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Making Changes – 1 small step at a time

Change in any form can be challenging, some people find big changes are scary, for some people it's really stressful. Part of the reason apparently is how our brains have developed over the many thousands of years we have been around, in fact your brain is designed to respond to change by triggering your fear response, the fight or flight response and when it does this it pulls all the oxygen supply's away from your higher level brain and into your muscles to get ready to save your life.

Your brain is actually made up of 3 parts, you could say separate brains each with different responsibilities, the brain stem developed about half a million years ago and is in charge of the basics of breathing and that sort of stuff so really useful to have this. Just above this is the mid brain, also called the mammalian brain since all mammals have it and this is only 300 million years ago. It's in charge of emotions and temperature regulation in your body (perhaps why we get hot flushes sometimes!) The 3rd and final brain which surrounds the mid brain is the cerebral cortex, which is pretty new, it's only been around 100 million years and looks after the real cleaver stuff of thinking, reason, creativity, language and so on. It's this part of the brain that makes idea's, art, music, conversation, debate, reason and so much more possible.

So, guess what part of the brain you want to work with for making changes... yep the cortex

The Bothersome Mid Brain

The problem is that when you want to make change the amygdala which is in the mid brain jumps in and says hold on a minute, you can't use that part of your brain, change could be scary best I check it out 1st. You see the amygdala is where the fight or flight decisions are made. While it's deciding what to do it's blocking anything getting to the cerebral cortex and there is not clever thinking happening just underlying fear. Remember this brain is designed to keep you safe so it's thinking about things like running away from lions (you really don't want to stop and ponder the options if a lion is heading your way with a napkin around its neck thinking about you as dinner) or anything else that would be different from the norm.. and that's the problem, a big change, different from the norm is scary... what does the amygdala do... protect!!! So, lets run away or fight to stay here, where it's safe. Now remember earlier we pointed out that this response stole oxygen from your brain to feed your muscles, guess what your cerebral brain needs to think well… yep oxygen, so that's' no longer going to work well in times of stress which is what a big change is.

The Sneaky Little Change (SLC's)

Ok so we don't really like big changes, it upsets that mid brain, then how can we change? Simple, take really small, nonthreatening change at a time, I call them SLC's, sneaky little changes.

The amygdala isn't looking for the small stuff it's looking for the big lion so small changes sneak past it without it suddenly waking up and shouting RUN!!!!!!!!! You don't get stressed and so the cerebral mind keeps working and your higher-level thinking is there, at your disposal all the time. By making a small change, then another and another you inch your way towards a new state, a new way of working, a new habit and suddenly which out that mid brain of yours knowing it you have reached the same goal as the original big change but in smaller nonthreatening steps that all add up.

Kaizen – the SLC of improvements

Within your organisation the name you may know these SLC's by is actually Kaizen. By adding up a whole bunch of small innocuous Kaizen events or changes you reach your ultimate amazing goal. Leaders and staff can look for little changes they can do which on their own may be nothing or may be something but when you add all of them you not only get a single larger picture improvement you get real continuous improvement and you get it with out the fear, the gnashing of teeth, or roar of the approaching lion.

Asking someone what is the 1 little think you could do to change this thing that annoys you? Or what's the little thing you can do today without spending money that will make tomorrow better. Emphasise the work little as much as you can, it's what helps keep the focus!


Frequently major ground breaking or revolutionary changes made in your organisations either don't stick or don't truly get there at all because the fear elements kick in. That's just how nature works, knowing this and taking this into account when you look to change your business helps you make better plans for the change. By setting a clear end goal of where you want to get to (you may hear it called the north star) you give direction, then instead of looking for big bang changes look for lots and lots of small steps. It allows everyone to get involve and contribute to the change with their creativity and their knowledge without waking up that amygdala and setting of the alarm bells that a lion is coming, keep it simple, look for momentum and rather than big jumps keep it to small steps because after all we can all do small changes, we can all carry out a sneaky little change each day to reach that goal way off in the distance.

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Saturday, 17 August 2019

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