Free Ebook: The Kaizen Plan for Reducing Holiday Stress

Is your holiday season starting to get hectic? The Kaizen Plan for Reducing Holiday Stress is full of tips for handling everything from entertaining to shopping to visiting family.

Download your free copy here:

Pass it on, and help someone else take control of their holiday season ten minutes at a time!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Making Micro-Changes: Don’t Miss the Free “3 Tiny Habits” Course!

I just learned about this course from Stanford researcher B.J. Fogg called “3 Tiny Habits” — it’s like the kaizen approach to kaizen!

Fogg leads you through a free email course, in which you are asked to make three 30-second changes to your usual behavior each day for a week. Seriously. 90 seconds. If you’re not sure what habits to start, that’s okay…when you sign up for the course, you’ll get access to a list of suggestions covering every area of your life–physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Wouldn’t it be worth spending 90 seconds to make a small but real change for the better?

Here’s the description of the course (from his website):

My new course “3 Tiny Habits” can create new behaviors in your life.

Let me explain . . . I’ve studied human behavior for 18 years, mostly at Stanford University. Here’s what I’ve learned: Only three things will change behavior in the long term.

Option A. Have an epiphany
Option B. Change your context (what surrounds you)
Option C. Take baby steps

Creating an epiphany is difficult. You should rule out Option A unless you have mystical powers (I don’t).

But here’s the good news: The other two options are practical. And they can lead to lasting change if you follow the right program. However, few winning programs exist.

In December of 2011, I created a new way to tap the power of context and baby steps. Over 6,300 people have since joined in. The results are the best I’ve ever seen in any program.

–B.J. Fogg,

Here’s the page where you can sign up for the free course:

Here’s where you can see how well the course worked for past students:

I’ve committed to adding the following 3 habits next week:

  1. 30 seconds of fire breath (an energizing yoga breathing technique) after turning off the alarm clock
  2. 30 seconds of bouncing on my mini-trampoline after getting dressed
  3. 30 seconds of deep breathing before each meal

Isn’t there some small change you’ve been thinking of making? Why not start with a micro-habit to put you on the right track?

Posted in Habits | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is It Time to Rethink Your Routines?

I’ve never liked the idea of routines. Just saying the word makes me feel claustrophobic and trapped.

But as I pay more attention to my own behavior, I’ve realized something shocking.

I already have routines.

(Okay, maybe it’s not shocking to you. But my free-spirited self has been in denial…)

Every morning during the week, I get up and make my husband breakfast while he gets ready for work. I chat with him as I help him get his stuff together. After he leaves, I skim my email by cell phone (so I can see if anything urgent’s come in, but won’t be tempted to spend the morning replying to non-urgent email). Then I get to work.

That’s my morning routine.

When I start to get hungry, I break for lunch. Lunch is usually leftovers that can be microwaved or something very simple that can be assembled from ingredients in the fridge. While I eat, I write emails and web surf. I check on the garden and water as needed. Sometimes I remember to start a load of laundry or unload/reload the dishwasher before I go back to work.

That’s my lunchtime routine.

Somewhere between 5 and 6 pm, my husband calls to let me know he’s on his way home. I stop working and cook dinner.

That’s my evening routine.

Somewhere between 9 and 10pm, I straighten up the kitchen, fold laundry, brush my teeth, and lock up the house. I get into bed and read for a few minutes before I turn out the light.

That’s my bedtime routine.

Barring emergencies and pleasant surprises, I do these things five days a week, at roughly the same time and in the same way.

I didn’t design these routines. They evolved over time to fit the rhythm of my life. They meet the minimum requirements of my existence–in other words, they’re good enough to get by.

But they’re not optimal.

My dinner routine is the worst, because it’s the loosest. Instead of starting at a specific time, I let my husband’s schedule dictate when I start. And how much straightening up I need to do in the kitchen before I start cooking can vary wildly depending on whether I remembered to unload/reload the dishwasher at lunch and whether I took the time to clean up after preparing lunch.

If I forgot to run the dishwasher, I might have to handwash a specific pan in order to make the meal I’ve planned. If veggies have to be chopped (rather than being used as-is or run through the food processor), I could still be chopping when my husband gets home. Dinner is seldom ready at the time I think it’s going to be.

I could keep going on the way I have been and hope that my routines will continue to evolve in the right direction. But wouldn’t life be easier if I spent a little bit of effort optimizing my routines?

For example, what if I add unloading/reloading the dishwasher and starting a load of laundry to my morning routine?

And then I put laundry in the dryer and set the kitchen up for cooking dinner as part of my lunch routine?

And then I set an alarm to go off at the time I need to start cooking dinner?

