Podcast #153 – Psychologist Robert Maurer, PhD, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way

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Joining me for Podcast #153 is Robert Maurer, PhD,  Director of Behavioral Sciences for the Family Practice Residency Program at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and a faculty member with the UCLA School of Medicine. We are talking about his excellent book titled One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.

I discovered Maurer's book when doing research for our recently-published  Healthcare Kaizen. Here is my earlier review and blog post about his book. It's really interesting to hear about applying the Kaizen approach in the realm of psychology and therapy instead of the workplace. Maurer writes about the brain chemistry that causes people to “fear change” – except when it's small change. Fascinating stuff and I'm thrilled to have spoken with him a few months back.

For a link to this episode, refer people to  www.leanblog.org/153/.

For earlier episodes, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to  subscribe via RSS  or via Apple Podcasts.

If you have feedback on the podcast, or any questions for me or my guests, you can email me at leanpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave a voicemail by calling the “Lean Line” at (817) 993-0630 or contact me via Skype id “mgraban”. Please give your location and your first name. Any comments (email or voicemail) might be used in follow ups to the podcast.

Partial Transcript:

Mark Graban: Hi, this is Mark Graban. Welcome to podcast 153 for July 24th, 2012. Joining me today is Robert Maurer, PhD. He is director of behavioral sciences for the family practice residency program at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center, and he's a faculty member with the UCLA School of Medicine. In this episode, we're talking about an excellent book that he wrote called “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.” Yes, that's right, kaizen, and it's a topic near and dear to my heart, of course. I discovered Dr. Maurer's book when doing research for our book, “Healthcare Kaizen,” with Joe Swartz.

I blogged about the book. There's a review posted. I'll link to it here in the show notes at leanblog.org/153. It's really interesting to hear Dr. Maurer write about and talk about applying this kaizen, continuous small change approach, in the realm of therapy instead of the workplace.

He writes about the brain chemistry that causes people to fear change, this is, if you will, our reptile brain, except when it's small changes. It's really fascinating stuff. I'm thrilled to have a chance to talk to him and to share our conversation with you. For this and all episodes, you can go to leanpodcast.org. Thanks for listening.

Mark: I'm really curious how you first go exposed to kaizen from your perspective. We think of kaizen and lean as being workplace improvement methodologies. You're working with individuals focused on their lives. How did you get started with this?

Robert: In a very roundabout way, given this opportunity I have in family medicine, it presented some unique fascinations and some amazing frustrations, because most therapists sit in an office or a clinic waiting for people to create enough pain in their life, run out of excuses. Then they come in late in the process, whereas the average Americans go to the doctor three or four times a year for relatively ordinary kinds of concerns.

Here's this amazing opportunity, Mark, to be in an exam room, seeing a patient before they get married and create marital problems, before they have children that they have problems with, before they become depressed, yet we had no tools on how to predict health in people who are essentially there for brief amounts of time.

Long story short, I began collecting studies from around the world on people who were succeeding in their jobs, their health, and relationship over long periods of time. There are about two dozens studies that have followed people anywhere from 15 years to 70 years to see, again, what predicts success in all three areas of life, health, relationship, and work.

One day, I was reading the newspaper, and there was a full page ad for the Toyota brand of Lexus. For the umpteenth year, they had won the J.D. Power customer satisfaction award.

A thought went through my mind, “Well, maybe metaphorically, there's something about building a highâ€'quality car consistently year after year that, metaphorically, I might be able to apply to human behavior.”

I started to look at the history of Toyota and Lexus, and there's a book called “The Machine that Changed the World,” I think by a man named Womack, if I remember right. I thought it would be about computers, but as you probably know, it's about automobiles.

In it, he talks about Dr. W. Edwards Deming, and the idea of small steps that they introduced in manufacturing in World War II, and that was then Dr. Deming and the concepts of small steps to improve quality products was incorporated into the whole Japanese philosophy embraced by Toyota, etc.

That was how I got introduced to kaizen, through trying to see metaphorically if there was something about a quality car I could apply to a quality life.

Mark: How did you get started with applying these ideas, then, with the patients in the realm of therapy?

Robert: In the clinic in which I work, our major focus is, of course, in terms of physical health. That was my first interest, although I'll take you through a little bit of the research on the couples work, which has even more dramatic impacts for kaizen, because we see a lot of people, like a lot of your listeners, who are leading very busy lives, and have very little time to do the kinds of things that we know people need to do in terms of exercising an hour day, etc., etc.

We found that if we could get people to exercise one minute a day, every single day, all of a sudden we took away all their excuses, because if I ask you to exercise an hour a day, you've got all kinds of good reasons why you don't have time to do that, but if I ask you to exercise in place while you're watching TV one minute a day, then all of a sudden you're developing a habit.

Years ago, Mark, before I heard of kaizen, there was this world famous expert at UCLA giving a two evening course on cancer pain. At the end of the night, he said to these cancer patients, “I want you all to go home and meditate for one minute.”

I waited for all these patients to leave, and I went up to the professor and said, “Sir, why are you asking them to meditate for one minute? It's not enough to do them any good.” He patiently said to me, “How old is meditation?” I said, “Thousands of years old.”

He responded, “Correct. There's a good chance everybody in this room has heard of it before tonight. Those who like the idea have already found a book or a teacher, and are doing it. For the rest of the people in this room, meditation's the worst idea they have heard of.”

“I'd rather they go home and meditate for one minute than not meditate for 30. If they discover they like it, they may forget to stop,” which is what the research argues. It was a study done in Seattle, where they looked at people who, over the course of an entire, gardened or walked for just an hour.

That's a total in the whole week, which is about 450 calories, and lowered their risk of cardiac death by 70 percent.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a couple of years ago we found, talked about the fact that if you exercise three minutes at a time for a total of 30 minutes a day, but just three minutes at a time, even climbing steps in your office building, you had the same reduction in cardiac risk as someone that was exercising 30 minutes a day.

The Framingham study, the most famous of the prospective studies, were in 1984, they began following 5,200 people, and they found if you took one pound off a year for four years, that is, again, four pounds total, and kept it off, you reduced your risk of hypertension by 25 percent.

My favorite study, and then I'll talk a little bit about the couples research, was done at the Mayo Clinic, where they developed essentially a pedometer that you wore. It's called a “data logging underwear” You have to see it to believe it. They looked at people who never set foot in a health club, but who were, in spite of that, either thin or quite heavy.

What they found from the data logging underwear is people who were thin simply moved more doing the day. On an escalator, they walked up instead of just standing there motionless. In their office, they would pace when they were on the phone. When they went to the Costco lot, they'd park at the very end instead of driving around, trying to find a space close to the door.

They simply moved more, which added up to, on average, 300 calories a day, and an average of 30 to 40 pounds of weight loss in a year.

I'll give you some more of these studies if you want, but again, in our 70 millimeter Dolby, super-sized, extreme makeover culture, it's just hard to believe these small steps could have such profound influence on the body.


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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