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.
Being the kind of person who makes their bed makes us feel like the kind of person who does other productive, organized things and looks after themselves.
71% of bed-makers say they’re happy, while most non-bed makers say they’re not. Bed makers are also more likely to own a home, enjoy their work, sleep better, eat better, and exercise regularly. They also have more sex.
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.’
The people that make the most money in the stock market aren’t day traders. Ever.
They’re the patient ones. The people who wait it out.
They’re not trying to make a million today, or even tomorrow, because they know that if they turn up and put in a little extra every day, they’ll be head and shoulders about the rest in a decade or two.
They don’t worry when the stock market goes down. Or too pumped when it leaps up.
They just turn up every day and look for little ways to improve.
Life is a bit like the stock market — it’s all over the place.
Some days are going to feel like you’re going backwards.
And guess what?
Just like the stock market, a little investment in yourself on those down days is worth a lot more when your stock goes back up.
Improve your life fearlessly with this essential guide to kaizen—the art of making significant and lasting change through small, steady steps.
Written by psychologist and kaizen expert Dr. Robert Maurer, One Small Step Can Change Your Life is the simple but potent guide to easing into new habits—and turning your life around. Learn how to overcome fear and procrastination with his 7 Small Steps—including how to Think Small Thoughts, Take Small Actions, and Solve Small Problems—to steadily build your confidence and make insurmountable-seeming goals suddenly feel doable.
The science is irrefutable: Small steps circumvent our brains’ built-in resistance to new behaviours. Throughout this book, Dr. Maurer also shows how to visualize virtual change so that real change can come easier, why small rewards lead to significant returns. And how great discoveries are made by paying attention to the little details most of us overlook. His simple regiment is your path to continuous improvement for anything from losing weight to quitting smoking, paying off debt, or conquering shyness and meeting new people. Rooted in the two-thousand-year-old wisdom of the Tao Te Ching—“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”—here is the way to change your life without fear, without failure, and start on a new path of comfortable, continuous improvement.
The truth is…80% of New Year’s Resolutions have failed by February. Why? Because people were never taught how to set goals properly. Most plans are never completed on time. And even highly-skilled and dedicated professionals still struggle to accomplish goals and overcome procrastination.
The solution lies in understanding the innate psychological forces that conspire against us. We must become aware of these “mental traps,” which prevent us from getting things done.
What if I told you that the Japanese had solved this problem?
In this book, we’ll be introducing you to 3 concepts from Japan:
Hansei – The art of honest self-reflection.
Ikigai – How to find your “true calling.”
Kaizen – Goal achievement through incremental progress.
Each one of these techniques is a powerful goal-setting aid. But when combined, they can multiply your productivity by a factor of TEN and make your most ambitious dreams appear achievable!
When your personal life goals are in harmony with the challenges that lie before you, that’s when the magic happens. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote:
“Of all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”
Indeed, when your goals are properly aligned, there is much joy to be had in any challenge you choose to conquer.
If you want to improve your life while becoming happier and more productive, then take the first step right now by reading this book. Anyone who thinks they don’t need to improve should also read this book to get to know the people who will defeat them in the game of life.
Who is running your life? It may seem a strange question to ask, and you may be inclined to answer automatically: “I am, of course.” However, when challenged to think about this question, the answer may not be so clear. Who is running your life? Is it you or your employer, government, friends and relatives, children or parents, or spouse? Maybe it is your fears and phobias, your lack of self-esteem and assertiveness, your lack of knowledge and experience, your poor ethics or poor memory, your ill health or constant debt? Are you running your life?
This book guides individuals to employ Kaizen’s principles – the famous Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement – in achieving personal success. It provides a step-by-step approach enabling you to start right away.
This book is about achieving positive, ethical results through constant self-improvement. KAIZEN (pronounced ky’zen) is Japanese for a philosophy of continuous improvement. It is about success based on one’s inner strength, which then expands outwards.
That one doesn’t have to be an individual; it could be a corporation, an institution or a whole society. Packed with fascinating quotations and insights, this book challenges readers to take control of their lives and take responsibility for the constant improvement of their personal and business achievements.
Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving–every day. James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviours that lead to remarkable results.
If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves repeatedly, not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the status of your systems. Here, you’ll get a proven method that can take you to new heights.
Clear is known for distilling complex topics into simple behaviours that can be easily applied to daily life and work. Here, he draws on the most proven ideas from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to create an easy-to-understand guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. Along the way, readers will be inspired and entertained with true stories from Olympic gold medalists, award-winning artists, business leaders, life-saving physicians, and star comedians who have used the science of small habits to master their craft and vault to the top of their field.
