Even if we’re looking, it isn’t easy to see how and where we can improve; we need other people to show us. A core element of a kaizen mindset is always seeking to expand our knowledge and experience, and challenging our beliefs every day.
2. Self-awareness and critique
The second crucial element of a kaizen mindset is self-awareness. If we are to reach our goals, we need to learn to look honestly at ourselves and our behaviour and ask if they align with our plans.
Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the pursuit of a goal — like making more money — and we end up making changes to our life that make us unhappy in the long-term.
Kaizen isn’t about seeing the worst in things, so don’t beat yourself up — it’s natural to have flaws. Understanding and accepting our weaknesses is just a step on the road to reaching our goals.
3. Starting with scarcity
There’s a crucial difference between this third element of a kaizen mindset and a ‘scarcity mindset.’
A scarcity mindset is a negative and unproductive view of the world that will make you happy.
Starting with scarcity means not looking for external fixes to your problems. New running shoes may help us run faster, but simply buying them isn’t going to turn us into a runner.
Equipment and gadgets are helpful, but it’s not enough to help us reach our goals. Plus, it’s hard to see the need for improvement when you have everything you need.
Instead, look at how you can improve your use of what you have already, or perhaps even eliminate, to help you towards your goal.
4. Breaking down goals into small steps
Kaizen is, of course, about focusing on the small steps we can take to reach our goals.
The steps must be clear and definite actions we can take every day, but they don’t have to be outcomes in themselves — they only have to contribute towards one.
For example, if you want to become a good guitar player, you have to set aside a certain amount of time each day to practice; 15 minutes is enough.
But if you want to get better, you can’t just spend that time messing around.
You need to set definite, measurable outcomes to help you learn, such as a song or a scale. Then you spend those 15 minutes practicing that song or scale until you’re comfortable with it.
A year of doing that, and you’ll have a lot of songs under your belt. But more importantly, you’ll be a much better guitarist.
5. Committing to practice
Committing to daily practice is crucial.
It isn’t just a way to get what we want; it is what we want. Our daily practice and its results are one and the same thing; you cannot have one without the other. Winning the fight is impossible without putting in the training every day.
Small habits are incredibly powerful ways to change our lives. They take effort to form but become part of you over time. Daily practice is one way to tap into the power of small habits.
6. Embracing obstacles and mistakes
Mistakes and obstacles are life. If they didn’t exist, we’d go out looking for them.
A kaizen mindset is about seeking out those mistakes and obstacles — choosing our suffering — to improve our lives. Obstacles are just what happens when we go after something we want. They are how we get there.
Yes, we will often fail in our daily practice, but the important thing is continuing after we stumble. Keep at it long enough, and the number of days we did it will outnumber those we didn’t, and that’s enough for progress.
Failing and mistakes are often an opportunity to progress rapidly. If we don’t overcome an obstacle or we struggle to maintain our daily practice, there’s probably something holding us back — a previously hidden obstacle. Overcoming that will help us progress much faster in the long run.
Cultivating a Kaizen Mindset
A kaizen mindset is a growth mindset. It starts with the assumption that the way we are doing things now is the worst possible way to do it.
The kaizen philosophy is the grandfather of many ideas and methods of improvement out there. This blog will look briefly at what kaizen is and how it compares to three other common improvement philosophies, Lean, Six-Sigma, and Poka-Yoke.
What is Kaizen?
The idea of Kaizen came from Japan. The word itself means ‘improvement,’ but it has become a philosophy for successful, continuous innovation and improvement.
It rests on breaking down goals into small, actionable daily goals and creating the processes that drive change.
Kaizen is one of the oldest philosophies of improvement. It inspired lean and six-sigma, and even contemporary development methodologies like Agile and KANBAN.
Think of kaizen as the overarching umbrella of improvement. Both lean and six sigma systematize different areas of improvement but share the same goal: improved outcomes. They vary in how they aim to achieve more value and what tools they use to get there.
What is the Lean Manufacturing Method?
Lean methodology is a way of optimizing your resources and energy towards creating the most value possible.
It’s the younger brother of kaizen and incorporates the kaizen mindset of continuous improvement with the equally important tenet of respecting people.
Businesses worldwide subscribe to the lean methodology to sustainably deliver better value for their customers and employees through sustainable and resilient organizations.
The Difference Between Lean and Kaizen
While both these philosophies can improve our results by optimizing our processes and resource usage, lean is primarily focused on reducing waste. Reducing waste or ‘Muda’ is a crucial part of the kaizen philosophy, but lean regards it as an end in itself.
What is Six Sigma?
Six sigma is another business process born due to kaizen’s industrial success in the 80s and 90s.
It aims to increase performance and decrease variation to reduce manufacturing defects and improve profits, employee morale, and product or service quality.
Where Lean focuses on reducing waste and optimizing resource usage, six sigma focuses on reducing variation.
Lean uses kaizen to achieve its workplace organization goals, whereas six sigma is more concerned with using statistics and data analysis to enact change through experimentation.
Lean, six sigma, and kaizen are mutually dependent and not mutually exclusive.
The Difference Between Kaizen and Six Sigma
Kaizen is a philosophy that demands constant self-assessment and encourages continuous improvement — but doesn’t determine the speed or significance of those changes, or in fact, whether those changes are guaranteed to succeed.
Kaizen encourages mistakes as a way of finding success, while six sigma attempts to reduce the number of errors in a process. It’s concerned with improving the quality of outcomes by creating consistent and reliable results. In the case of six sigma, ‘better’ is defined as ‘more consistent.’
What is Poke-Yoke?
