Small Steps to BIG SHIFTS and BETTER HEALTH–Part 2

by Deb Brothers-Klezmer,BSN, RN-BC, CRRN, NCTMB & Wendy Midgley, MEd, RD, CDE                          

                                           ...Be a Changer…..Be a Shifter!!!

“Victory is won not in miles but in inches.  Win a little now, hold your    ground, win a little more.”     by Louis L’Amore 

We ended Part 1 of our BLOG on Shifts and Change by suggesting you write down 1 small lifestyle change that you know would benefit you personality.

In Part 2, we will guide you through the steps it will take to achieve the change you seek.

Are you ready to make a change that will strengthen your health and well-being?  Statistics give us pause to consider what we need to change, what needs to be addressed.

But what actually MOTIVATES us to change?  We may be motivated to initiate changes–due to imagining a much healthier, wealthier, exciting life, OR due to chronic discomfort or unease OR perhaps a CRUCIAL TURNING POINT has been thrust upon us that requires immediate attention: e.g. illness, loss of a job or relationship, loss of a place to live or another unwanted, “uninvited change.”  Sustained changes are more likely when we see how much better we feel, or how much better our life is–when positive changes are made.

Before demonstrating the Steps to Change, we will first address the topics of: What to Change?  How does the Brain Work?  Setting Ourselves up for Positive Changes.

What would YOU like to change??!!  Perhaps you have already chosen an area after reading Part 1.  But if you are having trouble deciding WHAT you want to change, here’s a question suggested by Mark Hyman, MD  (August 2011,  Ask yourself: What change would increase my energy and well-being?

Possible Examples of Areas of Change:

  • Sleeping 7-8 hours per night
  • Eating 3 meals per day, especially including a balanced breakfast that contains protein
  • Limiting coffee to 1 cup per day
  • Drinking 6-8 glasses of water per day
  • Consuming no more than 3 alcoholic drinks per week
  • Spending at least 30 minutes each day in Nature, (less time on Facebook!)
  • Eating at least 5-6 green vegetables each day and 2-3 fruits instead of sweet desserts
  • Walking (or other physical activity) 30 minutes 3 or more times per week
  • Stopping smoking
  • Creating more satisfying relationships
  • Spending 10 minutes relaxing each day, or 10 planned minutes of doing absolutely nothing.

How to Begin a Chosen Change…

  • Focus on a topic area that comes to mind.
  • Write down your goal(s)It can be broken down into Short-Term Goals or Steps.  And a Long-Term Overall Goal.

Example 1:  “I will eat 3 meals per day. ”  A more powerful, specific statement is:  “I AM now eating 3 healthy, balanced meals per day 90% of the time, and I am feeling extremely well.”)

Example 2:  “I will do 10 minutes of deep breathing daily, focusing on a positive feeling, word, or image.”

  • Write down the BENEFITS you will receive in achieving your goal.  For example: “I will feel more healthy, energetic, vibrant and positive about myself.”

OKAY, you say this sounds all well and good.  But what if serious doubt overcomes me?  For example:  “I’ve tried this stuff before more than once—-and I always encounter struggles, and I give up.”

Positive change intentions are often shut down by fear and resistance.  Resistance (going against your intentions, or doing nothing at all) is another variation of fear. Our intellect may tell us that a particular change “would be good for me.”  But the EMOTIONAL part of the brain may see change as fearful.  (The emotional part of the brain can be just as powerful–or more powerful–than the thinking, intellectual brain). 

*****There are TECHNIQUES and TOOLS to get around resistance and fear so that you can accomplish both short and long-term goals and intentions.*****

—An important initial step is to spend a moment thinking about how it might FEEL to move towards change with the POSITIVE emotions of: allowing, curiosity, happiness, hope, love, receptivity, optimism, pride, relief, and trust.

Get yourself in a POSITIVE MIND-SET!

If you find yourself resisting positive emotions, you may need to clear out negative emotions, or some “old emotional debris.”  Perhaps in the past, change has been associated with anger, annoyance, disgust, embarrassment, loss, failure, an old fear, frustration, resistance, procrastination, forgetfulness, or sadness?  (This is a collection of words that are low in empowerment energy.)

NOTE:  It IS possible to let go of old emotions and patterns.  We need to keep allowing in NEW positive emotions, practicing NEW HABITS, and staying committed to releasing “old beliefs” and  “old patterns.”

Let it be OK that you have fear, doubt or resistance. But decide to move forward anyway, learning new tools and skills!


Understanding the Brain….

How does the brain react when change is presented to it?  Although all parts of the brain work together as a team, each part also acts independently and is often at odds with the other parts.

The oldest part of the brain is “the reptilian brain” which consists of the cerebellum and brain stem.  It is in charge of breathing, heart beat, and all other body functions outside conscious control.  It simply repeats itself over and over, never adapting, never learning new things.  Its goal is to preserve our life at all costs.  We need the reptilian brain in order to survive!

