Have you ever made a New Year’s resolve just to abandon it by the second week of the following month? You’re not alone if you find it difficult to adjust your routine. When it comes to changing behaviors, taking a leap into the unknown might be frightening. The kaizen strategy focuses on taking small, steady moves forward to overcome this natural apprehension. It began as a Japanese management theory and has now evolved into a widely used philosophy that emphasizes continual improvement in the pursuit of long-term change.
Sarah Harvey’s book, Kaizen: The Japanese Secret to Lasting Change: Small Steps to Big Goals, explains how you may use kaizen strategies to change daily behaviors and achieve ambitious goals in your personal life.
Let’s imagine you’re trying to kick your sugar habit. So you schedule an appointment with a hypnotist who claims to be able to eliminate your sweet cravings in just five sessions. It may be a costly solution, but you’ve exhausted all other options.
You leave your last hypnotherapy session feeling empowered. In fact, you manage to avoid sugar cravings for the entire following week. But fast forward a week later to a horrible morning when you find yourself at a vending machine, regretfully selecting a candy bar. You regret the money you spent on the hypnotist as you toss the chilly coins into the slot.
Kaizen emphasizes incremental improvement. We live in a culture where fast gratification is expected, so it’s no surprise that many health and self-help trends promise instant benefits. However, taking one tiny action at a time and repeating it until you see results is a much more successful strategy to change behaviors. This is the foundation of the Japanese kaizen ideology.
While kaizen is a Japanese word for change, the kaizen approach was developed by the US government to aid Japan’s economic recovery following World War II. Many Japanese corporations, like Toyota, credit Kaizen with their subsequent success. Kaizen, often known as “the Toyota Way,” has been utilized to improve product lines by steadily reducing production waste while enhancing quality.
Ironically, by the 1980s, Japanese corporations were doing so well that they were causing American corporations to worry. In a book titled Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success by Masaaki Imai, kaizen was reintroduced to the United States as an organizational paradigm. Imai advises managers to develop short-, medium-, and long-term goals based on four criteria: business growth, product quality, customer service, and employee motivation, among others. Every employee, from the receptionist to the CEO, is encouraged to offer suggestions about how to enhance the company. Long-term goals are always prioritized, as is constant progress through incremental improvements.
As Imai points out, kaizen has far-reaching implications outside of the business sphere. Kaizen can help you achieve your goals, whether you want to live a healthier lifestyle, save more money, or reconsider your career. But first, you must establish your position.
Consider the most basic tasks you perform on a daily basis, such as sipping water or checking your phone. Consider what it would be like if you had to devote all of your mental energy to each of those chores every time you completed them. You’d most likely feel mentally fatigued in no time. This explains why habits arise in the first place. Our brains “lock in” repeated activities to save mental resources for bigger, more essential tasks, according to Ben Gardner, senior lecturer in psychology at King’s College London.
The first step in the kaizen process is to take a step back and examine your habits. When we desire to change our behaviour, the disadvantages of locking them in become clear. Gardner goes on to say that humans form habits by being exposed to rewarding stimuli that are repeated over time. If you eat sugary snacks in stressful situations and find that it helps you cope with stress, your brain will form a link between stress and sugar consumption. With practice, the association becomes stronger, and you’ll find yourself grabbing for a chocolate bar anytime a stressful circumstance arises.
Analyzing your current behavior might assist you in determining which habits you want to form or break. As a result, the first step in kaizen is to examine your habits by taking a life inventory. Divide a piece of paper into sections with a pencil. Everyone’s priorities are different, but common categories include home, health, job, and relationships. Examine whether you’re doing everything you can to obtain happiness in each of these areas.
If the category is your job and you merely have a hunch that you’re unhappy, divide it down into sections for example, research, administration, and networking, and write down what you like and dislike about each. Take your time answering the questions and be truthful to yourself. Perhaps you’ll discover that the real issue is a lack of work-life balance.
You’ll be more motivated if your inventory also includes new challenges you wish to undertake, rather than merely noting what you’re unhappy with. Are there any activities you wish you hadn’t given up? Maybe you’ve always wanted to take on a physical challenge? Make a list of activities that appeal to you.
You should have a goal or multiple goals to pick from if you’re satisfied with your inventory. The next step is to make a plan for your actions. The British cycling squad was in horrible shape when Sir David Brailsford took over as coach in 2002. To increase performance, Brailsford had the team break down every component of cycling into individual parts, from the cyclists’ nutrition to bike maintenance, and set a goal for each part to improve by 1%.
Instead of aiming for perfection right once, Brailsford adopted a kaizen strategy, focusing on little improvements that added up over time. With time, this accumulation created a “contagious enthusiasm” among the once-struggling squad, who went on to win the majority of gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
Your initial commitment should be so minor that you won’t even notice it. According to Benjamin Gardner, a senior lecturer at King’s College, the human motivational system is chaotic because people do not receive immediate rewards for excellent behavior. This makes it more difficult to break habits that provide immediate gratification, such as foregoing a steak or a cigarette. Because they produce minimal interruption while boosting development, kaizen procedures are an excellent approach of changing those behaviours.
The first modest step toward attaining your objective, like Brailsford’s concept of “contagious enthusiasm,” serves to motivate you to take the next and the next. Consider this question: What is the smallest, most doable move you can take toward your goal? Could you, for example, go vegetarian for two nights a week instead of one if you wish to eradicate meat from your diet? Or perhaps you could incorporate one additional vegetarian recipe into your normal meal plan? The modification should be so minor that you will scarcely notice it.
If you want to start a new physical habit like running, you should first map out your route. After that, walk it a few times before adding short runs. Experts propose this step-by-step method because it makes it much easier to maintain change in the early stages. It also increases the likelihood of long-term transformation. Write down your goals and first steps once you’ve set them. Let’s then establish a deadline for completing them.
Check out my related post: How to improve continuously through the Kaizen Method?