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Two years ago my father died. He always wanted to change his life but it took his death for this change to manifest. He finally succumbed to heart disease.

In his new book, Change or Die, Alan Deutschman takes the reader on a philosophical adventure: to answer the biggest what if question of your life. If your death was inevitable unless you changed, what are the odds that you would change? Are you saying to yourself, but yes, if my life depended on it, I would definitely change? During IBM’s 2004 “Global Innovation Outlook” conference, Dr. Edward Miller, dean of John Hopkins medical school and CEO of its university discussed the prognosis of patients with heart disease and reported that the odds are nine to one against an individual changing based on scientific research.

Does anyone challenge this position? If the top minds of Johns Hopkins and the Global Medical Forum can’t effect change, how can one individual hope to change?

This book cites the findings of John Kotter, Harvard business school professor and Dr. Dean Ornish, professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute. Both Kotter and Ornish believe that we have to outmaneuver the mind and focus on an individual’s feelings, the emotional dimension. Ornish reports that focusing on the psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions will actually reverse heart disease without engaging the traditional medical model response to treatment. His clinical trials included patients with severely clogged arteries who engaged in a structured program of meditation, relaxation, yoga, and aerobic exercise for one year while attending support group meetings. Interestingly enough, after three years, 77% retained the lifestyle changes and avoided traumatic and costly heart surgeries.

How many times have we heard: the mind is your worst enemy? The reason is that we evolved to handle all kinds of strife. However, when was the last time you faced the danger of a dinosaur or a saber-toothed tiger in your driveway or crossing the street? According to Dr. Robert Maurer, Associate Clinical Professor at UCLA School of Medicine and author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life, the Kaizen Way, change is frightening. This fear of change is rooted in the brain’s physiology, and when fear takes hold, it can prevent creativity, change, and success.  The amygdala located within our midbrain triggers the “fight or flight” response when faced with danger. This instinctive process slows down our rational and creative thinking patterns. When we’re in “fight or flight” mode, logical reasoning goes out the window. What are we left with? Our fear. This fear triggers anger, which ensues in attack posturing or escapism. How do we find the secret trap door to get out of this place and stop the discomfort?

Maurer suggests an alternative. The kaizen way is outmaneuvering this natural pattern. Instead of making sweeping massive changes that will overtax and engage the amygdala, he recommends small baby steps. Tiny minute actions guarantee success. For example, he suggests removing and organizing one paper clip off a disorganized, cluttered desk to start this process and whiz right past the amygdala. Soon, by repeating these baby steps, your brain slowly starts reformatting its hard drive and you will start seeing change at a comfortable pace.

So what does this all mean? All of us have built mental structures that frame how we perceive the world and ourselves. In order to change, we need to break down these structures and reformat our hard drives (our minds). This would be very difficult unless we had support and adopted the kaizen way.

Heart patients are faced with the ultimate challenge: to change or die.  For the rest of us, the issue is change or lose your mind.  Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor and neuroscientist at the University of California at San Francisco cites that if one lives to the age of 85, your odds are 50/50 that you will experience senility. He recommends a mental fitness program of continued learning to keep the machinery of the mind working. In order to experience complex new learning, one must create new challenges or the mind starts dying. Being creative and innovative is conducive to new learning. The message is simple: change before you die. Change is good for your life and your mental health.

Posted by Wanda Ropa, The Success Coach.

One Response to “Death, the Ultimate Change: Musings from Your Success Coach”

  1. Dyana says:

    Interesting. I have often wondered if I was given a diagnosis of a certain amount of time to live what would I do? I start to imagine and funny, but quit my job always springs to the top of the list! I wonder why I would need a terminal diagnosis of some kind before I feel it is ‘ok’ to ditch my responsibilites and do what I want….?

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