Who wants to go through life accepting the status quo? Anyone? I didn’t think so.
Most people want to improve their lives and everything in them as they grow older. The idea of continuous improvement is illustrated in a Japanese technique called Kaizen, which focuses on identifying opportunities for streamlining processes and reducing waste.
While typically used in a corporate setting, this simple, yet life-changing technique can be applied in all facets of our lives. By embracing continuous improvement, we can enjoy a more fulfilling and successful existence.
Benefits Of Kaizen
The Kaizen technique is used in some of the most successful companies all over the world. The reason why? It works! You can bet that some of the most influential people apply the same principle in all areas of their life. Again – because it works! By focusing on continuous small steps of improvement, you’ll always be moving forward and developing your skill set, without tiring out. Here are just a few benefits of Kaizen that can apply to your life.
Positive Change Mindset
The most successful companies see Kaizen (continuous improvement) as a way of life. They embrace it as part of their company culture. These companies have employees who come to work with a positive change mindset. They are constantly on the lookout for small ways they can improve.
Just as in the corporate world, those people who adopt a continuous improvement lifestyle will benefit from a positive mindset. Our minds are our most powerful asset, and if we are able to harness that power through Kaizen, our lives will consistently improve in any area we choose to focus on.
This means no more rollercoasters of ups and downs, no more “two steps forwards, one step back,” no more thinking you’ve reached your destination rather than continuing the journey, and no more believing you’re just not good at anything. Looking for small, continuous improvements means resisting the lure of magic bullet solutions that are destined to fail. It means accepting that small wins are just as important as big wins. It means facing up to challenges rather than shrinking away from them. Kaizen will shift your thought patterns to see opportunities where you once saw problems.
Gain The Competitive Edge
Change is inevitable. If you look at the way we run our lives now versus even ten years ago, the differences are incredible. In order to be competitive and relevant in today’s world, we have to embrace change. No longer does the model “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” apply.
Just imagine if our cell phones had not undergone continuous improvement. We’d be lugging around those first bag phones and wouldn’t have access to email and internet. Can you imagine if companies like Samsung and Apple had chosen to stay behind the curve? Do you think they would still exist among the competition?
This applies to everything we do. If you want to win a soccer championship, you must continually improve. If you don’t, another team will easily beat you to it. If you want to live a wealthy life, you must continually adjust and maintain control of your finances as time goes on. There is nothing stagnant about mastering a skill or bettering yourself. It is an ongoing, lifelong journey that has no destination; just a number of waypoints on the road.
In the corporate world, streamlining work processes is a way to reduce overhead costs through identifying and gaining efficiencies. For example, if a designer can reduce the number of review meetings from three to one in order to release a new design without sacrificing quality, the company has saved money and time. The process has been streamlined.
In your personal life the same principle applies. For example, if you can reduce the number of trips to the grocery store from weekly to biweekly, you have also saved yourself time and money. Or if you can tackle all of your personal admin (finances, meal plans, booking trips away, etc.) once a week rather than on an ad hoc basis, it should mean the rest of your time is free from distractions and, thus, more productive/enjoyable.
Making one huge leap is possible, but you better believe that it’s difficult. Even if you are able to achieve great strides in one fell swoop, maintaining this new ability or process is even tougher. It takes such immense effort to create and sustain massive change that you are highly likely to let things slip and fall back into your old ways.
Kaizen, on the other hand, is an approach that is far less susceptible to the rollercoaster we mentioned above. Small changes are easier to adapt to, easier to form habits around, and, thus, easier to maintain. By gradually altering (improving) your usual patterns of thought and behavior, you greatly reduce the chances of getting lazy and reverting to past conditions.
This is one of the reasons why the most effective weight loss plans are those that focus on gradual improvement rather than huge changes to diet and exercise. The shock is less and your mind and body have a chance to adapt as you slowly put the necessary lifestyle changes in place.
How To Get Results Using Kaizen
When some people think of continuous improvement, they get overwhelmed and instantly feel fatigued. How can they possibly keep improving? When will they ever rest?
Persistence and perseverance are vital because it is a never-ending process, but the good news is that, over time, the Kaizen mindset will become habit and function on autopilot. It will no longer be a chore, but merely a fact of life. You will see through different eyes – ones that, like the company employees’ above, will always be on the lookout for potential small improvements you might make.
Here are a few strategies to start implementing Kaizen in your life today:
This is a four step model that focuses on continuous improvement. This model can be applied to your business, your exercise routine, your daily task list, a new skill you’d like to develop, your finances, and everything in between. The options are endless.
Not only will you make forward progress in any goal you set, but you will often gain efficiencies which can literally add hours to your day.
Plan – recognize an opportunity for improvement and plan for the change. You must always be on the lookout.
Do – implement the plan on a small scale to test the result. You don’t want to implement the change too widely before you know if it works.
Check – review the results to ensure they are what you expected. Did you get the benefit you were hoping for?
Act – if the results were beneficial, implement the plan on a wider scale to reap the full rewards.
When it comes to making changes, most people want to make big changes fast. But the truth is that big changes are hard to make and even harder to maintain. Instead, focus on small but steady, continuous improvement in everything you do.
If you can jog 3 miles today, can you jog 3.2 miles next week and 3.5 miles the week after that? By taking small steps, you will soon be jogging 5 miles without breaking a sweat. But if you try to jog 5 miles today, you either won’t make it or you’ll end up sore tomorrow.
Or if you are trying to master a foreign language, set yourself small goals to learn a handful of new words each week. Keep adding more words to your vocabulary and use them often in short phrases or sentences. Over time, you’ll become more and more fluent until, one day, you’ll be able to hold entire conversations.
This idea can be applied to almost anything you ever want to tackle in life. So, slow down and focus on the next small step. Use this Japanese technique that has proven so effective throughout the years.
Melissa Ricker is a nuclear engineer and a professional freelance writer specializing in career growth, technical writing and online entrepreneurship. She writes a blog, Engineered Motherhood, for working mothers who need help balancing career growth and time management.