Loosely translated it means “continuous improvement,” and the kaizen method works in accordance with human nature and common sense, resulting in a most efficient and effective way to achieve major goals. In Japan’s corporate world, that translates to the fastest successful completion of large projects and shifts in doing business with big savings in terms of time and money.
The American auto industry should pay closer attention to it, but this is not about GM and Ford. It is about how you can use one aspect of kaizen to most rapidly, efficiently and effectively achieve the biggest and most challenging goals in your life.
There are multiple dimensions to kaizen, but for the purposes of rapidly and dramatically improving your productivity and well-being, we’ll focus on its commitment to taking small, manageable steps to make big changes. It is about both shifting the way you see as well as do when it comes to the projects and goals in your life.
To understand this, it is important to realize what you innately already know well: the human brain is highly resistant to big changes. Though it may not resemble Dick Cheney, your brain is highly conservative and cannot stand the idea of having to push itself and the rest of you to do things very differently. Big change goes against human nature and so your brain fears what it perceives as likely failure.
On the other hand, your brain is a-ok with having to make small changes. Small shifts in the routine are inevitable, they happen every day, and your brain is quite used to them. In fact, your brain would freak out and possibly assume you were dead if it wasn’t routinely facing small changes.
So when you read a new dietary book and decide “I’ve got to abandon everything I’m regularly consuming and start eating in an entirely different way” … or you buy a home gym and decide “Instead of sitting on the couch I’ve got to work out five days a week” … or inspired by J.K. Rowling’s billion-dollar-plus net worth you decide “I’m going to write a book series as successful as Harry Potter” … your brain shouts back “No way, that’s way too much to do, too much change, far too overwhelming. Just hand me the remote and let’s see what’s on TV.”
And you put things off to tomorrow. And then to the tomorrow after that. And so on. The big projects and the big goals go unachieved.
To put it another way, bite off more than you’re brain wants to chew and you’re going to choke.
As mentioned, kaizen is as much about seeing as it is doing. If your brain sees that, at the point B you desire to get to from your current point A, you are going to be eating completely different foods for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks than you currently enjoy, it wants to run the other way. That’s a big change.
If, on the other hand, it sees that you merely want to make a small change -- you are just going to replace the soda pop you normally drink at lunch with a glass of water – it thinks, “Yeah, no big deal, we can achieve that, that’s cool.”
You will then do that small change and, because mentally it is not an overwhelming challenge, be very likely to succeed. And then a few days to a few weeks later, you can incorporate the next small change recommended in the big dietary program you ultimately want to call your own…
“Starting today we’re going to stop eating Twinkies for our evening snack and instead we’re going to eat some kind of fruit or vegetable, okay brain?”
“Well I love Twinkies, but if it will help us feel better and live longer and you’re only stopping them in the evening then okay, we can do that.”
“Yeah, only in the evening, don’t worry brain.” (Wink wink.)
Obviously, using kaizen to succeed at making healthy changes in your life is just one example. Kaizen can and should be applied to absolutely every large-scale project and goal you have:
Not getting enough sleep at night? Instead of shifting your life too dramatically and trying to go to bed two hours earlier starting tomorrow, just commit to going to bed ten minutes earlier every night this week. Then next week, work on another ten minutes earlier than that, and so on.
Want to improve a combative relationship? Instead of agreeing never to argue again, agree to make one day per week an “argument-free zone.” Then after a month agree to add another day to the zone, and so on.
Need to move a hill from one side of your yard to another? Try to push and shove the whole hill and you are bound for failure. Instead commit to moving just ten shovelfuls of dirt today, ten tomorrow, and so on.
By breaking your intimidating mammoth project down into small manageable goals – seeing each of the small goals and then only concerning yourself with successfully doing whatever small goal is next on your list – you’ll be amazed at the impossible you can achieve.