It’s a new year and with it comes the inevitable onslaught of resolutions. We all hope that our efforts will change our lives for the better. However most statistics show that a very small percentage of people keep their resolutions. I’m not going to go into the psychological complexities of why we fail. Instead I’d like to focus more positively on why and how we succeed. More specifically I’d like to discuss Kaizen.
The concept is best captured in Lao Tzu’s quote: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
The idea of Kaizen first manifested itself in the American manufacturing industry during World War II. Due to the increased demand for war machines and the shortage of labor, companies turned to courses that could help them increase efficiency. One of those courses stressed the idea of continuous improvement. This concept helped greatly in increasing both the quantity and quality of products. However, after the war the American manufacturing system went back to normal. The concepts biggest proponent, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, took his ideas to Japan where they were utilized with astonishing results. Over the next half century Japanese Business would grow to dominate various industries ranging from technology to auto-manufacturing. Great, but how does this help us with our resolutions?
I’m glad you asked. Robert Maurer Ph.D., is the director of Behavioral Sciences for the Family Practice Residency Program at Santa Monica UCLA Medical center and the author of a book on Kaizen. In his book “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way” (http://amzn.to/rXjjst) he discusses the ways in which we can use these powerful yet simple techniques to make incredible improvements to our lives. The book is an easy read and provides a good array of anecdotes that range from diets, to relationships, to addictions, to learning, and everything in-between.
If you look at the word 改善。 We see that the separate kanji mean 改＝kai=revision, and 善＝zen=goodness/virtue. This is the good way to revise and correct our lives.
The basic concept of Kaizen is that incremental improvements, not innovation, create true long lasting success. Because New Years resolutions are often based on grandiose innovation, they fail. For example, one of the most popular resolution categories is health/fitness. Most people say I’m going to start going to the gym 5 days a week and I’m never going to eat any cookies. This is ridiculous though. You might go great for a month, maybe two, or even three, but eventually your going to slip under stress of the rest of your life and grab that snack instead of the salad. This is not because your weak, it’s because you set yourself up to fail. Instead of all that crazy innovation, start small, microscopic even. Don’t even go to the gym just start by putting on your running shoes. Don’t worry about exercising just stretch. Don’t work out just show up to the gym. Don’t run a marathon walk a mile. Gradually increase all of the things you do and before you know it you will have climbed a mountain, step by step.
It sounds simple, and it can be, but the secret is to fight that urge to go overboard. You’ll sacrifice long term success for what you think will be fast results. This concept can be applied to any goal that seems daunting and unachievable. I use it extensively in language learning and other aspects of my life. Often it is evaluated as a trite term from management textbooks. However, I hope it will be more widely adopted as an excellent way to improve our lives. Best of Luck and Happy New Year.