Wouldn’t that eliminate a whole bunch of stress around dinner preparation, and make it easier for me to get dinner on the table more quickly?

Naturally, there’s an irrational voice in my head that’s squawking in protest.

I’ve already got enough routine, adding more is going to make my life boring! Next thing I know, I’m going to be stuck in a rut! Besides, all this discipline is going to kill my creativity!

That’s nonsense, of course. The routines are a small fraction of my day. I’m still free to prioritize my work as I see fit, to choose whatever type of exercise I feel like doing, and to intersperse the work with a few breaks for fun.

In fact, if I do a good job of redesigning my routines, I’ll have even more time for the fun stuff, because I’ll have fewer glitches to deal with. I’ll also have more willpower–Baumeister and Tierney (in their book, Willpower) discuss studies which reveal that one of the “tricks” of self-disciplined people is that they use habits and routines to conserve willpower so that they can spend it on important decisions.

I’m not going to overhaul everything at once. I’ll pick a couple small changes to make this week, and I’ll set up some external triggers to remind myself of what I’m supposed to do: a checklist in the kitchen to remind me what my new breakfast and lunchtime routines should be, and an alarm clock in my office, set to remind me what time I need to start dinner.

Are your daily routines helping you achieve your goals, or are they just allowing you to scrape by?

What small changes could you make to your routines that would help you get the mundane stuff out of the way and give you more time to work on meaningful projects?

Related posts:

Posted in Get Organized, Habits, Routines, Time Management | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Giveaway: The Best of Small Steps to Big Change

The Best of Small Steps to Big Change, vol 1I’ve collected the best posts of this blog, organized them by topic, and published them in an anthology: “The Best of Small Steps to Big Change, volume 1.”

Today I’m giving away a free copy to one lucky commenter at Ye Olde Inkwell, where I talk about how I got started with kaizen:

If you’d like to be entered in the drawing, please stop by and say hi!



Posted in Contest, E-Book, Giveaway | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

How to Recover From Mild Burnout and Get More Energy

Have you been working too hard and ignoring your body’s needs? It was probably for a good cause–taking care of a family emergency or meeting an urgent deadline–but now that the problem’s solved, how do you deal with feelings of physical, mental and/or emotional exhaustion?

Here’s my personal recipe for getting back on your feet sooner:

1. Hydrate.

Put down the coffee, tea, soda, Red Bull, or 5 Hour Energy Drink, and stick with water. Caffeine has to be processed by your liver, which leaves your liver with fewer resources for detoxifying all the residual stress chemicals and metabolic waste your cells produced when you were rushing around dealing with the emergency.

Also, water gets used in a number of essential biological processes (including fat-burning), and without the diuretic effect of your coffee/tea/soda, your body will have more H20 available for these crucial tasks.

2. Breathe.

In times of stress we tend to breathe more quickly and more shallowly–and unfortunately, it’s easy to get stuck in that stressed-out breathing pattern. A little bit of deep breathing can work wonders in restoring energy levels.

You can learn fancy meditation techniques if you want, but here’s a simple deep breathing exercise my grade-school singing teacher used to have me practice:

  • Get a big heavy book, like a dictionary.
  • Lie on your back on the floor, knees up and feet flat on the floor.
  • Put the book on your stomach.
  • Breathe in and lift the book as high as it’ll go.
  • Breathe out and lower the book as slowly as you can.
  • Continue for at least 30 breaths.

If you get dizzy at any point in this exercise, stop and breathe normally until the dizziness is gone.

If you’re at the office and don’t feel comfortable lying on the floor, here’s an alternative method:

  • Sit up straight in a chair (no slouching).
  • Suck your stomach all the way in.
  • Put your hands on your stomach horizontally, so that the tips of your middle fingers are just barely touching each other.
  • Breathe in and let your stomach expand, so that your fingertips separate. See how far apart you can get those fingertips by breathing deeply.
  • Breathe out as slowly as you can, letting your fingertips come back together.

3. Alkalize.

Your cells’ metabolic wastes tend to shift your body’s pH toward into the acidic range. Eating foods that alkalize can shift you back to your optimum pH. Tips for alkalizing:

  • Add some lemon or lime to your water.
  • Include a salad or extra helping of veggies to your meals for the day.
  • Eat small portions of lean protein with each meal.
  • Skip sugar, white flour, and all other processed carbohydrates for the day.

4. Reduce inflammation.

Inflammation and stress go hand in hand, not just because of the stress response itself but because we also tend to eat foods that encourage inflammation when we’re stressed–foods high in sugar and food additives. Foods high in antioxidants, like fruits and veggies, reduce inflammation.

