Do you set yourself up for failure by biting off more than you can chew?

When my coach recently asked this I confidently said no. A couple of weeks later, as I was watering the garden, it hit me – I’d been in total denial. I absolutely did have a pattern of setting myself up for failure; I just wasn’t able to see this through the haze of my high-expectations, e.g. ‘I’m not setting myself up for failure, obviously I should be able to do x, y. z.’

It’s so tempting when we set out to make positive changes in our lives to think we have to go for it 100%. All or nothing. Now or never. And it has to be ALL right NOW. Total revolution, dramatic sweeping change. Sounds exciting right? My pitta constitution loves this sort of thing. I want to start writing out elaborate plans around what this amazing new life is going to look like. Clear-cut rules about what I will and wont do. I will never eat sugar again, from tomorrow it’ll be pure green juice and salad, everything will be wholesome and nutritious and I will feel amazing and well nourished.

The problem is we’re wired to resist big, sweeping change. Even if it’s positive, our nervous system finds it scary. When we’re afraid our stress response is triggered. The amygdala part of our brain, the part that sets us off into fight, flight or freeze mode, doesn’t want us doing anything too different, too outside the safety of familiarity and our comfort zone, It’s trying to keep us safe but hijacking our best intentions in the process.

The key to bypass the stress response and ensure you’re able to follow through to see lasting change and epic results is to not bite off more than you can chew. I know that doesn’t sound very exciting, but that’s the point. Your nervous system stays chillaxed meaning you can keep moving forwards in the right direction, one small step at a time. You can achieve great and grandiose things, but break it down into tiny manageable chunks.

Kaizen – Small Continuous Improvements

Kaizen is a Japanese concept. It literally means “improvement” and has been traditionally applied within the business context. It’s an approach that favours continuously making small improvements and refinements to streamline processes and make things more efficient and effective over longer periods of time. No revolution. No sweeping change.

The concept came to the West during World War II. When France fell to Nazi Germany the American government realized that it would need to supply the allies with arms and ammunition. Many domestic food factories were quickly converted to factories for war supplies. But many of the best managers and workers were leaving to fight in the war. The situation was dire. Fortunately, it’s well documented that constraints and challenges drive creative genius. And so Kaizen was born in the US. The US government created a program called Training Within Industry (TWI) designed to teach the factories how to be more efficient and productive. It was kinda critical. One of the important messages of TWI was to avoid complete overhauls or massive makeovers. There just wasn’t time, there was a war going on!! Instead the focus was on continuous improvements. The lots-of-tiny-changes that could be made to impact productivity and effectiveness overall.

Kaizen is in the on-going process of continually making small improvements that improve processes. It’s about taking the low hanging fruit, making the tiny investment in a small behaviour that will give a huge return over the long-haul.

What I’ve discovered over the last few months is the power that this approach can have when applied to our own lives. We can kaizen our way to anything we want.

A common example is losing weight. Ditch the radical crash diets that are going to either crash before you see your results, or you see results but it’s so unsustainable that your brain just pings you right back to your baseline behaviours and pre-diet weight as soon as you’ve run out of the steam required to sustain it. Instead, just leave a bite of food on your plate at each meal. How easy is that? After a couple of months if you want to take it up a notch leave two bites. Easy. But your weight will head in the right direction over time.

Small steps means no stress response is triggered so you can follow through to the results you want.

Whenever you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by something that you want to do, first, notice the overwhelm. Notice yourself setting yourself up for failure by trying to compute and do too much or too many things at once. Then, before throwing the towel in ask yourself, what’s one tiny thing that I can do to step in that direction? What’s the smallest thing that’s so easy I can’t say no?

I was recently inspired by a friend who posted a photo on instagram of her rubbish for the fortnight. It was literally the size of shoebox. I was embarrassed by my own terrible efforts on the eco-front and incredibly impressed and inspired by hers. It got me thinking about how much greener I could be. I got all fired up and had some big plans to overhaul things, there were so many things I could and needed to do to improve on this front. BAM the overwhelm hit. I froze. I hit the wall of resistance. It’s too hard. I can’t be bothered. The problem is bigger than me. Overwhelm central. Thanks to the last few months I’ve realized my own tendency to set myself up for failure with this mindset. With kaizen in my toolkit I know now to just stop and evaluate. What one small thing could I do in that direction? A reassuring voice to my inner-overwhelmed child coos don’t worry about doing everything. If you try to do everything you’ll end up doing nothing, so focus, hone in on the one tiny thing you can do. It should be so tiny and easy that you can’t say no. So there’s no stress response.

I ended up getting my abandoned food compost bin out from disuse and back on the kitchen counter so that all food waste is being composted, as it should. One small step in the right direction.