How are you today? Good? Bad? Tired? Lost? Inspired? We are so many things in life at different times that we can feel stuck. Sometimes we’re up, other times we’re down and it can feel almost impossible to get anywhere in life. We long to find some sort of stability whereby we can progress, pursue dreams, look forward with hope, or just enjoy each day better. Recently, I was introduced to the concept of Kaizen. It is a Japanese word that translates to good (kai) change (zen). The simplified phrase has been extended to mean change for the better. The principle, when adopted, encourages the focus to be on small changes every day, 1% if you like, so that we see gradual growth over a long period of time.
First introduced to and implemented by Toyota after WW2, it helped the Japanese economy to flourish after such destruction. It is a principle that can be applied to our daily lives and one that I will be considering more fully. Let’s find out how to do that.
What is Kaizen?
Kaizen is the philosophical belief that everything can be improved. Adopted by the American’s during WW2, they were able to sustain production through regular everyday companies and increase efficiency, not by adopting radical changes that would overwhelm, but by lots of small achievable changes. As a result of their success, they introduced the principle to Japan to help them grow out of destruction. And the rest, they say, is history. Just look at the Japanese economy. One of the largest in the world, and still growing.
Often, we are frozen by the idea of change. It’s too big. I’m scared. What if I fail? Or maybe, we set out with good intentions to change, to get on that exercise bike, to be more organised, to socialise more, but after time we start to make excuses and it all falls apart. Been there? I know I have. Many times.
So what’s the answer? Well, maybe it’s Kaizen.
The 10 Principles
Kaizen teaches you to navigate through life with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Using this approach gives you a better chance of reaching the desired outcomes. Otherwise, you cling to traditional techniques and the hope that things will change when you find a secret solution. When, in reality, everything in the natural world progresses slowly to create a significant change.
Gayle goes on to describe what her version of the 10 Kaizen Principles are (there are many) and instead of changing what already works, here they are:
There is always room for improvement, so continue to learn new skills and relearn old ones for healthy growth.
Replace old habits for new ones whenever traditions fail to meet your current goals.
Seek assistance from many mentors instead of consulting one expert.
Stop spending too much time making excuses when you fail. Change is only possible if you actively find solutions for your problems.
Trust factual evidence over subjective opinions whenever you make a big decision.
Ask ‘Why’ five times to uncover the root of everyday disruptions and problems.
Sometimes budget-friendly solutions are better than costly purchases.
Pave a distinctive path towards success by questioning the status quo
Take things one day at a time instead of setting it aside for another day.
Collaborate and communicate with others to benefit from shared success.
In short, valuable change is a more organic and subtle approach. It comes from appreciating the significance of smaller initiatives and harmonized contribution.
The 5S System
The Kaizen philosophy can be implemented successfully using the 5S system. It brings together the principles laid out above and helps you to incorporate them into your daily life.
The sort aspect of the 5S system advocates the need to sort through areas of your life – home, work, personal life – and get rid of things that no longer serve you or clutter up your space. Our life gets messy when we don’t stop and tidy things up and get rid of stuff that no longer serves us. You might ask yourself:
When did I last use this?
Does this serve a purpose to me any more?
Is this relationship good for me, or is it causing clutter or stress in my mind?
When we take time on a regular basis to keep our minds and spaces free of unnecessary mess, we increase productivity and keep our minds focused and calm.
Keep what is valuable, and give away or let go of the rest.
Seiton: Set in order
The second S is all about organisation. Everything should have its place and be easily reached, either in your home or at work. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to find an important document or some such item, but not being able to place it. Life is hectic enough without adding to our woes by being disorganised.
This can also be applied to our minds. Trying to stay organised in our thoughts and plans can help to alleviate stress, especially when life does get busy. Having a routine can help, maybe using a diary, journaling, meditation, or just having some me-time can allow us to sort through the biz in our minds and keep things organised.
Seiso is all about cleanliness. This can be thought about in a couple of ways. We can ensure that we maintain a level of cleanliness in our home and workspace to aid proper function, safety, and peace of mind. And we can also implement seiso personally by looking after our own hygiene and health. Little things each day can help us to maintain a professional or pleasing appearance, or to improve our health. Choosing better foods that will improve gut or heart health; consciously getting up and moving more; doing one little personal grooming activity each day.
Seiketsu: Set High Standards
Don’t settle. If we are to continue on a journey of gradual self-improvement, all we do is hinder that progress if we settle for second best in life. For every job you do, do it to the best of your ability. In every relationship you have, give it your best and expect that in return. When you set a standard in your life, you will see things improve around you gradually. We attract what we put out into the world, so give your best and you’ll get it too.
You need to think long-term with Kaizen and that requires discipline in order to sustain your path. Often, however, we can be easily derailed by procrastination. Letting yourself off with things, making excuses, wallowing in bad moods, or talking yourself down will set you off course and impede your improvement goals. All of a sudden hurdles will appear and fear will take over.
To counteract this you need to create small achievable goals that will keep you on track. Ask yourself what can I do today, this week, or this month? And then keep yourself accountable each day to ensure you are taking little steps towards that goal. With time you will see how far you have come and all that you have achieved, just by taking small steps one at a time.
Kaizen is a philosophy that can be applied by anyone at any time in their life. In a world that seeks instant gratification, though rarely achieves it with any satisfaction or purpose, Kaizen redirects us onto a path of steady and meaningful purpose. By taking each day one at a time, by living in the present and making plans for the future, we can achieve balance in our daily lives that bring joy, serenity, and a sense of accomplishment.