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.

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It is popular in time management articles and books to help you more effectively utilize your time by learning how to prioritize what you need to do. If you are a small business owner you probably have a never ending list of things that need your attention. It is not unusual to hear people say:

“There is too much to do, and I don’t know which to prioritize”
“I’m always stressed because I procrastinate, but I procrastinate because I am always stressed out”
“I want to enjoy life and my family more. I need more time because I never have time for myself”

Stop for a moment and review what you are doing. What is important is a matter of what you do and why you do it rather than how much pressure you are feeling to get it done. Too often we get busy taking care of those things that are pressuring us. It is these “external pressures” that interfere with use from taking the time to stop and ask ourselves if what we are doing really matters to us.

Management works within your existing frame of reference and paradigm. Managing is externally driven. It means dealing in an effective way with what is “thrown at you” by the environment you are in. When you manage you are inevitably managing things, and sometimes relate to the people around you as things.

Leadership is internally driven. When you engage your personal or business leadership qualities, you are often modeling and leading people. As an internally driven leader you should first be asking yourself the question “am I doing the right things” before you ask “am I doing things right?”

Steven Covey in his book “First Things First” makes important distinctions in the type of work we do and how we spend out time. He identifies areas that are combinations of urgent and important, or not urgent and not important.
While most time management list prioritizing helps people deal with the urgent, it too often neglects the important. And while urgent issues can sometimes be important as well, they often get taken care of because they are urgent even if they are not important. In such a case, your actions are becoming driven more by external factors, which are not important to you, rather than internal meaningful purposeful ones.

Covey uses an interesting name he calls the “urgency addiction”. This is the sales manager who satisfies an irate customer, the shipping manager who must get out an overwhelmingly huge number of orders in time for Christmas, or the IT manager who gets the computer system up and running after it broke down. You may remember, feeling the “rush” of solving the urgent problem. While that is necessary, it should not take the place of following through on you pre-determined list of important goals.

The first step to working in more on important issues is to identify what is important to you. For some people that can be developing a mission statement, while for others it can be identifying a clear, concrete vision of where you are headed. It means asking yourself, “what is most important?”, “what do I want to be and to do with my life and business?”

You must set aside time each week to be asking yourself these questions. Take the time to reflect, and don’t say you are too busy. Without reflection you are on a path without direction. Imagine you are an airline pilot. Would you take off without a pre-determined flight plan and direction?

After you have reflected and re-affirmed your values, you need to decide on the steps to take during the week that will help move you in the direction of that long term goal. You must make sure that what you are scheduling is aligned with your purpose and mission.

Once you have identified what is important for you, it becomes crucial to list daily, weekly, and/or monthly goals that will help you slowly accomplish that which is important. You have to find your own comfortable way to make it happen, but do it. Remember that to accomplish your truly meaningful and important goals you must add them to your weekly to do list. Be driven by internal motivation and not only by what is urgently thrown at you..

Be realistic. The famous saying that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, means that significant achievement takes commitment, sweat and hard work. You can’t become successful small business owner overnight.

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