Poka-Yoke is another Japanese term that came about by applying kaizen philosophy in the Toyota production lines.
Initially, the term was ‘Baka-yoke,’ which means ‘fool-proofing. To avoid negative connotations, this was later changed to Poka-yoke, or ‘mistake-proofing.’
It came about as a way to empower employees to enact change while mitigating the risk that these innovations would turn out to be a mistake. Poka-yoke is any means, tool or process that helps avoid mistakes.
One example of this is how modern cars are designed so that you cannot start the ignition without pressing your foot on the brake. This simple process probably prevents thousands of fender-benders every day.
The Difference Between Kaizen & Poka Yoke
Kaizen is a philosophy of improvement that encourages us to think of everything as poorly planned and executed, and challenges us to make mistakes to drive innovation.
Poka-Yoke is a production mindset that we can hold in our minds to help reduce the likelihood that our innovations end up being a mistake or our products cause an accident.
If you are continually seeking improvement, make sure you put systems into place to protect yourself, to foolproof your actions. Our lives are not dependable systems, but we can ‘foolproof’ our improvement by combining habits, not taking on too much at once, and remembering to give ourselves time to recover.
Which method of improvement is best?
This question is redundant in the pursuit of perfection, or even just ‘improved outcomes.’
If you want to apply kaizen to your life, think about how you can use all of these methodologies to reach your goals.
Poka-yoke, six sigma, and lean manufacturing are all systems we use in our pursuit of kaizen. We should use them all together, at different times, to help us move closer to our goals.
The best improvement method is kaizen because it does not tie us to any particular system but encourages us to experiment and try them out until we find what fits best with our goals. Each of these ‘secondary’ methodologies is a tool or an avenue through which we create our kaizen.
Kaizen is a business philosophy and a powerful tool for achieving goals and personal growth. There are many books about kaizen for self-improvement but its often difficult to see how to apply it to your life
Here’s how you can apply kaizen to reach your goals in five simple steps:
1. Self-reflect to find your purpose
The first stage of using kaizen in your life must always be self-reflection. Self-awareness and mindfulness are the heart of kaizen philosophy.
Even if you already have a specific goal you want to achieve, it’s still important to reflect upon why and how you can get there.
Once you have decided what you want, you need to understand who you have to be to get it. Find some examples of other people who have done what you want to do. There are always a few.
If your goal is so innovative that nobody has done it before, you already know your first goal: figure out how you could do it. There are many examples of people who have done something nobody else had done before, including things that nobody thought possible.
Once you’ve found someone who has what you want, write down some things they did to reach that goal. Ask yourself, “What kind of person does this?” “Who are they?” “What do they do?” as well as “What steps did they take?”
Now you know what you need to integrate into your life. These are your change agents — the habits of the future you.
If your purpose from step 1 was to ‘lose weight,’ you might research how other people have lost weight and find that they all changed their diet and exercised more.
If your goal is ‘being successful,’ your research may uncover that most successful people spend time learning how to do new things and, in particular, learn how to make the most of their time. These are also great change agents.
3. Break down your goal into small, achievable daily steps
Now you have your change agents, and you’re ready to break them down into milestones and small achievable daily steps. The trick here is making the steps so easy you can’t fail.
That could mean reading for five minutes a day or running five meters further each run or meditating for five minutes each morning.
If your goal is to lose weight and you’ve found the change agent ‘improve diet,’ find some ways to achieve that. There’s a lot of advice for doing this, but they all say to stop drinking sugar: Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite, Apple juice, milkshakes, lattes, etc.
These are tasty treats, and sugar is highly addictive, so it’s not going to be easy to cut them out. Start small. Very small. Leave a couple of sips at the bottom of the can. Then see if you can cut out one more sip every day or so until you’ve cut out that whole can.
The key to success is making a goal so small that you can’t fail to do it. If you think your goal is too small, it isn’t. Once you have it, write down exactly what you are going to do each day and at what time for maximum motivational effect. It will look something like this:
“I am going to walk for 5 minutes every evening after work.”
“I am going to do ten push-ups at 8 am every morning.”
“I am going to write a blog about cats in one hour every day.”
“I am going to take one less puff of every cigarette I smoke.”
“I am going to drink a glass of water as soon as I wake up every morning.”
For bonus effects, post a picture of your kaizen and tag someone you know well. And don’t say anything.
Don’t worry about all the other things you think you need to do, their time will come if you execute this properly. Focus on getting this one change nailed down.
4. Track and record your actions to actualize your progress
I’m not just banging on about writing things down because I’m a writer. It can have a potent neurological effect. Things become so much more real when you write them down.
When things are going on in your head, they’re going on behind your eyes, so obviously, it’s difficult to see them. Writing it down helps you to realize them. Sometimes, I’m scared of writing things down because then they’re more real.
Tracking your progress helps you achieve your goals. There’s a lot of reasons for this, not least because you’re writing things down and making them tangible. Whether that’s keeping a detailed personal journal, recording your food intake on an app, or simply marking off every day on a calendar that you complete a task, it all helps you towards your goals.
Tracking is how you become great at anything. But make sure it’s the right measure for your goals. That famous phrase goes, “What gets measured gets managed, even if it’s the wrong thing.”
5. Always look for ways to improve your actions
To do that, you need to practice self-reflection. The small steps are crucial for improvement, but they will take you in circles if you don’t spend time reflecting. Because if you’re not spending the time reflecting, you’re not being the kind of person who wants to reach that goal.
It seems ridiculous that something as small as trying to drink a sip less of each soda every day can change your life, but merely working towards this goal every day will have a knock-on effect.
