Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction, ends up being the biggest step ever taken that’s Kaizen.
“Kaizen” is a Japanese philosophy, while not having an absolute definition in English, it’s meaning is, continuous improvement, making small adjustments as we go forward. Kaizen, doesn’t represent the new exercise machine standing in the corner gathering dust and now being used as something to hang our clothes on. The new years resolution we made that was broken in the first few days. Business ventures that somehow never get off the ground, because the reality doesn’t fit the dream. Signing up for night classes full of enthusiasm, but after a few weeks of cold weather, missing classes to stay home in the warm. Obviously, there are people who take on these challenges and make it through to their goal. But more often than not, it’s easier to give up, move on and try something else that gives us more excitement, for a while.
Kaizen unnoticed steps
As we keep giving up on our grand dreams, we will be forced to ask ourselves some harsh questions. Why am I such a loser? How could I be so stupid? What’s wrong with me? So not only have we not stayed the distance with our dreams, now we are using our energy to emphasize our inadequacies as well. This is where kaizen comes in, it allows us to bypass the lofty goals that are often doomed to failure. Allowing us to concentrate on moving forward with easier and often unnoticed steps.
The trouble is the “Flight or fight” part of our brain which is critical to register an imminent threat, has in most cases, become a liability. Any new challenge or opportunity, still tends to trigger degrees of fear, but most of the time it’s not a legitimate fear. Although, this still prevents access to the thinking part of our brain which becomes restricted and often shuts down.
Kaizen trying to trick the “flight or fight” mode
Kaizen is making minor adjustments, that are often so small they become almost unnoticeable. The part of our brain that becomes overwhelmed with change leading to fear, is tricked into staying asleep. These little steps of kaizen, are a stealthy solution to the large steps we often set for ourselves, but fail to achieve. Small actions take very little time or money, are very agreeable to many of us who haven’t built supplies of willpower. By outfoxing fear and negative responses, our brain is allowed to build up permanent optimism. This approach may seem strange to us, as it goes against most definitions of personal progress.
As individuals, we are prompted to “Think big. Believe big. Act big and the results will be big”. The results may be big for some people, but not for the majority. Kaizen isn’t about thinking big, it’s about thinking small positive thoughts to eventually get big results. Our attempts to be better usually end in failure, because life-changing goals overwhelm us into inaction, instead of inspiring us into action. Unrealistic goals make it insanely difficult to make any progress, so we become stressed over what is supposed to help us take action. A big audacious goal looks scary to our brain, and when our brain encounters “scary” it goes into “freeze” mode. If we constantly overstretch ourselves, we lose the required energy we need to take the necessary action to get better.
Kaizen in action
We decide to get up an hour early, the first day is fine, but the next day we feel tired and quickly abandon the idea. The kaizen method would be, to get up three minutes early the first day, and increase it to six minutes the day after. Adding three minutes each day until after 20 days we are getting up an hour earlier. Small incremental steps, that our body doesn’t even notice over the longer term.
We like the idea of meditating for half an hour every day. But a half hour meditation isn’t easy, so attempting a half hour block, won’t last for the majority of people. The kaizen way would be to meditate for just 30 seconds the first day, and keep adding 30 seconds each day. In 60 days we are meditating for half an hour, making it easier to maintain over a longer period.
Kaizen as a system
If we have never exercised before, deciding to go to the gym for a hour each day is going to be extremely hard and most likely will end in failure. As we watch television we decide to take the first tiny step. On the first evening, we get up off the couch during an ad break and do a fast walk on the spot until it’s over. And the next night two ads and so on until we reach one hour. It takes a while to get there, but once there, we are more likely to keep going as we have gained the momentum now.
While Kaizen was originally developed to help businesses improve and thrive, it’s just as applicable to our personal lives. If we want to achieve our goal every time, we need to create a system that works. Instead of dreaming about the ultimate goal, design a great process. This way makes us a winner, we can enjoy the present moment and most likely, improve at the same time.