If you’re busy, you need to practice yoga or meditate for an hour every day.

If you’re really busy and overwhelmed, you need a two-hour daily practice.

If that sounds like a lot, let me share a big aha I’ve learned during the pandemic. First, making space physically and mentally makes everything possible. Second, moving in the direction of intention is really the only way to work toward achieving anything, big or small. Last, having a process to create change is critical for improving quality of life.

This message is about creating space to fill your time with the intention for microscopic improvement toward goal achievement. Yoga is a practice for the union of mind and body through the creation of three-dimensional shapes over intervals of time. By physically making geometric forms such as triangles, spheres and arcs, to name a few, a heightened awareness emerges. With this awareness, conscious incremental adjustments result in continual progress toward an elusive goal of perfection. Yoga is a form of spacetime, a term originally coined by Einstein.

Make time for spacetime

Webster’s dictionary defines spacetime as a system of one temporal and three spatial coordinates by which any physical object or event can be located. In plain language, spacetime pinpoints an object or event through the double lens of three-dimensional space and a specific moment in time.

What’s another way to imagine spacetime? Snow days. After the “ugh” of kids off school, a kind of a parallel universe opens up where regular routine-punctuated time is suspended in favor of an open-ended interruption. For kids, sudden big bouts of playtime is the very definition of awesomeness. Even if for a short time, parents may join that fun space for spontaneous snowball fights and snow people building. Then the snow turns to slush, school starts again and the memory of snow spacetime fades.

The next hour

Over the next hour, we’ll automatically take somewhere between 700 and 900 breaths. And just like breathing, almost every action happens because of predetermined and automated opinions, judgments, and choices. What we do, think, and say is often pre-programmed and we don’t notice because it’s unconscious. Anyone who is multilingual experiences this clearly when they switch languages seamlessly, drawing at will on different patterns and thought structures with automated precision. Multilingualism clearly demonstrates the significant power of unconscious thought. In truth, 90 percent of decisions and actions emerge subconsciously.

In the next hour, we’ll do, think and say stuff. What will it be? What could it be?

The next hour is a timeframe that we can influence through conscious thought and action. Mindful breathing works because it brings unconscious action into consciousness. In becoming present, we make space to notice what is. The next hour could be a time for noticing how a micro change makes life a tiny bit better. Start the next hour with a micro-step toward betterment. Make some time for a 5-10 minute break to walk, stretch or get some fresh air and become mindful of what improvement would work for you.

Kaizen for king-size results

Kaizen can change everything. To translate directly from Japanese, “kai,” means change, and “zen,” means good. More than change for good, kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy rooted in a customer-driven strategy for continual improvement. The process dates back to 1924, when American Walter Shewhart developed Shewhart charts for statistical application in quality control. By the 1950s, the PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act) approach took root in the Tokyo Institute of Technology to become a central principle in the Toyota Production System.

The essential key to kaizen is a desire to improve. Improvement emerges through small adjustments that result in continuous refinement, kind of like yoga. Kaizen can be applied to all areas of life. In the next hour, what could be more important than pausing to notice what tiny change would make things a bit better?

Here’s the kaizen process in a nutshell:

  • Desire improvement, then take action to make that small improvement happen.
  • Assess the improvement. If you are happy with the result, repeat the improvement.
  • Not happy? Revise the adjustment until you’re satisfied with its result.
  • When you’re content with the outcome of the adjustment, repeat until it becomes a part of your routine.
  • Add in a new small adjustment and repeat the process again.

Approaching life as opportunities for a series of small wins brings levity, a sense of productivity, and even joy during this messy pandemic. I set a goal of a healthy start to the day. It began with a glass of water before caffeine in the morning. With intention and over time, I changed my stressed morning routine from coffee-straight-to-work to one of hydration followed by a smoothie, coffee, vitamins, affirmations, and stretching. The gradual transformation toward a daily start-the-day practice helped me become healthy, calming, and more productive.

Kaizen is about being a tortoise as opposed to a hare. And there’s icing on the proverbial kaizen cake: regularly adding micro-steps leads to transformation, which in turn leads to systemic change. Having a goal anchors the desire for improvement, pointing that desire toward an outcome. A goal can be any size, from going to bed on time to a career change.

The science bit

Wrapped up in the kaizen approach is something deeper at the neurological level. Our (mostly subconscious) patterns drive us. When neurological patterns are set with intention we tend to make subconscious decisions toward the goal. Without intention or vision, we humans are vulnerable to actions and habits that do not serve us well.

There’s a neuroscience principle called Hebb’s Law: neurons that fit together, wire together. The more you think about or do something, anything, consciously or not, the more it solidifies into a pattern, literally becoming a part of you. It’s like the saying “how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” Most of what we do is simply because we are in the habit of doing it.

So consider pausing these automatic responses briefly in this next hour. Take a few breaths to stimulate some awareness. Scan for patterns in your routines. Want to change something? Try a kaizen approach. If that doesn’t work, and your rut feels too deep, remember: subconscious patterns are not set in subliminal stone.

To undo unwanted patterns, there’s another insightful bit of science known as the quantum Zeno effect. In simple terms, the moment we pause to notice an action is the moment where change can happen. Through active and short focus in that exact moment where it could go either way (your old pattern or a new one), a new neural rewiring and pattern can be set. It’s like switching from “yes, but” to “yes, and.” The first pattern equates to a shutdown. Not so nice. “Yes, and” automatically stimulates an unexpected additive thought and new possibility. Henry Ford said it best: “Whether you think you can or whether you think you cannot, you’re right.” Adding intention can lead to change for good.

We have to experience the next hour in any case. So why not make it happen for us instead of to us? Make space, practice awareness, add micro intentions and the next hour is yours to create.

Here’s the takeaway: Self-care isn’t just for weekends anymore. Wellness is key in weathering life, especially this pandemic.

How to make space, fill with intention and create some change in the next hour:

  1. Make space. Breathe, journal, or go for a walk to become present.
  2. Notice one tiny thing that will make things better.
  3. Take action, any action in the direction of improvement.
  4. Assess the action.
  5. Feel good about that action? Keep doing it.
  6. Not happy with the action? Make revisions.
  7. Get a small desired result.
  8. Repeat the action for the desired result for integration into your life.
  9. Add new action.
  10. Repeat processes for gradual systemic change.

The next hour will come and go. And then it will be the next hour. Take a micro-step, temper your power and steer it toward the creation of betterment.

Tanya KnudsenTanya found purpose up in servant leadership for a social project in transformation through education and hospitality. Teaching for creativity for good has been a breakthrough in sharing creativity in a global environment. Zooming into her Madagascar classroom has given rise to her new mantra, tolerance for ambiguity works every time. Tanya has expanded Torrance’s Creative Thinking Skills into new curricula for imaginative thinking. She’s a German and French teacher and perceives creativity as a language that deserves fluency. Tanya completed an MS in Applied Imagination in 2021 and is currently enrolled in the PhD program for Creative Leadership at the University of the Virgin Islands.

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