Taking small steps is one of the most powerful ways to create lasting change. You can take bad habits and transform them into good habits. You can take good things and transform them into great things. When done consistently, over time, in small steps, these things last and become a part of you.
Change is the natural way of things, and making changes is actually fairly easy when you take it gradually, step by step.
Realistically, we are always changing, though often that change happens at levels imperceptible to us.
In part due to that imperceptibility, a fair amount of the change we undergo takes us in a direction we don’t necessarily want to head — usually the direction of decay and decline.
This happens in part since it’s easy to believe in the illusion that we can stop and stay static.
(This decay also happens if we’ve given into the false belief that we have no influence on how we, and our world changes. While there are things beyond our control, we do have power over our interactions with those things and with what is inside of us. With some additions, the remedies for this giving up are much the same as those for addressing the illusion of stasis mentioned above.)
Eventually, when we recognize that a large declining change has occurred, we then try to leap back up to where we used to be — or beyond — while our systems aren’t ready for it. As a result, we crash back down to our leaping off point and sometimes even further than that.
We try to take these drastic jumps back to where we were since the the recognition of the change which has taken place can be shocking, and something we don’t wish to accept.
We also do this in part due to the misconception that big changes usually come from big steps, that success comes from some big sudden development, or that results come instantly by suddenly deciding to do some big new thing.
The reality is that most big changes, most success, and most results come from small, consistent, and incremental movement. (Likewise, most decay, cases of losing our way, accumulations, collapses of great things, losses of freedom, etc happen one step at a time as well.)
In much the same way, we often think that some big step, some form of innovation, or some leap into a new way of doing something will be quicker and that a step-by-step approach will be slower.
Generally, the opposite is actually the case.
Just like how reaching for perfection can lead to a form of inaction, trying to leap to innovation can lead to unnecessary hesitation, delays, slower progress, and paralysis.
Additionally, forcing an innovative leap often leads to other large problems, rapid reversion, and potentially a leap to the wrong place.
So, when we want to make strong progress that lasts, is less daunting, and simpler to implement, looking to the power of kaizen and small steps is a great approach for most situations in life.
Concrete kaizen – Exercise
When looking to get healthier — and to get a clearer mind — exercise is a key element of any comprehensive approach.
Getting into exercise can be a particularly daunting task, especially when we’re already tired, feeling less than stellar, sapped of motivation, cramped for time, suffering from health issues, and lacking a plan to really do it right.
Much of the time, we try to leap into a strict exercise regimen from a cold start — usually around the time of New Year’s resolutions. (As anecdotal evidence, and statistics (about 88%), attest to, these leaps usually don’t work out so well for us.)
Often with this approach, we run out of will power, don’t find the immediate results we seek, or even injure ourselves.
As a result, we lose motivation and confidence, don’t make progress towards our goal, get discouraged, and begin to feel it’s all hopeless.
This can lead to us living an even more unhealthy lifestyle than we were before, and soon our health and vigor slip far away.
Small steps and kaizen offer a solution to this issue, no matter how many times failure has happened, or how far away we are from our goals.
The exact steps you take depend on your specific situation and where your looking to head. (This is another reason small steps are powerful; they are easy to tailor based on your unique situation and needs.)
Let’s assume you are starting from a level common to most Americans — e.g. it’s been a while since last exercising, there’s a bit too much fat on the body, the cardiovascular system is out of condition, muscles and tendons are stiff and tight, and overall the body and mind is simply out-of-shape.
Small steps to get your body back to work
- Park further away from your destination so you walk a short amount further there and back. These extra steps add up fast, and can really make a difference. Plus, over time you can increase the distance further as well, and soon walking long distances will be easy to do. An added benefit of this is that in many situations, it is easier to find parking further from your destination and you’re less likely to get door dings as well.
- If you find you often sit a lot during the day, set a timer or reminder on your phone to prompt you to get up from a seated position every 25 minutes or so. Simply standing up can make a difference, and if you can work in a very brief walk of some kind it’s even better.
- If you watch tv, use your phone to browse social media, etc, try walking in place while you do it. Start at one minute, five minutes, or at whatever will work for you. (If there are other people around this may feel odd, it’s worth it though. Plus, when you realize you’re on your way to being healthy and in shape — which is now an odd thing — it makes it worth it.
