This article by Nicholas Ritchey appeared recently in the Psychology of Wellbeing blog and as it fits in nicely with the recent series of posts looking at how to bring about change I decided to feature in in The Happiness Experiment. If you are still resisting the changes you need to make to be happier this article teaches you how to accomplish your goals one tiny step at a time.
Kaizen: Accomplishing Big Goals with Tiny Steps
One Small Step by Aldo Aldoz
If you’re like me, you may have a book inside you just waiting to be written.
Or, it may be something else like painting a picture, picking up a musical instrument, or getting into the gym regularly. But since I don’t know your story, I can only tell you my own; and my goal was a book.
I knew I had at least one book in me, but when would I ever find the time to write it?
This article shares the solution to the problem of never having enough time to do what you want, for making procrastination a thing of the past, and perhaps making your life a bit simpler in the process.
Prepare yourself for the Japanese Art of Kaizen!
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once,
but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”
What is Kaizen?
Kaizen is the Japanese art of relatively small, continuous improvements.
This art has been taught and successfully applied at all levels of human functioning, from the lives of individuals to standard practice at multinational corporations.
Why is Kaizen powerful?
There are several reasons Kaizen is extremely powerful:
1. It bypasses the fear response; effectively putting an end to procrastination
2. Changes become habits, and habits produce permanent results
3. Small changes, made continually over time, make huge impacts
Make the task so small, you cannot fail.
By making changes to your life, a procedure or system that are so small you cannot fail, there is no need for procrastination. For example, if you want to learn a new language, study 1 word a day. If this is still intimidating, just decide to spend 5 minutes looking for a dictionary online. Make the changes or tasks so easy, you cannot fail. Once you’ve mastered these small changes, you can always make them a little more challenging, as long as they’re still so small that you cannot fail.
Achievement by Edgar Zuniga Jr
A step in the right direction every day is better than no steps at all.
When applying Kaizen, it is best to make changes where habits exist. So if you want to floss your teeth more often, put some dental floss next to your toothbrush, and decide to floss just one tooth before you brush your teeth. This may seem silly at first, but try it. After doing this last year, I went from rarely flossing, to flossing my teeth daily; just like the doctor recommends… and it started with one tooth per brushing.
Kaizen is also powerful when applied to habits or processes because these are already established and permanent. Instead of deciding to join and lose 20lbs at the gym, decide to do a behavior that will take you to your goal, and then take the first step. This may be as simple as putting on your shoes in the morning and walking down to the mailbox and back each morning as soon as you take off your pajamas (adding to an existing habit), or to your apartment door and back, or even just getting dressed, stepping out the door, and coming back in. Whatever your level of comfort, avoid the fear response, and decide to make the small new changes permanent.
Better to work up to 30 minutes of daily walking than to hit the gym hard for a month, lose 20lbs and gain 25lbs back.
Small changes, made continually over time, can have a major impact on your life, job, health, relationships, etc. If you made a habit of writing down 3 things you’re grateful before bed each night, how many more blessings might you notice in the next week, month, year or lifetime? If you start with walking to your mailbox every morning, and that develops into 3 sessions at the gym each week for the next 40 years – how will your quality of life compare with those who didn’t start this small, continual process of improvement?
Master a small change, and then make a small change to improve upon it. As changes that bypass the fear response, they actually get implemented. And since these are changes or additions to habits, they give permanent results.
Like raindrops pelting a snow-covered mountain, your small actions can cause an avalanche.
How can I apply Kaizen in my life?
The possibilities for application are endless, but here are a few questions that may help direct the process:
- What result would you like to get?
- What behaviors do you need to master to get that result?
- What’s the biggest little thing you could do to start forming one of these behaviors?
Remember, your changes should be so small that you cannot possibly fail!
Let’s look at writing a book, something I used to struggle with.
Desired Result: a finished book
Behaviors Needed: daily writing, research or editing
Kaizen: write 1 sentence each day
To finish my first book, I knew I had to do a lot of writing, researching and editing. It was a daunting task, but something I wanted to do for several years. The result of doing nothing for several years was nothing. So when I learned about Kaizen, I decided to write just a sentence a day, and see how it went.
It’s been 4 months since I started the habit and I’ve written 5 short books (~50 pages each). I encouraged my friend to do the same and just got his 2nd book published yesterday on Amazon. So far that’s 3 books online and 5 in the queue for publishing.
It Doesn’t Stop There…
Since first learning about Kaizen, I have applied it quite literally to every area of my life. From morning showers, to making a hybrid workstation I can both stand and sit at when I’m at home.
What started off as getting my first book written has turned into development of several websites, a weekly podcast, a member’s site, a teleseminar, 10k less in student debt, more hours in the gym, meditating in the mountains, and reading classical literature by the great stoics (Marcus Aurelius is my newest hero).
An excellent example of Kaizen that you can look at is a website I just started in February using the Kaizen approach – AcePositive.com. My small goal is just 3 posts a day, or 1095 per year. In the relatively new field of positive psychology, I figure that’s enough to make it one of the best resources on the Internet in a very short amount of time… and all it takes is a small amount of daily effort.
Furthermore, it is so small that it not only circumvents the fear response, but allows me to connect with people I adore and give back to a community I love.
The Snowball Effect: In less than 3 months, I have made over 600 posts on AcePositive… an average of about 20 posts a day.
When you take fear out of the equation and make good habits sticky, the results can be astounding!
But enough of my successes!
It’s time for you to go out there and learn the joys of Kaizen! Start mastering the art of small, continuous improvements today and it will serve you well for a lifetime.
If you have any questions at all, just want to say hi or have a Kaizen story to share, post a comment below. I don’t bite, and love to connect with other people who actively pursue their dreams.
References and recommended reading:
Maurer, R. (2004). One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. Workman Publishing Company.
- Use of Kaizen in Everyday Life: http://www.simposo.com/Kaizen
- Case Study – Productivity Increases 400%
- Google Scholar Search for Kaizen:
- Presentation – Six Sigma vs. Kaizen:
- Presentation – Kaizen CPI (Continual Process of Improvement):
- Personal Blog: http://www.NicholasRitchey.com
- Facebook: http://www.Facebook.com/RitcheyOnline/
- Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/NicholasRitchey/
Follow Nick Ritchey on his personal blog, facebook, or twitter.
Posted by Shona Lockhart, 17th June 2012