5. Recharge your brain.

If you’re an introvert, this might mean reading for a few minutes, or going for a short walk by yourself, or some other solitary activity. If you’re an extrovert, it might mean some fun (i.e. low-pressure) social interactions, like a chat with a close friend or writing an email to a loved one.

6. Touch base with your spiritual side.

Whether that means saying a prayer, taking a minute to count your blessings, meditating, or jotting a few notes in your journal, set aside five minutes to reconnect with your soul.

7. Move, gently.

If you’re physically worn down, aerobics and strength training can exhaust you further. But your lymphatic system still needs some movement to help pump lymph through your body (which helps clean up metabolic waste more quickly). Try some stretching, some walking, or one of the Eastern disciplines like tai chi, chi gung, or yoga. Or bounce gently on one of those mini-trampolines for a few minutes.

8. Press away the stress.

Acupressure can help your body release stress more quickly and return to a relaxed state.

Here’s a video that shows a short routine for stress relief:

And here’s a method of tapping acupressure points (Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT) to release stress and anxiety:

I’ve also discussed how to use Tapas Acupressure Technique for stress relief in past posts.

9. Go to bed early enough that you’ll get a full night’s sleep (8-9 hours).

In this coffee-fueled modern age, we tend to discount the value of a good night’s sleep. But sleep is when your body fixes all the damage you did while you were running around like a chicken without a head. :)

If you can manage to nap without disrupting your whole day, go for it, but if you’re like me and can’t manage to sleep for less than a couple hours at a time, get serious about clearing your evening schedule so you can hit the sack at a reasonable time.

10. Turn these remedies into habits.

Practiced consistently, these burnout-recovery techniques will also boost your long-term energy levels and improve your overall health. Why not implement one of these a month and see how much more you like being in your body?

Posted in Breathing, Burnout, Health, Stress, Stretching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

When Your Head and Your Heart Don’t Agree, Which One Do You Listen To?

Trust your feelings, Luke.

That was Obi-Wan’s advice, and who am I to question the wisdom of a Jedi Master?

Except that there have been times in my own life when ignoring logic and following my emotions made me even more unhappy. So let’s examine Obi-Wan’s advice a little more closely. How can you tell when your emotions are leading you in the wrong directions?

I think you have to start with an understanding of how logic and emotions work together.

Logic helps you navigate your physical environment. It allows you to think in abstractions and build mental models so that you can predict the behavior of the objects around you. Logic helps you deal with the objective reality we all share.

Emotions help you navigate your social environment. As you interact with other people and seek to understand their behavior, your own emotions make it possible for you to empathize with others and predict their behavior. Emotions also give you clues about the subconscious elements of your own psyche: your deepest desires, dreams, and fears. They help you deal with your subjective reality, the world you live in that no one else experiences.

I believe that logic and emotion are meant to work together as a system of checks and balances. We all have both the ability to reason and the ability to feel. Brain damage which disables either ability leaves an individual woefully unequipped to handle life.

But logic and emotions are often at odds with one another. Your head tells you to keep your crappy job so you can pay your bills and your heart tells you that you’ll never be happy unless you’re free to be a sculptor. So which one is right? Should you do the logical thing or the thing that feels right?

Do you recognizes the logical fallacy in that question?

We talked about it here — it’s called all-or-nothing thinking. It assumes there there are only two choices: your head is right and your heart is wrong, or your head is wrong and your heart is right.

In fact, they are BOTH RIGHT. Logic tells you the truth about your objective reality, and emotion tells you the truth about your subjective reality. You do need a source of income that will allow you to pay your bills and you won’t be happy until you’re pursuing your dream.

Breaking out of this false dichotomy allows you to ask the question: “How can I pursue my dream of sculpting while still making enough money to pay my bills?”

There are a lot of answers to this question:

You could keep your crappy job but go to art school at night. If you’re learning and growing as an artist with the goal of being good enough to support yourself, the knowledge that you’re getting closer to achieving that goal might make the crappy job less stressful.

You could also spruce up your resume and find a job that isn’t crappy, something that doesn’t drive you so crazy that you spend all your free time watching TV and surfing Facebook just to unwind. And then spend that time you used to waste playing with clay in your garage.

You could decide that your path to happiness involves cutting expenses, saving aggressively for a couple of years, and then, when you have enough saved to do it, taking a sabbatical to sculpt or going on an art retreat that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

Or if you’re already sculpting regularly, you could look for opportunities to promote and sell your work, so that your sculpture is generating income–with the goal of being able to quit the crappy job altogether at some point in the future. Internet sites like Etsy give artists a chance to get their work out there as never before, and the ability to network online means you could find opportunities to show your work globally.

