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 can’t lose!
Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash