“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. From the Tao Te Ching
KAIZEN: A BLUEPRINT FOR ACHIEVING PERSONAL GOALS
Kaizen means ‘positive change’ and more specifically is generally used to describe the application of continuous improvement through the use of small, incremental changes to your lifestyle – as opposed to anything big and too challenging. Change doesn’t have to be painful or hard. By harnessing the power of Kaizen you are using small steps to accomplish large goals. By definition, Kaizen means:
- Using very small steps to improve a habit, a process, or a product.
- Using very small moments to inspire something new and different to be created.
For example, if your goal was to become an artist, Kaizen would mean making lots of little changes to your lifestyle and habits to move you in that direction. It might mean taking art lessons, it might mean giving up some bad habits so you have more time and energy for practice; or it might mean saving a small amount of money each day so that you can eventually have a lot of money cumulatively.
Either way, Kaizen means taking little steps that eventually go a long way toward helping you achieve your goals. As it says in the Tao Te Ching, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Kaizen helps you meet life’s constant requirement for change and improvement by helping you change in non-threatening ways-one small step at a time.
Why Kaizen Works
What makes Kaizen so effective is the simple fact that most people struggle when trying to make extreme changes in their lives. How many New Year’s Resolutions have you made, only to give up on them within weeks? We are creatures of habit and trying to make huge shifts in our lifestyle requires a huge amount of energy and discipline – factors which themselves are finite.
This not to say we can’t accomplish things in a miraculous way, for example, quitting smoking in one day, never to smoke again. If we are able to do so, we should rightly be proud and congratulate ourselves. But big changes like this don’t happen often, so we have fewer reasons to celebrate daily. But with small steps, small accomplishments every day, we have a continuous reason to feel proud and successful and we all know success breeds success. If we start by smoking fewer and fewer cigarettes each day, within a short period of time we will feel empowered enough to quit altogether.
Kaizen works wonderfully because each little change has real benefit but is easy to implement. What’s more, these changes add up over time giving us a sense of reward and achievement. Even more than that, making continuous small changes will make subsequent changes easier and easier. That’s not only because you’ll become used to changing but also because you’ll have created the right conditions to make future change easier.
By harnessing the power of Kaizen, you can achieve your biggest dreams by taking small steps in that direction. You can replace bad habits with good ones. You can stop smoking or overeating. You can replace anger and frustration with calm and serenity. You can unblock your creativity and deliberately design the life you want and deserve.
Believe it or not, it’s easier to work out when you’re saving $1 a day on coffee. Why? Because that $1 a day adds up to $365 a year. And that makes us feel richer. And that makes us feel happier. And that gives us more energy. And that means we’re less stressed and more full of vigor in the gym. You see the difference? The more of these little changes you make, the more they will build and grow and the more momentum you’ll gain.
“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens-and when it happens, it lasts.” John Wooden-Successful Basketball Coach
Kaizen and the Brain
Small change helps the human mind circumnavigate the fear that blocks success and creativity. Big change is frightening and flat-out scary to some people. When you try to make big or revolutionary changes your body reacts and brings up feelings of fear. Kaizen, because you are taking small steps, disarms the brain’s fear factor.
There is a scientific reason for this. The fear of change in rooted in the brain. The brain is the one organ in our body that continues to evolve and is responsible for all thought and movement the body produces.
Within the “brain”, we find there are actually three separate brains. Evolving over time, our brains have had to adjust to and learn to work together. In most individuals this unity of function has not come about. It is a challenge for most of us to bring about unity and harmony between the brains to avoid physical, emotional, and mental dis-ease.
If you were to examine a human brain you would observe the stem of the brain which is the approximate five hundred million year-old reptilian brain that serves to wake you up in the morning, causes the heart to beat, maintains blood pressure and breathing, and perform countless other automatic functions. The brain stem consists of pons and the medulla oblongata. It connects the brain with the spinal cord. It is also the part of the brain where the vital functions occur.
The lowest part of the brain is located in the brain stem and is the medulla oblongata which is responsible for the regulation of body movement, breathing, digestion, vision, and hearing. Directly above the medulla oblongata is the pons. The pons is the band of nerves that connect the cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the medulla oblongata to help with posture and movement, sensory analysis, and motor control.
On top of the brain stem is the approximate three hundred year-old mid or mammalian brain commonly known as the cerebellum (often called the “little brain” or scientifically and broadly known as the hindbrain)which controls essential body functions such as the regulation of certain hormones within the body.
The cerebellum is the part of the brain where high level functions take place. It controls posture, balance, and coordination. This area of the brain also helps to regulate our body’s internal temperature, is the seat of our emotional and sensory responses, memories (long and short-term), mood, hunger, accurate movements, governs the fight or flight response which alerts us to danger, and more.
The third area of the brain is the almost one hundred million year-old (cerebral) neocortex (or scientifically and broadly known as the forebrain) which is the largest area of the brain and wraps around the rest of the brain(s). It is divided into four sections (or lobes) and is considered to have a left and right hemisphere.
The dividing point is a deep grove called the longitudinal cerebral fissure. It’s one hundred thousand neurons telegraphs information from place to place in the body like a telegram through our central nervous system or an internet server relaying messages all over the world. Rational thought and creativity arise in this area.
The different sides of the cerebrum do different things for the opposite sides of the body. The right side of the cerebrum controls things such as imagination and 3-D forms. The other side of the brain, the left side, controls numbering skills, posture, and reasoning.
