Could you use a little kaizen in your life?
When we want to improve our lives, our tendency is to look for grandiose solutions. We want radical change, and we want it quickly, so we seek radical programs or advice to follow.
- Want to lose 30 lbs? Go on this super strict diet.
- Want to get back in shape? Force yourself to the gym for one hour at least 5 times a week.
- Want to save more money? Overhaul your finances and cut out all non-essential spending.
These changes can be great, if we stick to them. And if we’re diligent, and summon the willpower necessary, they will yield those radical results we’re after. But that’s if we can do it, and sadly, the truth is, most of us can’t.
Sure, some people can. You hear about these mythical creatures from time to time. The people who go raw vegan overnight and lose 100 pounds, reverse their diabetes and save their own lives. We read about them in the testimonials of the the diet books we can’t seem to follow.
But this approach fails most of us muggles.
Consider New Year’s Resolutions. Each year, millions of us write out a list of goals we’re determined to achieve in the year ahead. We diligently scribble our most sincere intentions of getting healthy and fit and back on a budget into our shiny, new journals. And yet, each year, most of us wind up forgetting about them after just a couple of weeks, if not a couple of days. They just sort of float away as normal life post-holidays resumes.
We’ve come to expect this from ourselves though, because we believe change is hard. So we buckle down and try the same approach again next year.
But how many Whole30s does a girl have to fail on before she realizes that these radical overhauls aren’t always the most effective way to see results? Asking for a friend…
The thing is, maybe change isn’t hard. Maybe we’ve just been making it hard by going against the very nature of our own brains and trying to overhaul everything overnight.
What is Kaizen?
What if we could convince ourselves that massive changes are not the best way to get what we want? What if, instead, we convince ourselves that making one change, so small it didn’t feel like change at all, was the answer?
We choose one tiny thing we can do to improve, and we do it until that improvement is etched into our DNA, before moving on to something else.
We shift into a constant state of making minute changes and adjustments to our habits and output instead of trying to change everything at once?
This is kaizen.
It’s an ancient philosophy captured in one quote from Tao Te Ching:
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Apparently, it works. It might not feel like we’re getting anywhere at first, but soon, we’ll start to see the snowball effect of all of those changes sticking. Soon, we’ll achieve our goals and realize that change isn’t so hard after all.
How Kaizen Works
According to Robert Maurer, PhD, author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life, this approach works because:
“All changes, even positive ones, are scary. 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.”
You see, there’s a part of our brain called the amygdala, or the midbrain, that controls our fight-or-flight response. This is crucial to our survival, especially back in the day when we had to run away from predators. The problem with the amygdala today though, is that our fight-or-flight response is triggered whenever we want to make a change from our safe, usual, comfortable routines. It’s set so that any new change triggers some degree of fear.
The tiny steps of kaizen are a solution to this problem. We can circumnavigate our fear of change and unplug the fear alarms before they go off. And then these first, small steps will lay the neural network for coming to actually enjoy the change. And once we enjoy it, we look forward to it, and the tiny changes begin to compound.
Huge goal = Fear = Failure
Small Goal = Fear bypassed = Success
Lost of small goal success = Success snowball
How To Use Kaizen in Your Own Life
The best way to start using kaizen to improve your life is to start asking yourself simple, concise questions every day. Questions like:
- If health were my top priority, what would I do differently today?
- How can I get a few more minutes of exercise before I go to bed?
- What’s one way I can save $10 this week?
Simple questions like that around the goal you’d like to reach are best. This starts to get your mind thinking of tiny things you can do regularly, without any fear, to tweak and improve your life. Asking each day will lead to new ideas and new ideas will be implemented with joy instead of dread. And then the snowball starts.
In my own life, I’ve been asking questions like:
- What’s one thing I can do to get more vegetables and greens into my diet today?
- How can I remember to meditate for at least 5 minutes?
- What’s a good way to move a bit more?
I’ve been trying to lay off the massive overhauls and dive into the minutiae of change instead. So far it feels good. So far, it’s been easier to stick with. Only time will tell though, so I’ll keep you posted.
What about you? Ever feel like you make the same grand declarations of change over and over again and get nowhere? Think you could benefit from a little kaizen in your own life? Leave a comment below and tell us what your one simple question would be for today!
And if you’re interested in other simple changes for a better life, pop your email in below and we’ll send you over our one simple sentence that will help you lose weight, be happy and figure out your life! That’s a lot for one little sentence, right? Don’t miss it. It’s free!
Also published on Medium.