Some days you will fail, but that’s still progress because it allows you to find out why. On those days you ‘fail,’ you get to ask, ‘why did I fail today?’ And answering that will take you a step forward too and may show you another area that’s holding you back.
For example, you may notice that you struggle to cut out sugar on mornings when you stayed up late the night before. If you want to achieve your goal, it turns out you must implement some changes to make sure you get a good nights sleep. You may find the key to giving up liquid sugar is not drinking caffeine in the afternoons.
After a little while of exercising your willpower muscle, you build confidence, and other ways to improve will open up and give you new avenues to pursue your purpose.
The point about kaizen is that it’s continual. Even if things seem to be going well, there’s always room to improve your method or system. It’s this ‘kaizen mindset‘ that’s so powerful because there is no way to fail. There is only pursuing improvement, or not.
With things like music or sports, you can always be better. And if you’re not practicing, you’re probably going backwards; just like you still need to brush your teeth, even if you brushed them the day before.
In a couple of years, when you rarely drink sugar and are pleased with how you look, you need to keep eating healthy and continue to optimize your diet and exercise habits to maintain it; to continue being the kind of person who isn’t overweight.
Applying kaizen in your life is so powerful because it changes who you are; you become someone who is always looking to improve. You are limitless because there is no ‘arrival,’ there is only ‘where next.’
Like most great things, Kaizen wasn’t ‘invented’ by one single person. It was developed over the last century from a simple word to a powerful practical philosophy that can be used to get whatever you want from life.
Here’s a brief history of where kaizen came from.
Kaizen is just a word that means ‘improvement.’
Kaizen is just a Japanese word (改善) that means ‘improvement’ or ‘change for the better.’ Over the years, it has come to mean striving for continuous improvement.
The earliest form of Kaizen came from the United States.
In the 1930s, an American statistician and engineer called Walter Shewhart created the ‘Shewhart Cycle’ while working for Bell Labs.
This system is now most commonly known as the PDCA Cycle; Plan, Do, Check, Act. It’s the direct ancestor of kaizen in business, and the process is pretty self-explanatory. You make a plan, carry it out, analyze the results to see what could have been better, and then act on those insights to improve. Simple.
Later, in the 1940s, Edward Deming adapted it and focused on creating better systems and better quality, rather than cost-cutting. More crucially, he determined that management caused 85% of all problems and insisted on putting the onus of development on those carrying out the work on the shop floor.
In the 1950s, Japanese business managers took on the idea and developed it further.
The PDCA cycle — along with many other processes — made its way to Japan after the second world war. Deming’s ideas were far more popular in Japan than they were in the USA, and his ideas were seized by Japanese managers and spun into the kaizen philosophy that we know today.
He also notes how the results-orientated mindset of much of the West’s factories resulted in worse results than the process-orientated Japanese companies. His and Deming’s ideas were developed in the last 30 years into the concepts of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma that are widely used in manufacturing today.
Robert Maurer brings these ideas into the personal development world in ‘The Kaizen Way.’
In it, Robert explains that the reason that most people fail is that,
“All changes are scary, even positive ones. Attempts to reach goals through radical or revolutionary means often fail because they heighten fear. But the small steps of kaizen disarm the brain’s fear response, stimulating rational thought and creative play.”
He breaks it down into six ideas:
Taking small actions.
Asking small questions.
Thinking small thoughts.
Solving small problems.
Bestowing small rewards (to yourself or others).
Recognizing small but crucial moments others ignore.
These are simple ideas that I find beautiful. Perhaps surprisingly, I haven’t read this book yet. I came across this concept of incremental improvement through other ways, but it’s had a powerful impact on my life nonetheless.
Kaizen-Ben launches in 2018 and does nothing for two years.
I aim to popularize this thinking and add my own spin to it to help you make the life changes you’ve always wanted.
I knew there was something powerful here to share with people. And I wanted to share my journey.
However, I didn’t truly understand what it was going to take. And I wasn’t ready for what would happen next. But it taught me what I needed to know to take this step now, so buying the domain wasn’t a total waste.
Today, you read this blog.
What step will you take next? I hope you learned something useful in this blog, and it’s piqued your interest enough to explore the idea of what kaizen is and how you can use these ideas to improve your life.
A ‘kaizen mindset’ is one of the most powerful ways to get what you want from life. It’s simple, effective, and easy enough that anyone can execute it.
But be warned, a kaizen mindset won’t just change your life.
It will change you as a person.
A Kaizen Mindset is a Business Growth Strategy
Kaizen is most often found in workplaces, but it’s just as potent a self-improvement tool.
Businesses who want a ‘kaizen mindset’ train their employees to always look for ways to improve their job — and any other processes in their company they come into contact with.
The companies that are the best at doing this tell their employees to think “the current way of doing things is the worst way.”
As you can probably imagine, that has a massive impact on the business’s success in the short and long term.
It was one reason Japan made such a strong economic recovery post-WWII and is behind Toyota’s long-term success.
Many of the elements that make it a successful management tool make it an excellent tool for self-improvement.
A Kaizen Mindset is a Way of Life
The beauty of a kaizen mindset is that it’s all about the little steps.
These make improving your life much more manageable for two reasons:
They overcome our natural fear of big changes.
You don’t get disheartened by failure because it’s part of the process.
There’s always a place for radical life changes, but too often, we overestimate our capacity to maintain those changes over the long term.
When you have a kaizen mindset, you are committed to improvement, whatever that looks like. It is the practice of self-criticism, a stoic approach but unleashed from values or virtues.
