I heard the term Kaizen years ago from a previous employer who wanted us to practise Kaizen at work. It’s a Japanese concept that has been the key reason for the success and innovation found in companies like Toyota.
While it has been used mainly in a business context, this approach in business can also be applied to our personal lives. Little by little, step by step, we improve our lives for the better, turning into our best versions in a sustainable way.
What is Kaizen?
In his book, “The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation” author Matthew May says, “Kaizen is one of those magical concepts that is at once a philosophy, a principle, a practice and a tool.” Directly translated from Japanese, Kaizen means improvement, but it more closely resembles “continuous slow improvement” in English.
In business, Kaizen places emphasis on the well-being of the employee by working smarter, not harder and developing best practices. This is also a great approach for your own personal practices.
The concept of slow improvement might go against the current wave of “Everything has to happen now!” mindset, but I’m sure you want improvement that can last, and not something that will unravel as soon as you don’t pay attention to it.
Do you have what it takes?
Kaizen takes a long-term view on improvement. It’s not a short cut to a better self. You will need:
- Long-term commitment
- A strong will to improve / change
- Willingness to make some improvement daily (small, tiny ones).
The thing about Kaizen is that it doesn’t require big gestures, and huge improvements. Rather it favours small, tiny changes that add up.
Here are five ways to practise personal Kaizen:
Make a list of areas you want to improve
Let’s begin here, with a simple list! Your list might be long, or just a few points short, but it’s always a good to have an idea of what you’d like to improve. While it’s tempting to start with everything, right now, I say pick three things to start with. But which three things? Well...
Go for the easy wins first
You might be tempted to start with something big, but go for the low hanging fruit first. You need easy wins, so you’re encouraged to continue instead of giving up when you don’t see immediate improvement.
Since the whole concept of Kaizen is continuous but slow improvement, you might not see a big change anytime soon. So by picking easy wins, it’s a way to encourage yourself to stick to your commitments. So pick something easy that will give you the push you need!
Get out of your comfort zone
I’m not saying get out and do big things like skydiving (though that is pretty awesome). I’m saying, do the little things that get you out of your comfort zone. Join a class, attend an event, take the stairs, go for that dance class, stay out under the stars, talk to a stranger, go to the movies alone, take a trip alone or with a lover - just get a little uncomfortable and watch yourself grow.
Tweak your morning routine
I am a huge believer in the morning routine, as much as I am a believer in constantly tweaking your morning routine. My personal experience is that after a while my morning routine starts to feel a little like a rut and I don’t get the benefits I got when I first began. This is when I start tweaking so that my morning routine is more streamlined and gives me the best benefits. Do you want to switch from coffee to green tea? Should you meditate before or after your workout? Tweak away!
Forgive your past and present self
This is one of my favourite things to do. The crazy, rebellious, out there act of forgiving yourself. This isn’t a one-time deal I’m afraid. This is a continuous, slow, committed process of constantly forgiving yourself. Every day, ceremoniously forgive your past/present/perceived shortcomings and mistakes. Every day. No matter how badly you think you messed up. Sit there and tell yourself you forgive yourself. In fact, buy a journal and write it down. Daily. The difference this one act alone can produce in your life will be worth all the effort. Go on. Be a rebel!
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