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.
Your goal can be as vague as wanting to ‘improve your life’ or as specific as wanting to run a marathon in under 3 hours, 3 minutes, and 21 seconds.
Ask yourself: What am I trying to achieve?
Then write it down.
This is your ‘purpose’ or (Mokuteki 目的).
2. Research to find your change agents
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.’