Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way

This book has made its way back from inside the closet, to the shelf that is in clear sight. I was looking for another book or was I putting a book away? Well, for some reason, these past few days, my intuition has been telling me to see if I still have the small book review that I wrote for a feature writing journalism course I took a little over four years ago. I figured I did and so I pulled it up and wondered, should I post it?…and so here it is.


Kaizen on the Brain:  How taking small steps can change your life.

“Shhh, don’t wake the Amygdala!”  The amygdala, a structure of the brain within the midbrain, is the control center for our flight or flight response where we detect danger or a stressful situation.  Many of us have experienced stress when we try to make quick change in our lives or when we set unmanageable goals.  Too often, we set ourselves up for failure, leaving a goal unfinished, or worst, we may never get started.

There is hope, however, if we are willing to learn a new approach to understanding and approaching change.  In his book "One Small Step Can Change Your Life:  The Kaizen Way," Robert Maurer, Ph. D., lays out his ideas on Kaizen, a Japanese management concept that entails making continuous and steady improvements.  It is a principle—a mindset—that invites you to always seek ways to make small improvements, and shows how we can apply this method to just about anything we want to change in our lives.

Written in a digestible manner, the sections are laid out in small chunks.  The tone is lively, yet authoritative, providing some history about Kaizen.  Dr. Maurer offers his readers simple, but powerful techniques on how to elicit change in our lives.  He outlines why we resist change and discusses, in lay terms, the fear response the brain goes through when we try to chew on too much.

Each chapter is devoted to an explanation, example, and application of the techniques:  ask small questions, think small thoughts, take small actions, solve small problems, bestow small thoughts, and identify small moments.  He suggests that we don’t have to employ each of these strategies, but to instead take and use the ones that make the most sense to us.

You may wonder if this may sound like just another self-help book in disguise.  But don’t let that deter you.  In this small but potent book, Dr. Maurer offers the reader the science behind why he thinks small continuous improvements work when applied to making personal change, providing practical examples and research to show why he believes Kaizen gets results. 

Already, I have been trying some of these techniques for myself, and have found that it is a challenge in itself to learn to approach things from such an incremental standpoint, but I have noticed that I’ve begun breaking things down into more manageable pieces, so that I don’t become overwhelmed with a given goal or task.  I find that in our fast paced environment, where we tend to tackle challenges by diving head first into the abyss, this is a fresh outlook, blending science, psychology, philosophy, and melding it with Kaizen. 

By opening this book, you are on your way toward re-framing the way you look at and approach change.  Much of what is offered may seem like good old common sense, but what makes this book worth reading is that it invites the reader to remember these common sense applications and understand why we resist change, showing how we can better approach it to create lasting results.  As Dr. Maurer states in his preface, the essence of Kaizen is captured in the words of Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Little Beauties from the Week

Smiley Face.

Over the past week I've seen many " little beauties." I knew they made impressions on me in the moment; I didn't realize that they would keep piling up like polished stones. When I kept being gifted yesterday morning, all of the week converged with yesterday and I needed to get it out. I wanted to freeze the moments, to place them gently into a mental basket that becomes this page.  

There was the little bird family with open beaks, all four or five of them. First open and silent, then they chirped wildly, "Feed me mamma. We're still hungry." Their nest was right outside the Marshall's store, right under a sturdy post. I stood and watched until I realized they needed their privacy. 
Then there was the day in the parking garage. I was on my way to work. I didn't get my usual spot and something caught my eye up above, something hanging down out of place. Fourth floor. Another bird nest. No one was home or they were fast asleep. This nest had a loose construction. It looked like it had streamers of dainty yellow straw hanging down, long and flowing, with a hint of glimmer from the light.
And then yesterday morning, the morning that urged me to write them down. 
There was the flock of large birds in the sky that my eye's met when I turned my head left to see if it was clear to make a left turn onto the road. I paused taking in the scene with gratitude for this. They were in V formation. Where were they headed, I wondered, and weren’t’ they migrating a little too soon? 
As I continued driving to work, I felt good inside. At another stop light, the same water fountain I see everyday seemed louder and more powerful than usual. I absorbed the swoosh of the water as it gushed out, refreshing itself and me; and then the pine cones down the side street, sitting upright in their tree—little obedient pale green lights—not yet ready to greet the world. 
And these are some of the little beauties that I have picked up along the way; and how many more have I missed? Always many more to find--some to collect and some to leave for next time. Always little beauties to be found. 
After I finished this post, this song was right at the forefront of my mind.
Song: “Beauty in the World” by Macy Gray
And Today’s photo was one I took during the Fall of last year. I found it recently when I was looking through my photo albums on the computer. I thought to myself, I’d like to post that photo with one of my blogs.  But I didn’t want to post it willy-nilly. It seemed to fit perfectly—right here—today. Can you see…

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Taking Things Personally

“When you make it a strong habit not to take anything personally, you avoid many upsets in your life. Your anger, jealousy, and envy will disappear, and even your sadness will simply disappear if you don't take things personally.”