A kaizen mindset is a continuous pursuit of perfection. And because it’s impossible to achieve perfection, this process never ends.
You can apply it to achieving a specific goal or learning a particular skill. But it’s most useful when you apply it to your life as a whole because all the little changes feed into each other. Achieving your bigger, hairier goals becomes a part of the process — an inevitability.
The 6 Elements of a Kaizen Mindset
The core elements of a kaizen mindset are simple but powerful ways to live your life.
I have chosen these because they are rules rather than values — they are flexible, so you can use them to build your own values, like courage or temperance, or confidence.
Self-Awareness & Critique
Always Be Learning
Start with Scarcity
Break Down Your Goals into Manageable Steps
Commit to Daily Practice (habit-forming)
Embrace Obstacles and Mistakes
How a Kaizen Mindset Works in Practice
The best example of how a kaizen mindset works in practice is the problem of ‘losing weight.’
When people say that, they don’t just want to lose weight; they want to keep it off too. We want to feel sexy and confident, and healthy. And we want it fast.
Most people go on a crash diet or a ‘super shred’ and go to the extreme for a couple of months.
If we do it right, it works. We look and feel great.
Then, a long weekend comes along, and we decide to give ourselves a break because we ‘deserve it.’ And before you know it, a week has gone past, and you haven’t worked out. You abandon the diet; the tracking app notifications get turned off because they make you feel guilty.
We struggle on, not sure why it’s not working or where our ‘motivation went.’ But the weeks creep by, and slowly but surely our body settles back into its old cuddly shape.
The most significant obstacle for most people — and why they usually give up here — is realizing that they’re going to have to change a lot more than just their diet to reach their goals.
They realize that the kind of person with washboard abs or a great arse isn’t the kind of person who goes to the pub and orders takeaway four nights a week.
If you want a significant change in your life, you need to be prepared to abandon who you are right now, and who you’ve been all your life.
Following a kaizen approach makes that fear smaller and more manageable because you don’t have to change who you are overnight.
You just have to change one little thing at a time.
Here’s how it applies to the example of ‘losing weight.’
Approaching Weight Loss with a Kaizen Mindset
If you approach losing weight with a kaizen mindset, you first appreciate that it will take some time to reach your ideal weight or look. Probably several years.
It doesn’t take long to lose a few pounds, but you have to stop being the kind of person who gains excess body fat.
You must accept that to become the kind of person who is confident about their body, you have to ‘un-become’ the type of person who eats take-out four nights a week.
And making long-term lifestyle changes is the only way to do this.
But with kaizen, you only have to change one small thing at a time.
Think of one thing that you can do — one habit you can bring into your life — that will help you towards that goal.
For example, the kind of person who has washboard abs is the kind of person who drinks a glass of water in the morning — every morning.
Start doing that every day. This one is so easy that you’ll be ready to move to the next step pretty quickly. Usually after a couple of months.
The next one could be, stop snacking.
The kind of person who has washboard abs is the kind of person that says ‘no’ when you offer them a snack.
EVEN if it’s french fries. 🤤
This one is pretty simple to execute, so you start practicing that with minimal equipment: Anytime your brain or your friends suggest you have a snack, say ‘no.’
That’s all pretty normal.
But the key that makes a kaizen mindset is that when you fail to say no to that delicious bite of pizza, or you somehow fail to drink a glass of water in the morning, you need to ask yourself why you failed and how you could prevent that failure in future.
And then, when you SUCCEED in refusing food (and you’ll notice it!) you ask yourself why you succeeded and how you could do that again, and maybe even do it better, in the future too.
I know from experience that refusing free food is takes time to build into a habit. But the best part about kaizen is that every little step you do strengthens the other actions you take.
You’re more likely to say ‘no’ to a snack if you’re the kind of person who drinks water every morning.
And if you decide that you’re going to add in 10 push-ups every morning…
Well, you get the idea.
The Best Way to Start Building A Kaizen Mindset
The easiest way to change your life is to start drinking a large glass of water every morning.
If you’ve got that sorted, the next thing you should try is meditation.
Meditation is the single best way to execute kaizen in your life because it’s so simple. And it’s pretty much the embodiment of a kaizen mindset.
Anyone can do it. And you can meditate anywhere. There are no excuses for not being able to meditate because you were travelling, or hungover, or didn’t have the equipment.
If you want to start to bring a kaizen mentality into your life, start meditating for 5-10 minutes—every day.
You don’t have to do it well. There’s no way to meditate that’s better than another, or any way to measure if getting better; you just do it every day. Don’t worry if you miss a day here or there, the main thing is that you do it as many days as you can.
It’s probably better to accept that you will never be good at meditation from the start — like I’m never going to enjoy cleaning my room — and buckle down and do it. I know I’m going to enjoy the result, at least.
Meditation is also similar to drinking a glass of water. There’s no ‘better’ way to drink it. No matter how many times you drink a glass of water, you’re never going to ‘drink it better.’ But it’s still just as beneficial to your life whether you sip it through a straw or glug it down at once.
The benefits are in the doing; the practice. You are adding that little 1% interest to your savings account.
And if you did that every day, what would life look like in five years, or ten years? Who would you be?
I encourage you to give meditation a whirl for free on Insight Timer. Here are three of my favourite morning meditations for you to try:
You may have heard the word kaizen and wondered what it meant. The answer is stranger than you’d think.
The root of the word kaizen is in manufacturing and business processes. But the principles behind it are applicable in our lives too. That’s why it has crept into the world of self-help.
But what does kaizen actually mean?
What is kaizen, and what does it mean?