You could even decide that your ultimate goal is to retire early, and create a plan for becoming financially independent through saving and investing. (Not sure where to start with that? You could check out Your Money or Your Life by Vickie Robin (, which teaches a system for getting out of debt and getting your finances in good shape, learning to live on a smaller income, and investing in low-risk income-generating bonds until your bond-income is enough to replace your job-income. Or if you’re interested in a more traditional approach to early retirement, there’s a ton of information on retirement planning and wealth-building at David Bach’s website, Finish Rich.)

All of these choices are better than choosing between your head and your heart. If you’d stuck with the false dichotomy, you’d have to either:

A) Stick with your crappy job and give up on pursuing your art — a guaranteed path to a life of misery — or

B) Quit your crappy job and go bankrupt or depend on the support of others in order to pursue your art. Unless you’ve got a willing sugar daddy patron, this isn’t a great choice either; it’s likely that the financial stress you’d experience would overshadow any pleasure you might get from sculpting.

But by accepting that both your head and your heart are showing you part of the whole picture, you’re free to come up with a plan of action that will take you where you want to go.

Is there some situation in your life where your head wants to go one way and your heart wants to go another?

What changes if you assume that both your head and your heart are right?

Is your heart telling you that you want to become a published author? Why not start by getting organized and setting up your environment to support your creative success?

The Kaizen Plan for Organized Authors can help you take care of the left brain stuff so that your right brain has the freedom to get busy!

Posted in Create a Kaizen Plan, Goal setting, Planning, Self-Sabotage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mini-Kaizen Plan: Easing Into a New Fitness Routine

Last week, we went through a 7-step process for transitioning into new eating habits, so this week I’d like to follow up with the other big “should” we often neglect: exercise.

We’ve talked about setting exercise goals (here and here), but it’s not enough to set the goal. You also need a concrete plan for achieving it.

Whether you want to train for a specific activity–like tennis or martial arts–or you just want to make sure you’re moving enough to stay healthy, you can break any fitness routine down into small steps and gradually incorporate them into your day.

Here’s a free PDF worksheet you can download, to help you work through the process: Ease Into a New Fitness Routine Worksheet

1. Decide what kind of activities you’d like to incorporate into your life.

What have you enjoyed doing in the past?

Do you want to find small ways to be more active as you go through your normal routine, or would you prefer to set aside a specific time to work out?

The three types of activity the human body needs to be healthy are:

  • cardiovascular training
  • flexibility training
  • strength training

(Strength training, by the way, doesn’t just mean lifting weights, it can be any activity that builds muscles. If you’re doing karate, for example, repetitively practicing kicks, punches and blocks is a type of strength training. Calisthenics, like pushups and lunges and squats, are also strength training.)

If you’re not sure what kind of exercise you’d enjoy, what kinds of activities would you be willing to try? Do you think you might enjoy nature hikes or dance classes? Would frisbee golf on a course big enough to require some walking get you motivated? Do you long to feel as relaxed and meditative as the group who does tai chi down at the park on weekends?

Also, how much time do you have to devote to exercising? If you answered “not much,” I’m right there with you. :)

A 10-minute walk in the morning and another in the evening is a great way to get started with exercise. But if walking isn’t your cup of tea, here’s some fast workout options that I’ve been experimenting with:

T-Tapp Basic Workout: designed by a physical therapist, this is an extremely efficient whole-body workout that takes only 15 minutes and puts your body into fat-burning mode. Ms. Tapp has a few exercises posted on her website if you’d like to check them out (, click on the Try Before You Buy tab at the top of the page).

High-Intensity Interval Training: gives the same benefits (some say more) as traditional aerobics, but in less time. HIIT is the kind of exercise humans evolved to be good at, with short intervals of high-intensity movement (like running from predators) interspersed with rest.

Dr. Al Sears’ book, PACE: The 12 Minute Fitness Revolution, is what got me started with HIIT (and I highly recommend it), but I’ve also been experimenting with the Tabata Protocol, which is more intense but only requires 4 minutes of cardio (plus a couple minutes warmup and a couple minutes cooldown).

(If you’ve been completely sedentary up until now, don’t start with the Tabata method, go with the PACE method, which can be adapted to any fitness level.)

The 7-Minute Miracle, by Sheldon Levine: lets you focus on one major muscle group at a time and takes advantage of the way your body chemistry works to maximize fat burning in a specific area of the body.

The 10-Minute Solution DVD series, which includes short programs for just about any type of exercise you could want to try: latin dance, pilates, fitness ball, kickboxing, yoga, hip hop dance, resistance band, etc.

Total Stretch for Beginners: consists of three easy 10-minute stretching routines (standing, sitting in a chair, and on the ground) to increase flexibility from head to toe.

