This is the second of three offerings of wisdom in honor of a New Year and Decade.


This insight sprang from our family’s holiday tradition in our family of giving books we think our loved ones will find meaningful and useful. Our daughter gave us a book by Robert Maurer called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. It is a short, easy-to-read guide with practical advice on how to begin life’s longest journeys — with the proverbial single step.


Maurer is a psychologist and consultant who believes that the Kaizen philosophy of small, continuous improvement help our brains shortcut fear and the “fight or flight” reactions inspired by big change.


One of the suggestions we found particularly useful was the idea of “visualizing” your way to positive change. For example, we often hear from people who tell us they want to engage in authentic conversations at work, but are stymied by the traditional organizational cultures that reward manipulation and compliance as a means of getting along and getting ahead. Speaking the truth, especially to those who we see as having “power” over us, feels too risky. Consequently, even though people can see the business benefits of telling the truth with goodwill, owning their own contribution to a problem and raising difficult issues, the fear of doing it keeps them stuck.


One of the ways to make the change feel less daunting is to spend only a minute or two each day imagining an authentic conversation with a colleague, peer or supervisor. These mental mini-rehearsals are safe, and kick start the brain into a new habit. In one minute, you can imagine what you might say or do differently in specific situations, and reflect on how outcomes might be different if you do.


The next step might be equally small, yet powerfully effective. Think about one small action you could do each day, or even a few times a week, that would inch you along in your desire for authentic conversations. For example, you might vow that at least once a day, you will tell the truth as you know it, with compassion and goodwill, in a situation where you might once have kept silent instead.


Maurer says these tiny, incremental steps trick the brain into thinking, “This is such a small change, it’s no big deal. Nothing to be afraid of here.”


And it is in these small changes that big transformation slowly unfolds.