Kaizen is a concept and a Japanese word. This is the word:
The word simply means “change for the better.”
A simpler translation might be ‘improvement.’
There isn’t much philosophical about the words ‘improvement’ or ‘kaizen’ by themselves.
But kaizen has grown in meaning in the last half-century to describe the philosophy of ‘continuous improvement’ both in business and private life.
The Deeper Meaning of Kaizen
The English language is well-known to relentlessly and mercilessly acquire words and phrases from others — often shamelessly ignoring its deeper meanings.
One of my favourite quotes on this:
“We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.” James Nicoll
Kaizen has avoided that treatment so far. But unpicking its meaning reveals a philosophical beauty.
This gent does a better job than I could ever do.
Kai (revolution) = Self & Whip (flagellate)
Zen (good) = Sheep (lamb/goat) & Alter (sacrifice)
Kaizen, translated very literally, means revolution through small sacrifices.
I love the philosophy behind this.
Change is the relentless beating of life upon us.
And ‘good’ essentially meaning sacrifice, or from sacrifice. Because nothing truly good ever happened without a little sacrifice.
Sacrifice is how you get there.
Not huge sacrifices, just small, meaningful ones.
Keep both of those meanings in mind as we go a little deeper into the meaning of the word ‘kaizen,’ and you’ll see the power these little lines represent.
Kaizen just translates as ‘improvement.’
But ‘improving’ isn’t very helpful. How do you improve? And how do you know you’ve improved when you get there?
To incorporate the philosophy of kaizen into your life, you need a framework.
Here are some ‘pillars’ that make kaizen practical for personal growth.
The 3 Pillars of Personal Kaizen
Kaizen has been turned into a framework for creating better businesses. And as with any such framework, it rests upon ‘pillars’ or ‘principles’ or ‘instructions’ or ‘laws’ or something else allegedly unshakable. You can find various versions of these, but they all seem to be rather wordy and boring business-speak.
After some research, I decided that these three were probably the most important — everything else stemmed from them. Someone will probably complain about me twisting meanings here, but I don’t care. Words are what you make of them.
1. Mokuteki 目的 (Purpose)
Mokuteki is at the core of kaizen. It roughly means ‘purpose’ or ‘goal.’
Mokuteki is the growth part, the addition, the result of the improvement.
If you want to execute kaizen in your life, mokuteki is both your goals and your intention to achieve them.
It’s basically the whole point.
You could also use seichō (成長) meaning ‘growth’ or zō‘ (増) meaning ‘increase.’ Or just kaizen, of course.
I find ‘purpose’ to be most fitting for self-improvement, partly because of its double meaning in English.
You must have purpose — intent — to change. And you must have a purpose for doing it—your objective. The roots of the word ‘purpose’ are from the Latin for ‘resolve.’ Something else you must have.
This also fits nicely with our use of the word ‘purpose’ because eliminating waste and distractions becomes easy once you have a purpose.
There are some elements of this in personal kaizen, and we’ll certainly need to eliminate things that don’t help us work towards our goals.
2. Gemba 現場 (Place)
Gemba is a Japanese word that translates approximately as ‘the real place.’ Google (rather dully) tells me that it means ‘on-site.’
If you’re interested, the two kanji characters that make this word translate as ‘current’ and ‘field.’
In the business consulting frameworks, Gemba typically refers to the workplace or factory floor. But it can be used in several other ways:
A police detective would call a crime scene the gemba, live TV journalists report from gemba. It’s where the action happens, where the rubber hits the road. It’s the field where you will sow your seeds of growth.
If you are trying to apply kaizen to your life, gemba is the area of your life that you want to improve.
To some people, their gemba is obvious and specific. It could be learning to play the guitar or running a marathon.
It could be more abstract for other people, like being happier, or more confident, or more successful in your career.
You need gemba to help you focus your efforts. It directs your energy and shows you what you need to sacrifice. It helps you cut away the chaff and focus on what’s essential to your mokuteki.
It keeps you on track. Identifying your gemba is essential if you want to benefit from the principles of kaizen.
You cannot climb any mountains unless you pick one mountain to climb first.
Gemba is also where you do that improvement: work, home, the gym. Understanding how your environment affects you is an essential part of self-development.
3. Renzoku 連続 (Persistence)
The final piece of a ‘kaizen’ philosophy is this: continuity. Which is the more common translation of renzoku. But that doesn’t make a neat ‘Three P’ for the pillars. 🙂
The business concepts refer to this as standardization — and that’s important to remember. Another way we could look at this could be iji (維持), which would mean sustainability, or ‘to maintain,’ but I prefer 連続 because it is more about using it continually.
And also the whole ‘P’ thing I mentioned earlier.
Personal kaizen is more about continuity because you can’t standardize life in the same way you can standardize a production line or business process.
Kaizen isn’t about making fast changes to your lifestyle or habits. It’s about continuously making improvements to your lifestyle or habits. These little improvements will all add up to significant change faster than you think.
It’s not about quick hacks and instant results. Because, as appealing as those may be, these things don’t work.
You might drop the ~10lb (for me, it was about ~25lb) that you thought was making you unhappy. You might get the raise you need to feel like a success. You might find the perfect productivity app, or personal trainer, or diet plan, or partner. But none of that will count for shit in the long-run because they’re not what drives change.
Kaizen is about taking small definite actions every day — some of which you can standardize — no matter what happens. It’s about persistence.
Renzoku is the current that drives the change. It’s your motor, the wind in your sails.
It’s the realization that there is no final ‘better’ — perfection is impossible, after all.
The whole point is just to put one foot in front of the other and keep on moving.