- Whenever you have the opportunity, take the stairs instead of an elevator, or walk up an escalator instead of just standing. This can sometimes seem daunting, so just start where you can. For example, let’s say you work on the fifth floor of a building, and aren’t feeling up to walking up all the flights, then just try going up one flight before getting on the elevator.)
- Try taking a five minute walk outside each day. When we’re outside it can be easy to turn that five minutes into 10, then 15, then 20, then 30. Much of the time, this is an easier process than trying to start jump into a 30 min tread mill session.
- Whenever you use the restroom, take a moment to do 5 to 10 body weight only squats. Even if you start with doing this just once a day, or only doing one squat each time, it can add up, and done properly, these are very beneficial in terms of health. (If you are unsure of the form, do some searching on Youtube, ask your doctor, or let me know and perhaps I can do a quick video. Additionally, if due to hip, knee or other issues it is tough to do a full squat, just do a very shallow one, and try to slowly increase depth over time. Even a shallow squat is helpful.)
- In the morning before you head out, or get caught up in things, do 10 jumping jacks.
- Each night before you go to bed, set aside one minute to do some very simple stretching.
- If you work an office job, try to slot in 5-10 minutes for walking during your lunch period. Or, once you get done with work, instead of heading straight to the car, train, etc, and going home, take an extra five minutes to walk.
Now, let’s say you are already in decent shape. You exercise fairly regularly and keep yourself from being too sedentary. Small steps still work well if you wish to increase your fitness level further.
Here are some examples:
- When doing your exercises, if you take breaks, such as between sets lifting weights, try reducing the duration of those breaks. Even trimming off 15 seconds can add up to a more intense workout.
- If you use a machine, such as a treadmill, elliptical, exercise bike, and so on, try increasing the speed, resistance, incline, etc a notch. Or, alternatively, try getting outside instead of using the treadmill. Do to some simple laws of physics, you’ll work your muscles differently and in a more functional way by stepping outside.
- If you use weight machines for lifting, try incorporating more dumbbells and barbells — get assistance with this if need be. Using free weights necessitates the muscles to work in a different way, and also requires finer motor control, usually giving you a more powerful workout, even if you use less weight.
- Still do those small steps listed above as they can add up even when you’re fit.
- Find a comprehensive program that lays out a solid plan for you — Athlean-x is my very strong recommendation — or get a highly qualified personal trainer. (Due your diligence with trainers and programs since you don’t want to spend money on something non-helpful, or even potentially damaging).
(A note on fitness level: Everyone’s starting point is different, and believe it or not, even if you are incredibly out of shape, you may be better off than you realize. Having experienced a brief point where I was literally too weak to roll myself over in bed, simply being out-of-shape felt like good progress. Keep positive, appreciate what is working, and know that your potential is incredible.)
Regardless of where you are at, take it slow, give your body time to tell you what it is ready for, and give it time to adapt. Also give your mind time to build greater motivation, a sense of achievement, and greater determination. As an added bonus, you’ll likely find as your health and fitness improve, the speed with which you take on new steps will increase.
Overall, these are simply general suggestions — ones that I’ve seen work, or that have worked for me — and you should adjust each one based on where you’re starting from and what you are ready for.
Keep it kaizen
The key, particularly when starting out, is to make small simple changes that don’t feel like much, yet they add up and can make a difference. This approach is much more effective and holds much greater long term potential than trying to make a bigger jump at the start. Plus, there is much less risk of injury or other health issue cropping up that could stop you in your tracks.
Feel confident that as you and your body adjust it becomes easier to make more steps and great progress can happen fast. Something that would have been an arduous task had it been done in a New Year’s resolution style can be done with a feeling of ease and even excitement — exercise won’t be viewed with dread, instead when you take it step by step you begin to look forward to it.
Some additional ways you can implement kaizen into different areas of your life are coming soon, so keep your eyes on the blog. (Better yet, be sure you get all the updates, sign up for the BigSkyRise : Newsletter now.)
Taking small steps and using the kaizen way is a powerful approach across life’s many different areas.
For example, when it comes to exercise, small steps are more powerful and longer lasting than trying to make a New Year’s resolution style change all at once.
Key mindset shift:
- Think small when looking to exercise more. (Think kaizen)
Realization to consider:
- For exercise, New Year’s resolution style changes usually fail. Small steps and the kaizen approach usually succeed and endure.
Actions to take:
- Find some small steps to up your exercise routine and your health.
Fellow Journeyer @ BigSkyRise
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