From The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

I came across this quote this morning and it felt like a good reminder.  It reminded me of how taking things personally is an aspect of my personality and it is something that I have made great progress on throughout the years.  If my energy levels are low, that button is more likely to get pushed.  I also have incorporated activities into my life that are grounding, making them habits—rituals to make me feel whole and lessen the sensitivity buttons that have been with me since childhood. 

Lately, I’ve had my emotions all over the place. I have downloaded several Apps from the Apple store and have figured out how I will be using some of the journal writing Apps using them in a way to not only capture when I’m having an emotional or insecure moment, but to capture a whimsy, a photo—anything really, even a doodle with my finger. I used to pour my heart out on the physical page, but now I use the “Day One” App that seems a comfortable place to do this.

As far as my moods and emotions go, every lemon can become sweet.  I am not a sour lemon, but sometimes I need a little sugar and that comes to me in the form of simple things, a smile; taking time for myself to recuperate from the information overload of life. Walking is always a soothing remedy, staring into the sky, losing myself in the clouds; reading and writing make me feel able to keep processing, connecting, sharing. When I stay true to myself and continue the inner work, I am better able to be a source of positive energy. I feel best when I can laugh and laugh and laugh until the laughter is out of control.

Today’s photo was taken of the small rose garden in the park outside the library. Whenever I walk by, I feel lifted. It’s nice to watch the roses go through their different stages.

Happy Writing!


Some Apple iPhone/iPod Touch Apps I use for jotting down thoughts (As far as I know, these are all Apple Apps from the Apple iTunes store):

-Notes.  I especially enjoy the simple “Notes” App that comes preinstalled. It’s simple, straightforward, I can see the list at a quick glance, and I didn’t realize until recently that when I synch up my iPod Touch with my computer, it automatically saves my notes in a folder titled “Notes” in my Yahoo Mail account.

-Wonderful Days – Diary with Style (HandyPadSoft (Tong Liu) (WFD). $2.99. This is a visually appealing writing App. As the name suggests, it helps get you writing about your day—every day. You can add photos, change the backgrounds, add a mood and weather icon. I still have some exploring to do, but I try to get something in here, some little observation for the day.

If you’d like to see a 2 minute YouTube on Wonderful Days – Diary with Style, check this out:

-Evernote. Free. I had downloaded Evernote some time ago and I must admit I love the bright green background of the icon and the elephant on top. Love elephants! From what I’ve read, it’s a pretty powerful App that you can record anything to including web content, photos, etc. and it synchs up and save all this information to its server—sort of like the Cloud concept. Anyhow, what made me start using it more is that Wonderful Days syncs up with it, so I have a copy saved in two places and can access it when I’m out and about.

Another feature I have begun taking advantage of is the ease of creating different “Notebooks” to organize your ideas.

It looks like Evernote actually can be downloaded to PCs and android phones.

-Day One (Bloom Built, LLC). $1.99. This has become my mood diary. I like that the interface is clean and simple and when I open it, it asks me for my password. It feels secure, like a real diary. I do my mental processing here and try to see if different themes come up or if there are any patterns that I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. So far, it has felt great; and it’s also great that I have not had to use it too much, but just the right amount.

-Project 365. Free. This is an App where you can record a photo for each day of the year. I haven’t been diligent about it, but I do have some photos that I inserted on special days or days I wanted to remember with a photo; text can also be inserted. You can then view the calendar and all your photos appear, one for each day.

-Writing Prompts. $1.99. Just for fun, I downloaded this App this morning. I haven’t explored it much yet, but it seems like a fun one when you need a little boost.

Here’s a short video clip I found on

When I started this morning, with the quote, I didn’t realize I was going to talk about some of the writing Apps I’ve enjoyed, but that’s what happens. There are some poetry Apps if you do a search. Actually, there is an article that discusses some new poetry Apps and of course if you search under poetry in the Apple Apps store, you can explore what else they have. Here is the article, “Apps for Poets:”

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Good Day

This is just a beginning, to get me started. I’m still processing how I felt walking the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time. I’m not sure why I chose this picture, just a glimpse of the bridge, not even a glimpse—all ocean.