The power behind the kaizen philosophy lies in renzoku.
It’s the method that makes it all possible; it’s the regular deposits you make into your account.
But it’s also the realization that making the regular deposits is more important than how much they are or how much is in the account!
It’s the action that makes it all possible.
Kaizen is a Way of Approaching Life
Here’s another analogy that relates to this story about the man who wanted to climb the mountain.
Adopting a kaizen philosophy is deciding to climb the mountain for yourself. It is also your map and your method.
If you are that traveller walking up a mountain, gemba is the mountain, mokuteki is the view from the top, and renzoku is the action of putting one foot in front of the other; the steps you take to get there.
And those travellers who are fortunate enough to reach the top and look out on that view tend to realize one thing. Each of those little steps was the point. The steps were the goal in themselves. After all, how many people climb just one mountain?
Once you get to the top, you realize that the whole point is to climb — and to keep climbing.
Kaizen is the toolkit that will help you climb any mountain you choose.
What Kaizen Means to Me
This whole blog is about what kaizen is to me and how to use this practical philosophy to improve your life.
Kaizen helped me to completely turn my life around, and it can help you too.
It’s taken me from being a lost, sad, goal-less drug-addict to a productive, healthy (mostly) happy human, doing what I enjoy for a living.
I’m a pretty flaky guy. And I’m not talking about a skin condition.
I flake out on my friends, the gym, my degree, relationships. You name it, I’ve given up on it. I’ve even gotten pretty close to flaking on my whole damn life a couple of times.
We’ve all got that one really flaky friend. Sometimes more than one. If you can’t think of a really flaky mate, it’s probably you. But that doesn’t mean you’re the only one — we all do it.
And not just to our mates, but to ourselves. You know what I mean.
When you are about to get fit, get a promotion or a job, or start eating healthy, going to the gym – whatever.
Life is going a little too well.
Then, something happens and the ‘fuck it’ button gets pressed. The pressure gets too much. The challenges mount ahead and your brain goes, ‘…fuck that.’
Or I feel a bit crap or lonely and think, ‘fuck it. I’ll just go back to doing what I want – it feels better.’ The pressure goes away and you get to go back to being normal.
Have you ever heard that song with the line, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going…”
They used to play it at my primary school morning assembly; some sort of indoctrination no doubt. Well, I can’t speak for everyone but I can say that it didn’t work for me.
When the going gets tough, I used to flake out and go back to bed. I still do sometimes. Then I can binge on beer and drugs and sugar and Netflix, and the whole world can just go and fuck itself.
Things ‘getting tough’ is a good enough excuse for me to not bother at all. Why go through all the hassle and stress? I’ll probably fail anyway…
When it comes to flakiness, I’m a pro. So much that I don’t even notice I’m doing it until it’s too late…
Past Ben is Out to Get Me
Ever get that feeling someone is out there to trip you up? Well, whenever I turn around to see who’s tripping me up, it turns out to be me. I call him, ‘Past Ben.’ Some people call this self-sabotage. I’ve sabotaged every single relationship I’ve had.
Usually, before it’s even started I’ve laid dynamite in the foundations, ready for me to implode the whole thing when it gets too tough, or too real, too painful. And when it ends and I didn’t want it to, I look back and realise that it was me who’d sewn the seeds of its failure, way back in the beginning.
Maybe so that then I can go back to filling my head with fun chemicals and trying to get into other lonely people’s pants. “Hey! I’ve just had a hard time, I’m allowed to have some fun.”
Even if that ‘fun’ involves drinking myself into the gutter in the closest, darkest bar with some other heartbroken people. All I need to flake is an excuse – and it doesn’t even need to be a good one.
The 5 ‘Es’ of Self-Sabotage
You could, technically, say that all these ‘Es’ are excuses, and you’d be right. But, then I wouldn’t get to make that hilarious title, would I? Or this blog for that matter.
I’ve talked about excuses before and there are lots of great excuses you can use to avoid success, if you’re looking. Blaming other people is always a great one. It’s super easy to blame someone else when things go wrong or get too hard.
Every single girlfriend I ever had was a great excuse. You know, wanting all that time and attention. How could I possibly become rich and famous if I’m spending all my time with her?
If you’re looking, the world has a tonne of excuses you can use too — just watch the ‘news.’
Remember when all the computers were going to die because of a date change or something around 2000? Or SARS…or bird flu… or swine flu…ebola…was going to kill us all…the recession…the Cold War…the invention of the steam-loom…the Rapture… How could you possibly commit to anything when the world ends tomorrow? But it never does.
I’ve actually been kind of disappointed by how little has changed since Donald Trump got elected President. That was supposed to be apocalyptic. The same goes for Brexit; I was half-expecting the UK to simply ‘pop’ out of existence. More disappointment there.
If there’s one thing the news is good at creating, apart from fear, it’s a disappointment. Stop listening. It’ll only give you more excuses. And we can already make enough of our own.
For a lot of people, this is a tricky one because the world is always trying to make us feel like we deserve to have more stuff. Even when we don’t. The proof is in our credit card bills. I recently started apartment hunting and found myself becoming very entitled.
Faced with the possibility I wouldn’t get exactly what I wanted, I started to become very frustrated: “This is ridiculous! I deserve to be renting a furnished one bedroom in the downtown core at age 28.” “I deserve to be making much more $$$.” “I’m being deprived.”
None of those things are true. Not in the slightest.
So, I remind myself I’m lucky to even be thinking about renting an apartment by myself, let alone renting a 15 min walk from work in the financial district. Who the hell do I think I am?