The “second brain” or middle brain houses the limbic system.  This is our “emotional brain” concerned with feelings, instincts, fighting or fleeing, and sexual behavior.  The emotional brain is not particularly smart.  It gravitates towards pleasure and avoids pain.  It understands safety or danger, failure or success.  Many of our childhood learned patterns are still operating in this part of the brain: propelling us towards pleasure (often impulsive pleasure) vs pain.  For example: It may be very pleasant to eat that 2nd piece of chocolate cake–but it is not helping us carry out our intention to eat less sugar and lose weight.

Whenever the limbic system senses danger, it sends the body into fight or flight.  Many of us allow the limbic system to sabotage our best intentions.  The limbic system is quite powerful and seems to have a mind of its own.  In fight or flight–our muscles tighten, our blood vessels constrict, and our bodies are flooded with stress hormones as we prepare to fight, freeze, or run like hell.*   Just deciding to make some positive changes for ourselves–can actually result in reactions like this!

The “3rd brain” is the Neo-Cortex.  This is the thinking brain–that distinguishes humans from animals.  This is the part capable of reasoning.  Abstraction as well as spatial, artistic, verbal and musical ability happen here. 

*NOTE:  See M J Ryan’s book:  This Year I Will, chapter on: “Get Your Three Brains on Your Side.”

What does all this brain science have to do with the Process of Change?  All “3 brains” need to be working together in order for change to be successful.

The thinking brain is where we decide we want to do something different.  Depending on what that is, how it is presented, how daunting the intention seems, what we’ve done about it in the past, how comfortable we NOW feel with this intention: our emotional brain may not cooperate (at first.)  And so we may sabotage ourselves.  Our emotional brain may override what our thinking brain has decided, in favor of immediate pleasure: (e.g. that 2nd piece of chocolate cake!)

If you are serious about making a lasting change, you need to get your emotions on your side!  We change not only because it makes logical sense (LEFT side of the BRAIN) to do so–from our thinking brain perspective.  But more so because we have engaged our HIGHER LEVEL FEELINGS around what this change will do for us !!!   We need to tap into the feelings of INFINITE POSSIBILITY and INSPIRATION (RIGHT side of BRAIN) to keep our motivation going.

NOTE:  Utilize HIGHER level, POWERFUL FEELINGS and RIGHT BRAIN INSPIRATION to overcome negative emotions.

Our current habits remain as default patterns in our brain–until we practice and practice NEW habits and create new nerve connections (new “neuronal pathways”) in our brainCHANGE is ALWAYS POSSIBLE, but it takes PRACTICE!!!.  We need to develop new SKILL SETS.  It is not just a question of desire and will power.  New skills canhelp prepare us for obstacles and challenges.

NOTE:  We do not need to be 100% committed to start the change process.  But we need to be at least 51% committed to take that 1st STEP.


  • Change happens more reliably when we WRITE DOWN our GOALS and INTENTIONS.
  • A smart, clear goal is specific, measurable, achievable or realistic, relevant, responsible and time sensitive.

–Example 1:  “I will eat 3 balanced meals per day.”   “I will achieve this intention within 30 days.”  (This is a goal for someone who is currently eating just the supper meal.)

Example 2:  “I will practice 10 minutes of deep breathing each day.  I will start with 5 minutes each day and work up to 10 minutes each day by the end of 30 days.”

Such goals can be broken down into mini-steps to be more tolerable to the emotional brain.  Example 1:  You may take a step towards eating breakfast—by committing to having 1 fruit every morning.   Example 2:  You can take steps with your breathing exercise, e.g.: 3 minutes each day for 1 week,  5 minutes each day for 2nd week;  7 minutes each day for 3rd week; 10 minutes each day for the 4th week (28-30 days.)

According to psychologist Robert Maurer, PhD, the brain will be more cooperative in making our chosen change when SMALL STEPS are made towards it.**  Maurer uses the Japanese system of Kaizen to teach small change steps to his clients.  The principle of this is:  When very small steps are taken, the limbic system can emotionally accept change better; and is not as threatened or reactive.  A small step is like tip-toe-ing around the fear response of the limbic system.  When one small step is a success, then another step can be added with less resistance, until more and more steps are added to achieve the GOAL you have made for yourself.

**Robert Maurer, PhD.  book:  One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way


Kerry Patterson et al have isolated Six Sources of Influence*** that make all the difference in whether someone is successful or not in CHANGING, and in achieving their goals. 

***from the book: Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success.

Successful people are engaging all Six Sources of Influence in some manner. How that happens is individualized to each person and their unique needs.

If you have tried and tried to make changes over the years but have not succeeded–Patterson et al’s advice on CHANGE may be just what you need to move forward.

The Six Sources of Influence are:

  1. Love What you Hate.  e.g. find ways to LIKE what you are achieving or experiencing even though the tasks and practice may be tedious.  Align with what you do like about it.
  2. Do What you Can’t.  In other words, commit to learning the necessary NEW SKILL SETS so that you can be successful.
  3. Turn Accomplices into Friends. Enlist positive support from friends.  Turn naysayers into supporters, add new friends.
  4. Eliminate saboteurs and chronic naysayers from your daily circle of influence.
  5. Set up a System of Positive Rewards for Positive Change.  (and perhaps note “a price to pay” or a consequence of negative behavior…e.g., remind yourself of the unhappy consequences–if you are not following through on your desired behaviors.
  6. Control your environment as best you can.  Set up your surroundings to ensure you are successful.  Avoid usual triggers, smells, places (and people) that set you off.