Learn how to:
make time for new habits (even when life gets crazy);
overcome a lack of motivation and willpower;
design your environment to make success easier;
get back on track when you fall off course;
…and much more.
Atomic Habits will reshape the way you think about success and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits, whether you are a team looking to win a championship or an individual who wishes to quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress or achieve any other goal.
In The Power of Habit, award-winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to the sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a full new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core,
The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, we can transform our businesses, communities, and lives by harnessing this new science.
“Few [books] become essential manuals for business and living. The Power of Habit is an exception. Charles Duhigg not only explains how habits are formed but how to kick bad ones and hang on to the good.” —Financial Times.
“Sharp, provocative, and useful.” —Jim Collins.
“A flat-out great read.” —David Allen, bestselling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
“You’ll never look at yourself, your organization, or your world quite the same way.” —Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of Drive and A Whole New Mind.
“Entertaining . . . enjoyable . . . fascinating . . . a serious look at the science of habit formation and change.” — The New York Times Book Review
The world is changing. Markets have crashed. Jobs have disappeared. Industries have been disrupted and are being remade before our eyes. Everything we aspired to for “security,” everything we thought was “safe,” no longer is: College. Employment. Retirement. Government. It’s all crumbling down. In every part of society, the middlemen are being pushed out of the picture. No longer is someone coming to hire you, to invest in your company, to sign you, to pick you. It’s on you to make the most crucial decision in your life: Choose Yourself.
New tools and economic forces have emerged to make it possible for individuals to create art, make millions of dollars and change the world without “help.” More and more opportunities are rising out of the ashes of the broken system to generate real inward success (personal happiness and health) and outward success (fulfilling work and wealth).
This book will teach you to do just that. With dozens of case studies, interviews and examples–including the author, investor and entrepreneur James Altucher’s own heartbreaking and inspiring story–Choose Yourself illuminates your path to building a bright, new world out of the wreckage of the old.
What should we do, or leave undone, in a day or a lifetime? How much messiness should we accept? What balance of the new and familiar is the most fulfilling? These may seem like uniquely human quandaries, but they are not. Computers, like us, confront limited space and time, so computer scientists have been grappling with similar problems for decades. And the solutions they’ve found have much to teach us.
In a dazzlingly interdisciplinary work, Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths show how algorithms developed for computers also untangle very human questions. They explain how to have better hunches and when to leave things to chance, how to deal with overwhelming choices and how best to connect with others. From finding a spouse to finding a parking spot, from organizing one’s inbox to peering into the future,
Algorithms to Live By transforms the wisdom of computer science into strategies for human living.
The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.
In this stunning book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers”–the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?
He answers that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way, he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.
Brilliant and entertaining, Outliers is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.
We live in the Information Age, and much of that information comes to us in the form of numbers. But before numerical data can be useful, it must be analyzed, interpreted, and assimilated.
Unfortunately, teaching the techniques for making sense of data has been neglected at all our educational system levels. As a result, through our culture, there is little appreciation for effectively using the volumes of data generated by both business and government.
This book can remedy that situation. Readers report that this book has changed how they look a data. It has turned arguments about the numbers into a shared understanding of what needs to be done about them. These techniques and benefits have been thoroughly proven in a wide variety of settings.
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.
You’re already doing so much better than you give yourself credit for.
An hour spent stretching is just as valuable as an hour spent lifting weights, in the grand scheme of things.
So, give yourself a break from being great, and just be good for the day.
When you’re not feeling up to it — when you’re hungover, or tired, or grumpy — doing the smallest thing is worth so much more; especially if you wouldn’t normally do it on a ‘bad’ day.
On those ‘bad’ days, maybe being great just means reading something interesting or watching a documentary that teaches you something new. Or drinking that extra glass of water. Or ordering a large fries instead of your usual extra-large.
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:
Not many people saw the pandemic coming. And nobody predicted what actually happened in 2020.
Don’t believe anyone who says they know what’s going to happen in the future. At best, it’ll be a lucky guess.
We can’t predict what happens to us, but we can decide what we do next.
We always get to decide how we react.
When you know how you’ll react before the Universe throws the shit — that’s what we call ‘having values.’
And having values is how you predict the future.
So, if kaizen is one of your values, it means you’ve decided to improve: To take a little step forward every day. To learn something new. To leave our beautiful home a little better than when we arrived.
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.