Entitlement is a sneaky one for sure. It will stop you creating the life’s work you were born to do. Gratitude is key to defeating it. I’m going to drop in Envy here too because it’s kind of the same thing, and it also begins with ‘E’.
Envy is a twisted and ugly beast. I once heard someone say that 100% of all haters in the world are because of unrealized potential: When you see something that you know you have in you, that you could have for yourself, something you haven’t realized, you envy the person who has it. And then they become the reason you don’t get it instead. The thing to blame.
After spending a lot of my life stoned, let me tell you that everything, literally everything, takes too much effort. Sometimes even breathing can be a struggle.
There are countless times when getting out of bed to go see someone or do something would have improved my life. Maybe changed it forever. Almost definitely would have made me money. And I just couldn’t be bothered. “Fuck it – it’s not worth the effort.”
I’d say to myself. And curl up into my little ball under the duvet, giving the world the finger. But, Roosevelt was right; there is nothing on this planet worth having that you can get easily. NOTHING.
Steven Hawking, who legendary scientist who passed recently, easily could have given up. He had the excuses. How much effort was it for him to type a sentence, let alone write a book? But he did. And when he finished, he started all over again.
This one is one of my personal favourites. These last two are. I love all of these and use them all to prevent my own success and self-sabotage, all the time. I’m an emotional guy. Sometimes I can actually feel what other people are feeling as if it was me. I get sad a lot. The world makes me sad. People make sad.
Being sad, or tired, or even happy are great excuses to stop doing whatever it is that I should be doing. I had a bad day. A girl rejected me. I cut my hand. I had a good day. I went to the gym for a few days in a row. A girl asked me out. It’s Thursday. All of these great excuses to give up and go out and get drunk or get high in bed.
This one is particularly hard for me because I’m pretty needy and get a lot of FOMO. Always have. It’s probably because I’m worried no one will like me or want to hang out with me. Sometimes I get so worried about this that I just don’t go out or have fun at all. But the rest of the time, going out and having ‘fun’ is a great excuse not to do whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have fun. I completely believe that blowing off steam should be part of your routine, as long as it doesn’t fuck up the rest of your life. And I always just want to go that little bit further… And it ends up going bad somehow; so I have an excuse to relax again and stop trying to succeed.
Flakiness = Fear
As I’ve been writing this, it’s become obvious that a lot, if not all, of self-sabotage, is fear. Fear of something better? I’m not sure. Maybe. Fear that I’ll fail, I guess so yeh. Fear that I’ll succeed? Maybe that too. Fear that I don’t think I deserve it?
Fear that people won’t like me?
Fear of death?
Probably all of them.
Becoming less flaky (no prescription cream needed) Although I have a long way to go (I’ve self-sabotaged myself pretty badly at least 3 times this year) I’ve come a long way too. One of the keys to breaching that gap for me was exercise.
If you groaned when you read that, then it’s going to be useful to you too. At best, PE/Gym class was an excuse to mess around with my mates. I’d walk half the 800m warm-up jog.
On forced cross-country runs we’d duck off to try and take shortcuts we’d found while smoking before school. Sometimes we’d stop for a smoke too. But exercising physically is also exercising mentally. They are exactly the same thing.
Forcing yourself to get up and go and get sweaty and do something you hate is also working out your willpower muscle. You’re training yourself to be ready to crush that excuse when it pops up. And it will. All the time. At the end of every lift, or set, or run, or whatever, when you’re pushing yourself to go that little bit further…
That’s your willpower training right there. Sparring with your ‘I give up’ almost daily is the only way to beat it. Like anything, you have to keep at it for a while. But, if you keep at it for a few weeks, you’ll feel great and you’ll look peng AF.
“How the fuck do I figure out what to do with my life?” my little sister asked the other day.
I laughed. Then I text her: lol
“Or maybe that’s just me,” she replied at the same time.
I think she knew that wasn’t true before she finished typing it.
How many people do you know who have figured out ‘what to do’ with their lives?
I know a few. But most people don’t have a clear picture of what they want to do with their lives. We have ideas about the things we want, sure.
But apart from that we just sort of trundle along waiting for something great to happen to us. I have for years.
I remember in school, it never seemed there were very many career options. As kids, you only really think of the obvious professions; doctor, lawyer, teacher, dentist, vet, fireman, policeman, postman…
Some of us head down those paths.
Most of us end up ejected off the conveyor belt education system with a stack of debt and zero clue about what to do next.
My current job wasn’t on the careers list at school. Neither are most of my friends’.
But you’ve got to pay the bills.
Don’t Look for Your Passion
In the knowledge that we have to do something, we bounce around on a rough sort of career trajectory, often in a field only generally related to the things we actually have a passion for.
I probably shouldn’t use ‘passion’, it’s a little misleading. It’s more just something you actually care about.
The point is, the pressures and demands of modern life lead most of us into jobs, rather than vocations.
And everyone knows what they want to do with their lives.
We usually just haven’t given it the thought. Or we’ve made so many excuses over the years why we can’t do it, that we’ve forgotten what it was in the first place.
Or, maybe you’re scared that doing something exciting or fun or beautiful, something that you actually give a fuck about, will never work for you.
So, we just give up and do something easy or comfortable that pays the bills and gets you the things you want to buy.
“Yh it’s quite a depressing thought tbh” my sister said.
“It could be,” I replied, ever argumentative 😉
“Gotta use it as motivation I suppose” she countered. She was right, of course.
Give Yourself Space to Figure Out What You Want to Do in Life
Everyone knows what they want to do with their lives. If you’re not sure, you’ve got to give yourself the chance and the space to figure it out.