7 Minutes of Magic: Qi Gong instructor Lee Holden has collected three 7-minute routines on one DVD: an energizing routine to wake up to, a routine for staying healthy, an a relaxing routine to help you unwind in the evenings. This is one of my all-time favorite DVDs.

Yoga Quick Fixes and Yoga House Call: short kundalini yoga workouts designed to help you tackle specific issues like anxiety, stress, lack of energy, back pain and more.

Don’t be afraid to keep looking until you find exercises you enjoy. If doing pushups brings back too many traumatic gym class memories, you can strengthen your arms and back by practicing the breast stroke, or learning to fight with a staff, or taking up kettlebells, or getting your belly-dancing best friend to teach you how to do snake arms. If you get tired of doing the same water aerobics routine all the time, maybe you’d rather jump on a mini-trampoline, or play frisbee with your kids in the park, or go on a civilized “hike” through the local arboretum.

2. Set your fitness goal.

Is your goal to build up to walking 40 minutes every day?

To use the weight machines at the gym 4 days per week?

To learn to bellydance?

To be flexible enough to touch your toes?

To run in next year’s half-marathon for breast cancer?

3. Identify the exercise you’re already getting, and see if there’s a way to build on or expand it.

What kind of exercise are you already doing? Could you build on or expand your existing fitness routine to include new elements? For example, if you’re already marching in place during commercials, add pushups or a couple of free weight exercises. Or strap on wrist and ankle weights, to make marching in place more of a workout. Or start marching during shows, too.

Do you already walk daily but suffer back pain due to hours spent at the computer for work? Maybe you could start doing a couple of back stretches when you’re done walking.

4. Decide what components you need to add to your fitness routine, and in what order.

If you’re looking to burn fat, exercise that builds muscle mass and boosts your metabolism is the way to go.

If you’re stiff or if you’re in need of some stress relief, gentler endeavors like tai chi, chi gung, yoga, and stretching might be the best place to start.

If your biggest excuse for not exercising is “I’m too tired,” the first step in your fitness routine might not be exercise at all. You might be better off starting the habit of going to bed earlier and/or doing some deep breathing exercises to increase your energy level.

I suggest adding one small increment of activity each week, and making sure that each increment is not painful or strenuous enough to risk unnecessary injury.

If you haven’t been exercising at all, you’re constantly stressed, and your lifestyle is sedentary (i.e. mostly sitting at the computer or at a desk all day), your first six weeks might consist of:

Week 1: Set alarm for 11pm bedtime.
Week 2: Add five minutes deep breathing in the morning.
Week 3: Add ankle stretches while watching TV.
Week 4: Add marching in place during at least two commercial breaks while watching TV.
Week 5: Start setting a timer to go off every hour while working, and when it goes off, stand up and do a whole body stretch (reach for the ceiling 10 seconds, reach for your toes 10 seconds).
Week 6: Add a daily five minute walk after lunch.

If you’re already reasonably active–you walk daily, or you chase small children around–but want to build muscle or need to start doing weight-bearing exercise to keep osteoporosis at bay, your first six weeks might look more like this:

Week 1: Buy free weights and choose a workout routine (from a book like Strong Women Stay Young or by googling “free weight routine”).
Week 2: Learn two arm exercises and do them M, W, F before breakfast.
Week 3: Learn two leg exercises and do them T, Th, S before breakfast.
Week 4: Learn a back and a shoulder exercise, and add them to the M/W/F routine.
Week 5: Learn another leg exercise, and add it to the T/Th/S routine.
Week 6: Add a 10-minute whole body stretching routine, to help relieve muscle tightness.

If you’re already hitting the treadmill regularly but still need an outlet for stress, your first 6 weeks might look something like this:

Week 1: Set alarm for 11pm bedtime.
Week 2: Add five minutes deep breathing in the morning.
Week 3: Buy 10-minute yoga workout DVD or find a short video on YouTube, and do it after deep breathing in the morning.
Week 4: Continue Weeks 1-3.
Week 5: Continue Weeks 1-3.
Week 6: Continue Weeks 1-3. At the end of this week, evaluate my stress levels and if they aren’t lower, choose another stress-relief outlet.

Notice that in each of the six-week plans, I stated a) the specific activity and b) the planned time for the activity to be performed. In other words, how and when the exercises will get done.

There’s nothing wrong with taking it slow! I’m currently working through the T-Tapp DVD I mentioned above by learning one exercise each week. It’s a fifteen minute routine, and right now I’m only doing the first five minutes of it (which are intense enough that I still get sore the next day). It will be a few more weeks before I’ve learned the entire set of exercises, and by the time I get there, I will have built some muscle that will make the whole workout easier. I’m also continuing to listen to my self-hypnosis program for exercise motivation, to keep myself from getting discouraged as I add more strenuous movements to my routine.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your ideal body can’t be built that quickly either. But if you get started now with small steps, by this time next year you could be in better shape than you ever thought possible.

