How Small Changes Can Lead to Big Results

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step.” – Lao Tzu


I’ve got a picture of an elephant hanging in my office. It’s there to remind me of two things:

  1. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
  2. By the mile it’s a trial, by the yard it’s hard, by the inch it’s a cinch.

I love the idea of accomplishing big things. But the work of getting there can quickly become exhausting.

That’s why I loved One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer. It’s a book about the kaizen philosophy: an embrace of ridiculously small steps which can lead to significant change over time.

I’ve known that the “go big or go home” philosophy is dumb and dangerous for awhile now. I’ve read (and re-read) Getting Things Done and understand the importance of breaking projects down into bite-sized chunks and defining next actions.

And yet. There’s still a part of me that wants to ignore the wisdom of all that and take on more than I can handle. I needed this book to rein me back in.

Here what I found most helpful in Maurer’s work:

Change doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it. Using Kaizen, we can practice taking simple, small steps that eventually lead to big results.

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step.” – Lao Tzu

We think that taking massive action will create the change we’re looking for, but it usually backfires. Trying to change too much, too soon, is a setup for failure.  “Too often, you meet with success in the short term, only to find yourself falling back into your old ways when your initial burst of enthusiasm fades away. Radical change is like charging up a steep hill – you may run out of wind before you reach the crest, or the thought of all the work ahead makes you give up no sooner than you’ve begun.”

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” Helen Keller

“Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small incremental improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.” John Wooden

“All kaizen asks is that you take small, comfortable steps towards improvement.”

“Low-key change helps the human mind circumnavigate the fear that blocks success and creativity.”

“While the steps may be small, what you’re reaching for is not.”

Our brains are often irrationally afraid. We imagine worst case scenarios and avoid taking risks. We set ourselves up for failure by creating huge goals, which then trigger our fear/stress response, which then shuts down our higher level/logical thinking, which in turn paralyzes us or causes us to run away, which leads to our inevitable failure. The kaizen approach bypasses our lizard brain by assuring us that it’s only a small risk, a small step, and therefore we are relatively safe in pursuing our goals. Kaizen “unsticks you from a creative block, bypasses the fight-or-flight response, and creates new connections between neurons so that the brain enthusiastically takes over the process of change and you progress rapidly towards your goal.”

So too, big questions can overwhelm us and others. A boss asking, “What is each of you going to do to make our company the best in the industry?” shuts employees down. A boss asking, “Can you think of a very small step you might take to improve our process or product?” opens employees up. Kaizen questions are so small and non-threatening that they bypass our defenses and allow us to leverage our subconscious and intuition.

Mind-sculpture (a form of visualization) is another kaizen technique we can use to tackle big things in approachable ways. “It requires practitioners to pretend that they are actually engaged in the action, not just seeing but hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. In mind sculpture, people imagine the movement of their muscles, and the rise and fall of their emotions. in this way, you can approach a difficult task with a purely mental rehearsal, avoiding the unproductive fear that comes with the ‘feet-first’ strategy. You can train your brain by small increments to develop the new set of skills it needs to actually engage in this task.”

Examples of kaizen goals and actions:

Screenshot 2018-02-17 at 9.40.50 AM

“People who struggle with kaizen do so not because the steps are hard but because they are easy. They can’t overcome the cultural training that says change must always be instantaneous, it must always require steely self-discipline, and it must never be pleasurable. We think that if we’re hard on ourselves, exhorting ourselves to do more and to do it faster, we’ll get better results. We say: How can I get to my goal in one minute a day? At this rate, it’ll take years! But kaizen asks us to be patient. It asks us to have faith that with small steps, we can better overcome the mind’s initial resistance to change.

By practicing kaizen, we can help ourselves transition from not wanting to do something to actually desiring it. Kaizen reduces drag and increases motivation. Kaizen makes it easier to do the right things and harder to do the wrong things.

Kaizen works both ways; it’s not just about establishing good habits or achieving positive goals, but also about catching bad ones and noticing problems while they are still small before they have a chance to become big.

Kaizen can become a way of life – appreciating the small gifts that life brings; embracing small ways of loving others.

The essence of kaizen: “an optimistic belief in our potential for continuous improvement.”

So there you have it. Post some of those quotes where you can see them, and  consider picking up a copy of the book. You could read, like, one page a day. 😉

Making a Better Workspace

How to upgrade your standing, sitting, posture, eyesight, and environment. You’re welcome.

Your office should be a place that energizes you and helps you succeed. Here’s how to make it better:



  • Use a treadmill desk or a standing desk. Some good options for the latter include the Varidesk, Ikea’s Skarsta, a simple bookshelf, or even this.
  • Try to move while standing. Some good options include the Fluidstance, a basic balance board, a Topo Mat, an Airex balance pad, or a fidget bar.
  • Opt for standing or walking meetings when possible.



  • Lotus is best (if you can swing it), followed by sitting cross-legged.
  • Alternatively, you can mix it up with one of these.



  • Stand or sit with your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and your head up.
  • Your monitor should be eye level and your keyboard should be elbow level. I use a monitor stand and basic bluetooth keyboard to achieve this.


Young working woman looking out window

  • Give your eyes a break every 20-25 minutes by looking out a window or focusing on something non-digital.
  • Run f.lux or something similar 24/7 to avoid overdosing on blue light.
  • Avoid fluorescent lighting and opt for natural and/or full spectrum led.



  • Strive for a clean, uncluttered, welcoming work environment.
  • Fill your space with meaningful, inspirational quotes and images.
  • Use noise-cancelling headphones or something similar to help you focus. Some people like services such as
  • Run a diffuser with essential oils like this if you work from home or your coworkers don’t mind.
  • Buy some plants to clean the air and creating a more natural vibe.
  • Open the windows for fresh air when possible.



Don’t Burn the Candle at Both Ends

Being too busy isn’t a badge of honor; it’s poor stewardship.



When you hear the phrase “burning the candle at both ends” what comes to mind? Maybe you think of someone working late, waking early, and over-exerting themselves. I know I did.
But then I got to thinking, when was the last time I actually saw someone burning a candle at both ends? Even here in Amish country, this has yet to happen. Which led me to wonder, “Where does this phrase come from and what does it actually mean?”
Google to the rescue. According to…
“The ‘both ends’ weren’t the ends of the day but were a literal reference to the two ends of a candle. Candles were useful and valuable and the notion of waste suggested by lighting both ends at once implied reckless waste. This thought may well have been accentuated by the fact that candles may only be lit at both ends when held horizontally, which would cause them to drip and burn out quickly.”
Fascinating. Burning the candle at both ends is actually a reference to poor stewardship. When you overdo any aspect of your life, you are mismanaging it. You might burn brighter for awhile, but then you’ll quickly burn out.
Surely you’ve known people like this. Perhaps you are someone like this. I myself am a recovering both-ends burner.
The Bible points us to a better way. As seen in its opening chapters, we are created to work, but also to rest. We need healthy rhythms of surging and retreating to do either well. Overworking dehumanizes us and limits our God-given potential. Instead of bringing our best, we bring our leftovers. The more we overwork, the less we have to bring to work.
In our cult-of-busyness culture, burning the candle at both ends can be seen as a necessary evil or a even badge of honor. But when we pause to think about it, we know it’s unsustainable and that there’s more to life than getting things done.
You are the light of the world. Don’t hide your candle, but don’t burn it at both ends either.