What did you want to be when you were a little kid?
What did you enjoy?
Who did you pretend to be?
If you’re like most people, there’s maybe even a few things you love doing. The things you can talk for hours about. Or things you always wanted to explore.
But even if you still don’t know, and you’re not sure, you can always figure it out. That’s kinda the point.
“But it’s hard, coz I actually don’t know,” said my sister.
“Look at that sentence,” I said.
You Don’t Need to Choose Forever
You just need to give yourself the chance to. If you’ve been telling yourself something for years, you’re actually making it a reality.
But YOU DON’T HAVE TO CHOOSE FOREVER!
Passions can be flakey. You might think you should be doing and find you don’t actually like doing it. That’s fine. Try something else you like the look of. Life is long.
It doesn’t even have to be a career – think of it as a side hustle.
But you have to give yourself the chance to be happy.
You have to give yourself the chance to work it out. In your head.
Instead of saying, “I don’t know”, try, “I’m figuring it out.”
Or, “I don’t know, yet.”
Or, “I’m working on it.”
I promise you this is not some wishy-washy bullshit. Words are powerful things.
It’s an old saying that your thoughts become your words, become, become your actions, becomes you. Like many old sayings, it’s true.
As soon as you tell yourself something, you’re making it real.
Your brain starts looking for ways to make it a reality, and your body follows. It’s just what your body is supposed to do.
It’s the same mechanism as when someone tells you about something and you start to see it everywhere.
Two Steps to Figuring Out What You Want to Do in Life
So, step 1 is to stop telling yourself you don’t know. Instead, start telling yourself that you’re going to figure it out.
Step 2 is to stop asking ‘how’ and actually start figuring out.
Start asking yourself the key questions;
‘What do/did I like doing?’
‘What am/was I good at?’
‘What do/did I want to know more about?’
Think about the things you loved doing as a child. If you’re not sure, ask your friends and family what they think you’re good at. What questions do they ask you?
Whatever you do DON’T LISTEN to the voice in your head telling you that you’re being silly even thinking about it, that it’s impossible, that it’ll never work.
They’re wrong. They don’t know. They’re not even you.
Keep asking yourself every day. You’ll get an answer.
And if you’re still not sure, let me know and we’ll figure it out together.
But you probably already have an idea, haven’t you?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably made a lot of excuses over the years. This blog right here came through about 5 years of excuses. At least.
Ever since I was a kid. When I think about it, most of them were actually lies.
“Sorry Mum, but she hit me first!” (I doubt my little sister would have)
“Sorry Sir, the train was late.” (I was smoking weed before school)
“Sorry Babe, but I left my phone in the other room” (I was with another girl)
Yep, that last one is pretty bad. And they’re all definitely lies.
Someone once told me, ‘Excuses are lies that only you believe.’
That one really stung. Probably because it was true.
Do you want to know the worst bit?
The person you spend the most time making excuses to is yourself.
If you’re anything like me, you make a tonne of excuses to yourself, all day, every day. They’re probably so part of your internal monologue you barely notice. I barely do.
But you should notice them because they’re stopping you from living the life you want to live. They’re what’s stopping you from losing weight, finding love, stopping smoking, writing that book, making that film, singing that song…
Whatever it is, your excuses are crippling your life.
Don’t believe me? Do any of these sound familiar…?
‘I’m too tired to…’
‘I don’t have enough time to…’
‘I don’t have the money to…’
‘I’m not attractive enough…’
Most of have a neat little personal arsenal of excuses up our sleeves too. And we’re in the habit of using them, all too often.
Usually, it goes something like this…
You get inspired by something and this little voice pipes up with an idea. You get pumped about the idea. You might even start doing it.
But, sooner or later, your excuses wade in and it’s game over…
‘I don’t live in the right place…’
‘I don’t have the right tools or knowledge…’
Your idea fizzles out.
I swear I used to just make ideas happen all the time when I was a kid.
But, maybe all those years wasted ‘learning’ useless crap at school filled up my brain so much the little ideas couldn’t come out.
But, maybe I was so scared of the darkness in the world that the little idea was too scared to leap out of my head into the real, to become something beautiful, or funny, or useful.
But, maybe I just fucked my brain up so much on drugs and pissed my time away partying and it’s just too late.
Those were a couple of Ben’s homemade excuses right there for you.
The truth is, most of the time we’re just scared. We’re scared of failure, or of being disliked, or losing something, or someone.
That ancient, lizard part of your brain sniffs a change in the breeze and freezes. New = danger. Danger = bad. Ergo, New = bad. Stay where you are. Here = safe.
Excuses are just a highly-evolved version of this part of our brain, which is solely designed to keep us alive, away from danger. Not exploring the world and being creative.
But today, they’re the easiest way to fool yourself that you’re not the one solely in charge of your life. The easiest way to avoid the discomfort of changing anything.
And the most certain way never to do those things you wanted to.
In the words of Jordan Belfort, “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”
Well, F.U. Excuses. This little idea made it out.
It actually made it out a little while back, but it didn’t quite look like this. I kept it, and it grew!
It’s still growing, so I thought you might like to see it grow, and maybe it can help you too.
But the only reason it made it out is this – I stopped making excuses.
I started listening to what I was actually saying to myself, and what I was saying to the people around me about my life. It was not pretty. Or encouraging. It was a bunch of excuses.
Once I listened to myself, it was obvious why I was failing. I was telling myself I had failed before I even started!
So, what excuses are you telling yourself every day?
Who are they turning you into?
Listen to yourself for a little. And then let me know what you heard.