Related Posts


Setting and Achieving Goals:

Posted in Create a Kaizen Plan, Exercise, flexibility, Goal setting, Health, Mini-Kaizen Plan, Planning, Stretching, Weight Loss | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Five Techniques for Cultivating Self-Discipline

What do you think of when you hear the word “discipline”?

For me, it has negative connotations: punishment for bad behavior, being denied the things I want, rigid rules and an inflexible schedule, and worst of all, the certainty that as hard as I try to “be good,” I’m probably going to mess up.

As you might guess, up until recently, I haven’t been a big believer in self-discipline.

But as a result of my recent readings on willpower and productivity, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to change my definition of the word.

What if I stop thinking of self-discipline as being strict with myself, and start thinking of it as the ability to get myself to make the right choices (i.e. choose long-term benefit over short-term pleasure) when it counts?

Instead of relying on the usual disciplinary tools (punishment, denial, etc), I could…

Ask myself a question that helps me focus on the long-term consequences of my actions.

Whenever I’m considering eating something, I could ask myself:

“If I eat this food today, will I be thinner or fatter tomorrow?”

When the computer beckons and I’m tempted to entertain myself with email instead of doing the items on my list, I could ask myself:

“When I look back on my day tonight, which of these activities will I be proud to have done?”

When I’m tempted to blow off exercise to keep working or to watch TV, I could ask myself:

“What would a healthy person choose?”

No punishment required, just a simple question that takes me off auto-pilot and focuses me on long-term benefits.

What other ways could I keep myself on the path toward my goals without having to feel the sting of the metaphorical whip?

Adopt real-life role models.

Not quite able to forgive my mother’s latest snarky remark? What would Buddha do?

Having trouble motivating myself to get started on today’s writing? What would Stephen King do?

Should I take a risk and try something new, or play it safe? What would Aunt Tilly do?

By posing these questions, I’m using role models to tap into my desire to become a better person. I want to be as successful a writer as Stephen King, and as enlightened a human being as Buddha, and to live as exuberantly as my late Aunt Tilly, who was like a second mother to me.


Make the right decision when I’m in a good mental space and then put the associated behavior on autopilot, so I won’t be tempted to change it when I’m tired and stressed.

For example, setting up an automatic transfer to my IRA or savings account, so that the money gets saved without me having to decide to do it every month. (In this case, I’m outsourcing the job of being disciplined to my bank.)

Or bringing a healthy lunch to work, so it’s less tempting to spend money on junk food at the cafeteria.

Eliminate temptation altogether.

If I can’t stop myself from making impulse purchases with my credit cards, I could put those cards in a baggie and hide them in the freezer, or cut them up. If I can’t resist stopping at that amazing bakery on my way home from work, I could take a route that doesn’t pass by the bakery.

If the wrong choice isn’t even an option, I’m much less likely to feel as if I’m denying myself.

Practice making the right choice on a small scale and ease myself into good habits.

Yes, even when it comes to self-discipline, it’s an option to take the kaizen approach. :)

I could eat my usual diet, but make a rule that I must eat my (low calorie, filling) veggies first.

Or I could switch out my usual potato chips for mixed nuts or baked, whole-grain crackers.

Or substitute a chocolate cookie for that monster brownie I usually prefer.

Or instead of buying a brownie at the cafeteria, make a healthier version at home (the Sneaky Chef has a lower sugar, lower fat brownie recipe that’s bursting with nutrients and chocolatey-goodness).

Mark Joyner, creator of Simpleology, calls this “making a strengthening choice.” And even the smallest strengthening choice can send ripples out through the rest of your life.

Studies have shown that exercising your willpower regularly in small ways not only increases your willpower in the future, but it also tends to bleed over into other areas of your life. In their book Willpower, Baumeister and Tierney describe a study in which students who were coached to exercise regularly also spontaneously began to keep their homes cleaner, smoke and drink less, and procrastinate less on schoolwork.

As you get used to thinking about long-term consequences and making the right choices on a small scale, it becomes easier to do the same when faced with the big decisions.

What do you think of when you hear the word “discipline?”

What methods do you use for keeping yourself on track?

Did you enjoy this post? If so, would you please Like it on Facebook and share it with your friends?

Posted in negative patterns, Willpower | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mini-Kaizen Plan: Easing Into a New Diet

So you want to start a new diet–maybe your goal is to lose a few pounds, or maybe your doctor has recommended you change your eating habits for better health.

How can you use kaizen to ease yourself into a different way of eating? Here’s a mini-kaizen plan for transitioning to a new way of eating that can be used with any diet plan.

