foot as a sacred messenger rather than an enemy.  The next morning I awoke with lots of small questions.

“What is my foot trying to tell me?” “What purpose can slowing down serve me right now?” “What can I learn from this experience?” The list goes on. Am I delighted and jumping for joy that life’s luscious lessons have landed at my door (and my right foot), not exactly! Do I know that by embracing the small questions in life, the larger ones seem to resolve themselves or become less urgent, yes!

So I ask you, as you move towards your Completion Initiative, “What small questions can YOU ask yourself?” When my clients come to me and say, “When I ask myself what’s next I go blank!” I say, ‘No wonder, that’s an awfully big question.’ But small questions do open up insights and provide guidance.

Guess what, there’s actual science behind it as well, as cited by Dr. Robert Maurer, in “The Kaizen Way,” When you ask big questions you elicit the fight/flight response, in the amygdala, the “Warning-warning, danger approaching,” part of our brain. In contrast, when you ask small questions you engage the hippocampus, the part of your brain that LOVES figuring these out; it has a field day.

What small question(s) can you ask yourself this week to support your chosen Completion Initiative? Here’s a few to start with:

What could be a more enjoyable way to approach this task or goal?

What FOG (fabulous opportunity for growth) could this small action bring my way?

What’s the worst result this move could produce?

What’s the best thing that could happen?

And the list goes on…

I welcome your feedback and your comments. Thanks to all who responded last week.

Introduction to Kaizen: 5 Part Series

Part 1: “Take Small Actions”

I stumbled upon the Kaizen approach when I read this wonderful book, “One Small Step Can Change Your Life, The Kaizen Way” by Dr. Robert Maurer, PhD. The book is a little jewel that in the most clear, concise way outlines a very simple but powerful approach towards making transformational changes in one’s life. It’s based on making very small shifts in both consciousness and behavior. These small shifts can slip under the stress patrol function of the amygdala’s fight/flight gauge. The amygdala being the portion of the brain, which alerts the nervous system to approaching stress.

I see the amygdala as the character, Robot, in “Lost in Space,” signaling the endocrine system, “Warning, warning, danger approaching,” and triggering us humans to shift into survival mode. Brilliant in the face of the charging buffalo, not so helpful, when the task at hand is: the book you want to write, or the desk that needs to be organized, or some other piece of the Completion Initiative (CI), you are taking on.

So using the “Take Small Actions,” piece this week, I suggest you look at where you are with your Completion Initiative. I’m offering you a challenge, to look for small actions you can take everyday to move towards your CI.

For me, this week, in line with my “Accessing my Inner Vixen” initiative, I will be looking at taking some small actions, which I know can wield, over time, long-lasting results. Actions, like at night, taking 5 minutes to check e-mail on my Droid, rather than my computer. This way I can dodge the effects of being bathed in the melatonin suppressing blue light that is emitted from my laptop, as melatonin level drops have been demonstrated to diminish the depth and duration of sleep. I’m also carefully examining the activities in my life that feed me (reading, learning, sharing what I’ve learned, writing, spending time with people who I love and who inspire me, dancing, long baths, long country walks, de-cluttering, the list goes on…) This non food, nourishment “feeds me” in a way that leaves me more inclined to go to food for physical hunger rather than emotional or spiritual emptiness. When I say small actions, I really mean small.

So my question to you this week is, “What small actions can or will you take?” to move you along, toward your Completion Initiative. In the next four weeks, I will address each of the other four Kaizen principles:

•       Ask small questions
•       Think small thoughts
•       Bestow small rewards
•       Identify small moments

This process really works. I’ve witnessed the effects not only in my own life, but in the work I do with my clients, colleagues, family and friends. The shifts that result from integrating these principles, either consciously or unconsciously, are powerful.

Have a great week. I look forward to hearing from you.


Making Peace With One’s Resistance

This was clearly an interesting week for me. I definitely had some wonderful “Inner Vixen” moments this week. I sailed across the floor, boa in hand, grooving to my favorite Hip Hop teacher, Johnny P’s, awesome choreography, feeling like “MTV, watch out!” I loved being back in class with my belly dance goddess of all time Francesca.

But on the other hand, five fingers, I saw myself up against my resistance as well.  I definitely backtracked into unconscious eating, not giving myself the amount of sleep that really serves me, “forgetting” my morning ritual which fuels me in so many ways and a few other habits that will clearly keep me at the “status-NO.” No, I’m not going to get where I want to go, if I continue these behaviors.

Really feeling stuck at the wall of resistance, I decided to sleep on it, and literally before I went to bed, asked my inner guide/my subconscious to reveal my next layer of healing. I awoke from a very interesting dream, where my fear was this scared little five-year-old, flaxen blonde hair, white playsuit with pink sneakers. In the dream, she just kept saying, “I’m not bad, I’m just scared. Love me and I’ll work with you.” I woke up with this quiet, peaceful glow in my heart, and the wisdom (different from knowledge) of how important it is to have compassion toward the part of us, that is afraid of moving on, and letting go. During the week, I decided to stop and breathe more, focus on all my life’s blessings, and honor this child. When I felt myself starting to grab for extra food, or do more work instead of going to sleep, I’d stop and say, (yes I self-dialogue all the time, and it’s made an enormous difference for me), “Sweetie, what do you need right now, how can I help you?,” and the need to numb out with food or other behavior, faded.

It’s so easy to be at war, fighting with that part of us that is scared to move forward. Even easier, to simply throw up our hands and resign ourselves to defeat; neither one is very effective or life affirming. So for this week, I suggest, a question, “How can you show more compassion to that scared-to-move-forward part?” “How can you get better acquainted with that part and, perhaps, start to see it as a scared child who doesn’t know better?”

We are often afraid (I know I certainly was) that if we “accept and love that part,” then we’ll keep giving ourselves license to continue negative behaviors. In stark contrast, I find that the more we embrace, learn, get to understand that part, and stay in dialogue, the more compassion we have for ourselves; the more consciously we can act on what we really want and need in order to move forward in our lives. It’s very much like how a loving parent deals with a scared child, you comfort it, try hard to understand its needs and coax it in the right direction. You avoid ridiculing the child or trying to change its mind. Most of all, you don’t fasten it into the driver’s seat when it comes to making the important choices in your life.

I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, to hear from people, whether it’s the nature of your project, or any of these ideas that may resonate with you, your victories/challenges, the whole shebang.

Starting next week, I’ll be launching the 5-week kaizen process as it speaks to the Completion Initiative.