kaizenJanet Rae-Dupree wrote in NYT (4 May 08) that researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks. It seems we direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. The more new things we try the more inherently creative we become. Old habits are with us to stay, but new habits create parallel pathways that can bypass them.

“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of The Open Mind We are taught to ‘decide’, yet to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.

All of us work through problems in ways of which we’re unaware. We are each analytical, procedural, relational (or collaborative) or innovative. But from puberty the brain preserve only those modes of thought that have seemed most valuable during the first decade or so of life. In the West, this has lead to many of us being analytical or procedural rather than relational or innovative collaborate. Yet we cannot resist this successfully; to knowing what one is good and do even more of it creates excellence.

This is where developing new habits comes in. If you’re an analytical or procedural thinker, you learn in different ways than someone who is inherently innovative or collaborative. Figure out what has worked for you when you’ve learned in the past, and you can draw your own map for developing additional skills and behaviors for the future.

What I would do, often, is simply read what I need to know. Others find other ways of learning better.

It’s when we stretch ourselves that change happens and new, valuable habits begin to form. Comfort is the realm of existing habit. Stress occurs when a challenge is so far beyond current experience as to be overwhelming. It’s in the stretch zone in the middle where change occurs.

It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Continuously stretching ourselves will even help us lose weight, according to one study. Researchers who asked folks to do something different every day—listen to a new radio station, for instance—found that they lost and kept off weight. No one is sure why, but scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general.”

Thus the Japanese technique called kaizen calls for tiny, continuous improvements.

So that’s how I must learn to exercise more, for instance!