(Downloadable PDF worksheet: Ease Into A New Diet Worksheet)

1. Identify the rules of the diet.

Is your goal to keep your sugar or sodium or saturated fat intake below a certain level? Do you need to stay within a certain number of calories or “points”? Is the goal to avoid certain foods?

If you’re dieting by calories, your only rule might be: Eat less than 1500 calories per day.

If you’re diabetic, your rules might be: Eat less than 15 g of sugar per day and eat only whole grains.

If you’re eating to get healthier, your rule might be: Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

2. Start a food journal, where you write down everything you eat and track the relevant elements.

Don’t try to change the way you eat for at least a week or two. It’s crucial to get a complete picture of what you’re already eating, so you know where you’re starting.

3. Once you’ve got a complete picture of your usual diet, compare it to your goal.

What do you need to change to turn your current diet into your ideal diet?

  • Cut out 25 g of sugar?
  • Eat 800 calories less than usual?
  • Add three more servings of fruits and veggies?

4. Evaluate your current diet.

Which of your usual foods already meet the requirements of the diet you want to adopt? Are you already having a salad every day for lunch, or eating sugar-free marinara sauce on your spaghetti?

For the foods that don’t meet the requirements of your diet, could any of them be modified to fit?

  • Could you make your favorite sandwich lower in calories by substituting low-fat cheese and reducing or skipping the mayo?
  • Could you add raisins and dried apricots to your trail mix, to sneak in a little extra fruit?
  • Could you find a salad dressing you like that doesn’t have 6 g of sugar per tablespoon or, instead of eating blueberry yogurt with added sugar, add fresh blueberries and a touch of honey to plain yogurt?
  • Instead of ordering Dominos, what about a mini-pizza made with a whole grain English muffin, sugar-free red sauce or pesto, and low-fat cheese?

For the foods that you can’t find a way to modify, are there any dishes or foods that have a similar flavor?

  • Maybe you need to give up chili dogs at your favorite diner, but you could be almost as happy eating a bowl of homemade chili with a healthier version of a hot dog cut up in it.
  • If you’re addicted to peanut M&Ms, could you train yourself to enjoy snacking on peanuts and chocolate chips, skipping the artificially-colored candy coating?
  • Instead of eating a ham sandwich, could you add a slice of prosciutto to your chicken breast sandwich, to give you a bit of ham flavor without nearly as much salt and sugar?

5. Start with one meal.

Now that you’ve come up with some healthier versions of your favorite foods, take a look at one meal. What could you eat for that meal that fit into the diet you want to adopt?

If the rule you’re following is “stay under 1500 calories per day,” you could split that into three 400-calorie meals and three 100-calorie snacks.

Which of the things you normally eat could be 400-calorie meals or 100-calorie snacks?

If your rule is that you need to add three servings of fruits or veggies, how could you incorporate one serving into each of the meals you usually eat?

Make a list, and start eating off that list. Go easy on yourself–it’s okay to focus on getting breakfast under control for a couple of weeks before you move on to lunch. That way you won’t get overwhelmed with having to make a ton of changes and learn to cook a bunch of new recipes all at once.

Remember, the goal of this is to ease yourself into a new way of eating, not to go cold turkey on all your usual foods!

6. If the gap between your rule and the way you currently eat is too big, cut back in stages.

If you’re eating 200 g of sugar per day now, switching to a 15 g per day diet is going to put you into withdrawal and you’re unlikely to stick to it. Modify your meals to cut out the sugar in stages. Cut 20 g of sugar per meal to start. Give your body a chance to get used to that before you cut another 20 g per meal.

Same with cutting calories: if your body’s used to getting 3000 calories per day and you suddenly cut that in half, your body’s going to panic and switch to fat-hoarding starvation mode. Plus you’re going to feel miserable. Change your meals to remove 100-200 calories per day and give your metabolism a chance to adjust before you eliminate another 100-200 next week.

7. Add new foods and new recipes gradually.

If you can find time to search for one new recipe that fits your dietary requirements each week, you’re doing fantastic. One or two new recipes a month may be enough to keep you happy with your new way of eating.

As you search for new dishes you might like, think about the flavors and textures you enjoy the most. Do you have a sweet tooth? Adding new fruit-heavy recipes might be the way to go. Love creamy foods? How about smoothies with Greek yogurt, or dishes that include avocado? Look for ways to satisfy the cravings you regularly have that fit within the rules of your diet.

It’s true that you’re not going to lose 5 pounds in a week with this approach. But it’s also true that if you ease into new eating habits, you’re far more likely to stick with them in the long-term. Plus, we know from a myriad of studies that weight lost quickly tends to get regained quickly.

Slow and steady wins the diet race.