We would like to close this article by demonstrating one CHANGE EXAMPLE that highlights several of the various change aspects we have discussed in this BLOG.

But first–we will SUMMARIZE the necessary Overall STEPS for Change that we discussed.

  1. KNOW that we DO want to make a change for the better.
  2. Know WHAT we want to change.  
  3. Write down an Overall Goal.  Break that into Small Steps.  Write down the BENEFITS and positive FEELINGS you will experience in meeting your goal.
  4. Be at least 51% committed to change; and know that percentage can increase.
  5. If you are “on the fence” about making a change, write down the PROs and CONs re: this change.  Also engage your higher INTUITION to reveal any emotional blocks or preliminary steps that need to be taken for change to happen.
  6. Make peace with the “3 brains.”  Do note emotions and old patterns.  Don’t judge them.   But stay committed to inviting in higher level FEELINGS, INSPIRATION, and SPECIFIC GOALS.
  7. Engage the SIX SOURCES of INFLUENCE.
  8. Decide it is OK to make changes in SMALL STEPS.
  9. Decide you will develop the SKILL SETS required to accomplish goals and overcome obstacles.

CHANGE Example:  This is a real client with a real story.  However, the client’s name and a few minor details have been altered to protect the client’s identity.

Background:  CK is a 46-year-old salesman, ~20 lbs overweight, with Type 2 Diabetes and diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage and pain), radiating down both legs.  Labs:  A1C of 7.1, indicating diabetes.  (Normal A1C is 4.0-6.0).  Meds:  Metformin (an oral medication) two times per day.

CK understands he should eat 3 balanced meals per day for better diabetes control.  However, he claimed that this change would be impossible for him with his current occupation and a busy home life with 3 active children.  (He is a salesman who spends many hours is his car.)

His habit was to snack several times per day on sweet snacks instead of eating breakfast and lunch.  Favorite snacks:  packaged cupcakes and 100 calorie snack packs.  (all high starch, high sugar, high salt.)

With no changes being made, his A1C was not improving.  He began manual therapy 1 time per week which alleviated leg pain for 2-3 days.

The nurse (Deb) encouraged CK to appreciate the potential “consequences of negative behavior”  (Point 5 of “Six Sources of Influence”) if he didn’t eat 3 healthy meals per day and eliminate the cupcakes and 100 calorie snack packs.

Getting Ready to Change…CK got to the point of not feeling well most of the time.  Even though he continued with regular manual therapy (an external source of help), he was still not taking personal responsibility for his medical issue; and he was not willing to change his behaviors (yet).

The crucial turning point happened for CK when his MD informed him that taking insulin would be the next step.  For CK, the thought of this created even greater discomfort than the discomfort he imagined he would encounter is making lifestyle changes!

MOTIVATION to change was ignited!

Next Step:  CK accepted the challenge of creating a smart, clear goal and following through.  His first goal was to eliminate all snacks if he didn’t recognize the ingredients on the label.

At the next visit with Deb, CK brought in a package of little cupcakes–with a label containing mostly unrecognizable ingredients.  He proudly proclaimed he had eliminated these from his diet!  AND, he replaced snacking with a nutritious lunch.

NOTE:  Both these changes show how one small positive change can lead to another.

CK was initially VERY uncomfortable with these changes–but he was confident that he’d have a BENEFICIAL OUTCOME if he followed through.   (Sources of Influence #1 and #5).


–30 minutes after eating lunch, CK now parks his car and takes a 15+ minute walk.

–CK is now eating 3 healthy meals per day most days.

–He has lost 6 lbs.

–His A1C is down to 6.5.  There’s room for improvement but he is off to a good start.

–He has far less nerve pain–pain down 85%.  He is continuing to receive manual therapies 2 times per month (vs 1 time per week.)

–His MD is not even discussing insulin–rather, praising him on changes made.

–He can now sit on a bleacher bench at his child’s sports event and not be in pain.

These changes have required LOTS and LOTS of PRACTICE.  Despite his early resistancehe is doing well and has also developed important and necessary NEW SKILL SETS along the way.

He will need to continue PRACTICING these new behaviors to make them permanent.  In doing so, the limbic brain is starting to associate more pleasure from these new behaviors–due to the results of feeling better, having more energy, having an overall more satisfying life.  New neuronal pathways and connections are being established.


Our wish for you:

Be a CHANGER, BE a SHIFTER!!!    Go for a higher level of health and well-being in your life!!


Deb and Wendy,

The Wellness Shifter Ladies!!



–M J Ryan.  This Year I Will (book)

–Robert Maurer, PhD.  One Small Step Can Changes Your Life:   The Kaizen Way (book),  Also available on CDs.

–Kerry Patterson et al.  Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success (book) and website:

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s