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The practice of mindfulness helps us manage stress, lower anxiety, and manage symptoms of depression. Although developing the habit of keeping awareness in the present moment may seem daunting, it does not have to be.
The fastest route to a goal is frequently made by taking incremental steps. This is the concept behind kaizen, a Japanese method of reaching goals by inching toward them. Utilizing kaizen principles is a sure and steady way to instill a habit of mindfulness.
Taking tiny steps to create a new habit works because tiny steps do not trigger the amygdala, our brain’s watchdog for danger. When we are in actual danger, our trusty amygdala shuts down thought processes not related to our emergency and prepares our body to either flee or fight.
This protective mechanism can save our life when facing a snake on a trail or if something goes bump during the night. The problem is that our amygdala does not discern actual threats from the feelings created when we face change, even if the change is a healthy one that we desire.
Although mindfulness does not sound intimidating, practicing it alters how we interact with the world, and it may bring into question our established sense of identity. Our amygdala picks up on our anticipation of this change and warns us of danger, creating resistance to the practice.
This is where kaizen comes in. To slip past the watchdog in our brain, we need to take a mindfulness practice step that is so small, the dog keeps snoozing. By repeating this small nano-step day after day, a new habit begins to form.
Let's say you would like to experience the benefits of mindfulness but the road to accomplishing it seems too long. You worry about having your attention in the present moment since you are so used to always thinking about the past and the future. How can you get past this resistance?
You need to choose a mindfulness practice step that is so small it creates no anxiety. For instance, you can decide that every day at lunch you will consume your first bite of food mindfully. You will focus your awareness on the food’s smell, its texture in your mouth, the motion of your jaw as you chew, the flavor of the food, how the flavor and texture change as you chew, how your tongue pushes the prepared food back to your throat, the swallow, and the aftertaste in your mouth.
The practice is simply to do this everyday at lunch until you notice it has become habitual. Then you are ready to add another micro step, such as mindfully eating your first mouthful at both lunch and dinner, or mindfully brushing your teeth each night.
Taking small, repetitive steps creates new pathways in our brain, helping us to establish healthy habits that pay big dividends.
All changes, even positive ones, are scary. Attempts to reach goals through radical or revolutionary means often fail because they heighten fear. But the small steps of kaizen disarm the brain's fear response, stimulating rational thought and creative play. ~ Robert Maurer
Source: Maurer, Robert Ph.D., One Small Step Can Change Your Life, Workman Publishing.
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