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Kaizen for Self-Improvement
The Power of Small Steps
In my MidWeek Museletter this week I wrote a brief piece about Kaizen, and I thought it would be useful to say a little bit more about it here.
“It is to our own detriment that we underestimate the might of small and simple things.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich
The Japanese word kaizen means "change for better", inherent meaning of either "continuous" or "philosophy" in Japanese dictionaries and in everyday use. The word refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, large or small, in the same sense as the English word "improvement”
The Kaizen Method 101
For anyone who has embarked on a journey toward self-improvement or personal growth, you know that the better version of yourself seems to lie at the other end of a roller coaster ride. The path to transformation is uneven, mostly uphill, and often includes many setbacks that leave you questioning your choice to start.
The Kaizen method is an approach to improvement that helps you embrace the marathon that is continuous growth, rather than expecting instant results and gratification. Instead of looking for ways to make it all better RIGHT NOW, this approach adopts a more realistic strategy that leads to success over time.
Understanding the Kaizen Method
Unlike the notion of radical change, the Kaizen method is an approach that focuses on continuous, incremental improvement that leads to significant, long-term change. Many people talk about Kaizen as being the “1 per cent rule,” because instead of trying to make changes in substantial leaps and bounds, you instead focus on doing one small thing every single day that will get you closer to your final outcome.
The method was developed as a business model to promote lean manufacturing. You may know it as “The Toyota Way,” because it was famously adopted by that manufacturer to ensure quality control and to achieve transformation within the auto industry in Japan.
The opposite of this approach could be called “radical innovation,” in which a company or person attempts to make drastic changes very quickly. Anyone who has been on a strict and very limited diet can tell you what happens when you change everything very quickly. Change is much harder to realize.
The Kaizen method instead emphasizes a simple philosophy that every day, you are focusing on getting just a little bit better than you were the day before, in whatever way you are trying to change or improve.
The power of this method is that these small, incremental changes compound on each other, and minuscule changes in the beginning soon combine with other minor changes to create more significant, lasting effects.
While it was originally developed as a business model, the Kaizen method is also applicable to personal growth and development. The advantage of this type of approach to improvement is that it gets you off the roller coaster of ups and downs usually associated with making changes in your life. Instead of focusing on big, long-term goals that will not be realized until far into the future, the Kaizen method helps you focus instead on small, discrete steps that are achievable today, where you are, and with your current capabilities.
The underlying foundations of Kaizen state that there is no magic bullet that will suddenly change your life or make everything better. And the sooner you realize and embrace this, the sooner you can actually start improving your life in meaningful ways. Change is hard, and it comes through small steps taken every day. It comes through continuous improvement, not an overnight transformation.
“Everything can be achieved through gradual steps – one small step at a time: overcoming fears, fulfilling dreams... anything you wish to be different from the way it is.” ― A.J. Darkholme,
The Kaizen method is a process, not a goal.
It is not something you ever really achieve as it is something you commit to doing every day. Once you reach a specific goal, Kaizen thinking can help you maintain your results or secure your gains.
"Success isn't owned, it's rented. And the rent is due every day."
If you want to succeed, you have to do the hard work every day, so you might as well that work a part of your daily habits so that it becomes who you are and what you do in the process.
It’s worth reflecting on this graph. Notice how the suggestion is that continuous improvement also requires the ability to innovate.
In your personal work and life, it’s not simply about being open to the idea of continual improvement, but also being prepared to do some things differently.
How to use Kaizen for Personal Development
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent Van Gogh
There are ten key ideas within the Kaizen “philosophy”
1. There is always room for improvement so we can continue to develop skills, learn new things explore different perspectives
2. If something is not working for you then stop. Your old habits and behaviours will not bring you better results by simply working harder. So, replace old habits for new ones.
3. Seek support and assistance from others, don’t simply rely on one mentor or master. Each has something to offer and bring to your situation.
4. Stop blaming and finding excuses. If something isn’t wrong learn from it the actively look for other solutions.
5. Trust evidence over opinions whenever you are making decisions. Actually, your “gut feelings” can guide you. Whilst all final decisions are based on your emotions, you can choose what information you are feeding yourself with.
6. The ‘why’ question is useful in exploring what lies at the “root” of any issue. However, to rely on a single answer to the ‘why’ question is not overly useful. Ask ‘Why’ five times and then question the ‘whys’ of your ‘whys’.
7. Sometimes the solution is so simple you have overlooked it and, more importantly, it;s often budget-friendly.
8. The current status quo is only the current status quo. Change is always happening, so success lies in challenging the comfort of the current situation, the current status quo.
9. Take things one day at a time. If you are constantly finding that you are putting off tasks reconsider the tasks themselves. Are the “steps” towards change in small enough bite size pieces?
10. Communicate and celebrate your achievements.
The 5S System
The aforementioned “Toyota System” contained what has become known as the 5S System. It is worth reflecting on how you can apply this system in your life.
Seiri: Sort and Eliminate
The Pareto Principle suggests that ‘80% of production generates from 20% efforts’.
This step is about looking at how you do what you do and making decisions about what is working and what is not. Look at where your time is going, effective techniques for managing tasks and time and then eliminate anything that is wasteful.
Quite simply, organising your physical space it will help you organise your mental space and so increase effectiveness. It’s not about working harder doing the same things, its about finding out what works for you!
Seiso: Make Healthier Choices
Seiso (means cleanliness). So, here we are talking about bringing balance into your life. Cut out unhealthy habits and mentally draining activities. Replace them with sustainable activities which enrich your life.
Seiketsu: Set High Standards
In many ways, we can consider this as holding yourself accountable to the standards you have set. Behave according to your principles; walk your talk.
It’s also about ensuring that those around you are nurturing of you; that your relationships are meaningful.
Shitsuke: Make Continuous Improvement Your Goal
Each day and every way you can explore how you can increase your knowledge, develop your skills and become more and more authentic in what you are choosing to do.
Kaizen is a cycle of improvement so Shitsuke returns you to Seiri and the cycle starts again.
“Just believe in yourself, and you will realize that even those small steps taken in the right direction can produce great results.” ― Dr Prem Jagyasi
Thanks for reading
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