One Small Step Can Change Your Life

Today is New Year’s Eve. And, just like the last one, you might find yourself heading into 2013 with a host of resolutions.

And you’re feeling worried and guilty.

This is because you didn’t accomplish what you set out to do in 2012. Now you face a repeat performance in 2013.

Don’t worry. You’re not alone. One small step, and then another, as Dr. Robert Maurer explains in his book “One Small Step Can Change Your Life,” can help you make 2013 different.

The Kaizen Philosophy

Kaizen is an art of continuous improvement.

It’s methods consist of asking small questions, thinking small thoughts, and taking small actions.

Say you’re just starting out in law school. Or you’re a brand new lawyer. Or you’re an older lawyer who wants to go from good to great.

The task of getting from A to Z (graduation, competency, mastery) seems monumental.

And it is.

How, you ask, will one small step do anything for me?

Here’s how.

Ask Small Questions

You’re a law student entering your first year. You don’t want to wash out. You don’t want to simply just graduate with a J.D.

You want to graduate with honors.

You ask yourself: “How will I graduate at the top of my class?”

That’s a big question. It’s so big, in fact, that you close yourself off from generating creative solutions to what you want to accomplish. In other words, you freeze, paralyzed with the thought of the task ahead.

Instead, ask: “What is one very small step I might take to improve the way in which I study?”

See the difference?

The second question actually allows you to come up with an answer, rather than closing you off. And you could keep asking just this one question throughout your law school career.

Think Small Thoughts

You’ve graduated. You’re a new lawyer, ready to make your mark in the legal profession.

And nothing scares you more than your first trial.

It’s fear that causes you to procrastinate. (In fact, you wonder whether you’re cut out for it at all.)

As such, you wait until the last moment to begin preparing, or you obessively over-prepare without thinking strategically.

But by thinking small thoughts, the way top athletes visualize in their mind’s eye the movements of their sport, you can short-circuit the fear.

“Practice” the task in your thoughts, as Dr. Maurer explains. Picture yourself driving to the courthouse. See yourself walking into the courtroom. You are confident. You shake hands with opposing counsel, smile at court personnel. What does the courtroom look like? What does it smell like? What are the sounds? How do you feel in your freshly-laundered suit?

This might sound ridiculous.

But you’re training yourself to engage in this new activity of going to trial as a new, inexperienced, scaredy-cat lawyer.

And you just might find that you are cut out for trial after all.

Take Small Actions

Going from good to great (or simply staying on a path of continuous improvement no matter where you are) should be a regular goal for all lawyers.

If you were put off by asking small questions or thinking small thoughts, you can take small actions instead.

Small actions are “at the heart of Kaizen,” Dr. Maurer writes.

If your goal is mastery in lawyering, rather than get paralyzed by fear—“What if I fail?“—take the smallest step you can imagine. The smallest step allows you to pursue your goal without worrying about failure.

Say you want to be a recognized legal authority. You want spots on local TV, quotes in the newspaper, and clients clamoring at your door with interesting cases.

This doesn’t just happen on its own.

For most lawyers, even those who doggedly pursue mastery, being a “recognized legal authority” is part hard work, part luck.

But if that’s your New Year’s resolution, take the smallest step you can imagine.

Write a 800 word post—no, make that 200 words—about your first trial as a new lawyer, and publish it on your website. Or sketch out the outline for what an op-ed piece for your local newspaper might look like if you sat down and wrote one.



  1. Avatar Paul Burton says:

    My work helping lawyers and legal professionals manage their time better is 100% about making small changes that aggregate into big results. One of my favorite examples is to point out that increasing productivity by six minutes each day adds up to twenty-four more hours of work done per year. That’s three eight-hour days of work off the desk or, in billable terms, about $7,000 of increased revenue per year (at $250/hour).

    The point is that everyone can find one or two simple changes they can make to their daily routine to achieve that small benefit. The big payoff comes a year down the road, but journey is never arduous.

    • Avatar Chris B. says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your comment.

      What you said at the end, about the payoff coming a year (or longer) down the road, is perfect. That’s what Kaizen really is all about—small changes that add up over time, and lead to much bigger results than otherwise.

      • Avatar Rickie Avrutin says:

        Thanks for this post. Kaizen is another approach to solid common sense, which is something we all too often forget in our frantic rush to finish our projects by trying to do 20 things at once. We eat too fast, literally and figuratively. There’s much to learn in taking deliberate manageable steps and breathing in between. We can more easily see where we’ve come from and where and how we are going…whether it’s a grocery shop, losing weight, learning and implementing new technologies, becoming more patient, more efficient, ad infinitum. Thanks again.

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