What stands out for me is waking from sleep slowly the morning after; with eyes still closed, I put myself there again and holding onto the bridge tight because looking down and imaging myself there looking down sent the butterfly feeling down into my tummy. I kept repeating the scene over and over, calling up the feeling of falling. I couldn’t do it while I was there because it was too close. This beginning may end here, but I hope that I am able to write more later about my visit. But this may very well be it. Bridge, ocean, wind, boats—a good day.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"I Hate the Wind"

“I hate the wind,” she said.

Those words, like a spear to my spirit.

She grew up with the wind her whole childhood, so for her, he is a nuisance.
I imagine it spun her around, brushing her long hair into her face.

Where she lives, the land is filled with dirt roads, dry earth. When we visited her, it was indeed windy, but you see, I love the wind. I love how when I’m hiking in the hills, it pulls me along, and how it speaks in my ear, how it takes me by my finger tips and leads me along its path.

I can understand, though, how because she was with the wind all the time, she had a very different relationship with it. Whereas, for me, I don’t meet the wind all that often, so when he visits, I cherish him.

When we visited her, the wind howled and howled and slapped itself down upon the leaves of the trees and pushed the tangled weeds all around the yard. My hair is short, so it didn’t unloosen, nor did it swing it around.

Only once or maybe twice do I remember being a little frustrated with the wind. It was a day I was walking home and I was already in a mood and I had long hair and was holding plastic bags of light things, so my hair was flying around, the bags were flying around and the wind was pulling me against my will; and when I tried to pull my hair back into place, the bags would sling and fall off my arm. That day the wind was foe.

But you know I love you, dear wind; I invite you to play with me and to dance with me, to parade me around, as I open my arms, close my eyes and fly with you into the vastness of the open sky, the open land. You are my wings, dear wind; You are always welcome and I’m glad that I haven’t had too much of you, so that I can still appreciate you and not hate you.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Music Morning

I was “cleaning up” the music that I transferred to my iPod Touch. The transfer was a pain—at least I thought it was a pain until I figured out how to do it because most of the MP3 music I purchased was through Napster and they do not sych directly with Apple. That almost had me in tears because I kept fumbling, looking at the clock, knowing I needed to get out of the house and to work, but I didn’t want to go until I conquered the task at hand.

This morning I removed all the Christmas music because it’s not the time. As I scrolled through to see what else to remove, there were some duplications—Remove. Then I saw the Calypso music and one of my favorite songs called “My Bahan Gal” by Calypso Al. It has such a wonderful, lively beat, that makes me want to swing my arms and dance around like I have no choice because the music hits me in such a way that I cannot help but swing to the groove and imagine myself on a sandy beach at sunset with a fire in the background and lots of people having a good time and enjoying life. I tried to find a YouTube with the song, but had no luck.

My music adventures this morning led me to this very short You Tube clip that is so very adorable. The music begins after 25 seconds. The whole video is only 1:08 minutes.

Caribbean Calypso (Helen and Nita – It’s a short dance rehearsal of some very cute older folks).

And then the next song that played in my list is Frank Sinatra’s “My Funny Valentine.”  Of course I found a You Tube clip for this one.

Happy day!

p.s. If you’re in the mood to read about: “Muzak History: The Background Story on Background Music,” here is the link. It’s from an online website called  They have many stimulating articles that span a variety of interests.

“Muzak History: The Background Story on Background Music”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Three Moons

I woke in the middle of the night to the brightest presence staring back at me. I sleep on the window side and I hoisted myself up on the window sill to steady myself. The full moon was brilliant; it angled toward the window giving the appearance of three moons telescoping out—as though it had two shadows. I kept looking and tilting my head from left to right and back again. Sleepy and drunk at the sight of the moon(s), I wondered, could I really be seeing three moons? I must have caused a stir because my significant other pushed himself up from his deep sleep.
“What are you looking at,” he said, sounding a little groggy.
“The moon looks like it has two shadows,” I replied earnestly.
“Oh…I thought someone was looking inside the window.”
“Someone is—it's the moon.” I gave a small giggle. He gave a friendly grumble, got up to use the bathroom. While he was in there, I scooted over quickly to look out the screen side of the open window and saw my one moon.
We went back to sleep with no words, just the bright light of the moon keeping us safe.  But really, I knew it was three moons.

Monday, July 11, 2011


There’s a slow feeling to this Monday morning. The fog has shown up in full cloak to cut the heat of the past few weeks—the heat that felt like big blocks of stifled air, yet I started to get used to it—the feel of my own breath being pulled into the hot vacuum of Summer.