Want to eat healthier but feel too overwhelmed to get started? The Kaizen Plan for Healthy Eating is full of small, simple suggestions to ease you into eating better!

Barnes & Noble:

Posted in Diet, Health, managing blood sugar, Mini-Kaizen Plan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Don’t Let That Camel Stick Its Nose In Your Tent!

“If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.” –Arabian Proverb

I came across this proverb while researching How Horseshoe Nails Are Ruining Your Life. My first thought was, “Wow, do I have a lot of camel noses!”

In fact, ignoring Camel Noses is probably one of the top three ways I sabotage myself.

A Camel Nose can be a person–someone in your life who doesn’t respect boundaries. The coworker who needs you to cover for them just once…and then just once more…and the next thing you know, she’s somehow delegated part of her job to you (and probably taken credit for it).

But that kind of Camel Nose is the easiest to identify and say no to. The worst ones are the ones we create for ourselves, because the so-called camel is actually a bad habit or a belief.

Let’s take dieting, for example. You make yourself a healthy bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, but you guesstimate rather than measure the chopped walnuts, raisins, and dollop of honey you add for flavor. You don’t worry about it, though, because you’re probably not off by more than 50 calories. No big deal, right? You can walk that off by taking the stairs instead of the elevator on your way up to the office.

Mid-morning, one of your co-workers is eating peanut M&Ms and offers you one. One peanut M&M–that can’t be more than 15 or 20 calories right?

But after you get back to your desk, you can’t stop thinking about peanut M&Ms. And you’ve got exactly the right amount of change at the bottom of your purse. A bag of peanut M&Ms is only 250 calories. You can make that up by having a salad for lunch, or by limiting dinner to a bowl of soup.

You go with the salad, feeling virtuous because you resisted the temptation to add cheese and ham, and you chose vinaigrette dressing instead of creamy ranch.

You’re back on track, right?

Except…mid-afternoon rolls around, and you didn’t eat your usual balanced lunch. Now you’re having an energy crisis. You eat the handful of almonds you brought with you to snack on, but they’re not enough.

So you get up for coffee, and on the way back to your desk, you stop at the vending machine to buy a protein bar. That’s healthy, right? The protein will keep you satisfied until dinner, and it’s fortified with a bunch of vitamins.

You go back to work and the next thing you know, it’s 6 p.m.–you lost track of time finishing up a project for your boss, and now you’ve missed your usual bus. By the time you get home at 6:45, you’re ravenous, but you can only eat 300 calories for dinner if you want to make up for the protein bar.

An hour after you finish your soup, your stomach is growling again. Plus, you’re low on willpower as a result of all those course-correcting decisions you had to make today to compensate for one peanut M&M.

So you have a snack. And since the snack is going to take you over your calorie limit for the day anyway, you say “What the heck!” and make a big bowl of popcorn with butter.

Have you guessed the camel’s name yet? He’s called: “It’s okay if I get a little off track now, I can make up for it later.”

Here’s another one…

You notice that the dishwasher is louder than it used to be, but the dishes are still getting clean. It might be nothing, and calling a repairman is going to cost you at least $100, even if he doesn’t find anything wrong with it. So you decide to wait and see if it gets worse. Eventually you get used to it being loud, and forget about it altogether.

The toilet’s been running periodically, but if you jiggle the handle, it stops. Toilet parts are cheap, and you can probably google instructions on how to fix it–you make a mental note to do that soon. But it’s not really an emergency, and your next few weekends are packed, so you keep jiggling.

Occasionally you have trouble starting your car, but it’s an intermittent problem, and you’re usually able to get it going on the second try. You’ve had a tight couple of months and paying the mechanic would require you to dip into savings, so you put up with the minor inconvenience, promising yourself that you’ll make that appointment as soon as you get your next paycheck.

Then one day, the dying alternator in your car finally gives out, forcing you to have the car towed and pay for a taxi home…

…when you get home, you discover your dishwasher has flooded the kitchen…

…and waiting in your mailbox is a water bill that’s 20% higher than usual, thanks to that running toilet.

Have you guessed this camel’s name yet? You got it: “I don’t have time to deal with little problems, because I’ve got so many big problems on my plate.”

But guess how those big problems got started?

Whenever you…

  • rationalize that a small problem isn’t really a problem
  • decide to ignore small problems until they become emergencies

…you’re letting the camel stick its nose into your tent.

It’s not like you enjoy living with those camels. If you weren’t so tired, stressed, busy and just plain overwhelmed, you’d swat it on the nose as soon as it butted in.

Kaizen, anyone?

Which camels tend to stick their noses into your tents?

Posted in Get Organized, negative patterns, Procrastination, recurring problems, Self-Sabotage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments