The Kaizen Approach To Life
Kaizen, or continuous improvement, is a technique used by businesses across the globe for slow, steady change that ultimately leads to greater success than swift and sudden adaptations to the business. Far from being confined to use by corporate behemoths, Kaizen philosophy can be applied to anything an individual wants to improve, from exercise habits, to creative hobbies, to being a better listener. We explore what Kaizen is, and how to turn it into a lifestyle.
Kaizen is an approach to self-improvement that starts at the very bottom. Whilst we're all guilty of having jumped in at the deep end - whether that's cutting out carbs, suddenly running 5km a day, or taking on way more than we can handle at work - top down transformation can often lead to burnout, and ultimately failure to continue, leaving you back at square one.
With Kaizen, change is slow and steady. Achievement is measured and celebrated not by the end goal, but in the day-to-day transformations. Running for one minute longer than usual, saving £5 extra a week, or saying hello to the shopkeeper you've had a crush on for a while. Kaizen has proven to be effective because it generates change from the bottom upwards.
Kaizen has its origins in post-World War II Japan; in which workers - rather than managers - at Toyota were tasked with ensuring the quality of the cars being manufactured. Interestingly, the concept was a suggestion by American management and productivity consultants, who argued that quality control should be in the hands of line workers. When Japan's industries boomed, the West (which traditionally had a top-down approach) investigated why, and found that the philosophy of putting power in the details led to longer term success. The method was eventually terms Kaizen, popularised by Masaaki Imai in his book Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success.
So to recap; Kaizen was an idea conceived by American consultants, and refined and proved by Japanese companies, and eventually brought back to the West as a management technique. More recently, the idea has begun to pervade the idea of a 1% approach to life; changing our habits and lifestyle little by little, until we eventually get to where we want to be.
There are many ways to go about your goals in a Kaizen way, but the most important thing is an ability to let go of the need for perfection. Accept that every journey isn't smooth, and there are peaks and troughs in the pursuit of every goal. Celebrate the little wins, whether that's meat-free Monday on the road to a plant-based diet, waking up ten minutes earlier, or one extra push-up. Forgive yourself when things don't go as planned, and learn from the setbacks rather than allowing them to consume you. Being easy on yourself, nurturing your wins positively, and accepting that down days are a part of every journey makes the entire process an interesting, enjoyable one, and puts a lot less pressure on the end goal.
Learning to embrace slow and steady change is a skill, but once you hone the habit of celebrating little wins, your whole life becomes a pat on the back. Being content with where you've got to right now, in the present, rather than where you want to be is far more comforting than living in an ideal in the distant future. What would you like to apply the Kaizen approach to life to?