The hemispheres also consist of many other parts such as the lobes which are each responsible for carrying out various human functions such as sensory awareness, problem-solving and decision-making, analytics, movement, speech and language comprehension and usage, vision and hearing and so on.
The limbic system is a set of evolutionarily primitive brain structures located on top of the brain stem and buried under the cortex. Limbic system structures are involved in many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those that are related to survival.
It contains glands which help to relay emotions. Many hormonal responses are produced in this area. Such emotions include fear, anger, and emotions related to sexual behavior. The limbic system is also involved in feelings of pleasure that are related to our survival, such as those experienced from eating and sex.
Certain structures of the limbic system are involved in memory as well. Two large limbic system structures, the amygdala and hippocampus play important roles in memory. The amygdala is responsible for determining what and where memories are stored in the brain; a factor which is thought to be based on how huge an emotional response an event invokes. As a part of the limbic system, the amygdala is also involved in processing motivations and emotions especially those that are related to survival, fear, anger, and pleasure.
Further it is stated in an article in About Education that, “the amygdala is involved in autonomic responses associated with fear and hormonal secretions. Scientific studies of the amygdala have led to the discovery of the location of neurons in the amygdala that are responsible for fear conditioning.
Fear conditioning is an associative learning process by which we learn through repeated experiences to fear something. Our experiences can cause brain circuits to change and form new memories. For example, when we hear an unpleasant sound, the amygdala heightens our perception of the sound. This heightened perception is deemed distressing and memories are formed associating the sound with unpleasantness. If the noise startles us, we have an automatic flight or fight response.
This response involves the activation of the sympathetic division of the peripheral nervous system. Activation of the nerves of the sympathetic division results in accelerated heart rate, dilated pupils, an increase in metabolic rate, and an increase in blood flow to the muscles.”
How Kaizen Works
You may ask what all this has to do with Kaizen. Knowledge of functions carried out within the brain is critical to a study of Kaizen, how it works, and how small steps can be made to change the structure of our brains so our behavior improves in a way that prevents the amygdala from jumping into fight or flight mode.
Our triune brain parts do not always cooperate or function as a team. Our challenge as humans is to get them to function harmoniously. Our rational brain may want us to stop eating the wrong foods, but we pass by our favorite burger spot then stop to order two double burgers with cheese, a large fry, and a strawberry milkshake. When we want to make a change in we need access to the cerebral cortex. It is the midbrain were the amygdala resides that needs to be unblocked and released to work with the cortex.
The amygdala is crucial to our survival, it controls our fight or flight response, and is something we share with all other mammals. It serves as an alert or warning for other parts of our body to get into action in the case of imminent danger.
When enacted it shuts down or stops things such as rational thought, digestion, and could stop our bodies from running or fighting because we are too afraid to move or we can’t think straight. On the other hand, it could shut down thought and cause us to flee. Thousands of years ago this instinctive mechanism was needed for our very survival and is still required given the stressors of modern living.
Today this response will set off alarm bells whenever we want to make a change to the normal, routine way we do things. Any new challenge, opportunity, or desire will trigger fear leading to the fight or flight syndrome to some degree or another. These new challenges, opportunities, or desires will cause the amygdala to alert parts of the body to prepare for action and the cortex, the thinking part of the brain, will be restricted and will, perhaps, shut down.
You may have experienced this phenomenon prior to a job interview. The more you need the job, the more you feel is riding on the outcome, the more fear you will engender. You may have practiced answering interview questions beforehand but your mind might draw a blank during the actual interview.
Some people actual thrive on challenges, it gets their adrenalin flowing, but most of us feel fear. Purposeful action can be suppressed in these situations.
Kaizen can actually help in some situations where fear is triggered. You can use the small kaizen steps to go around or under the fears. If you take small, achievable steps to accomplish personal or professional goals, you can slip right past the amygdala without setting off any alarm bells. As the small steps continue and the cerebral cortex starts working, you begin to build new neural pathways in your brain, thereby building new habits.
The beauty of this is soon your resistance to change will lessen and it will be easier to change what needs to be transformed. Small steps can actually lay down a framework for enjoying the change. Small actions can placate your brain’s need to do something and soothe its distress. If you want to lose weight, cutting back on sugar in your coffee is a small step your brain can accept.
A Blueprint for Continuous Improvement
Kaizen is often used to describe the process of continuous improvement. That means making lots of small changes on a regular basis in order to ultimately improve the operation on a larger scale. It’s often applied to business and particularly to things like manufacturing and engineering.
But it can also be applied to your own personal goals. If you take the approach of continuous improvement – of making lots of tiny little changes in your life on a regular basis – then over time you’ll be able to ‘upgrade’ every single aspect of your life and in a few years you can be in a whole different place.
Countless studies tell us that people resist extreme change. That is to say that if you think you can wake up one morning and become a highly disciplined individual, then you’re in for a big surprise.
In order for change to be successful it must be incremental and it must be holistic. You have to change every aspect of yourself and your lifestyle to support yourself in the pursuit of your new goals. And to do this, you need to make lots of small, manageable changes.
How to Use the Process
So how does this actually look once you start using it? How do you take this idea and turn it into a reliable blueprint that you can follow?
A good place to start would be at the beginning. Look for one small change you can make to your lifestyle that can assist you in some tiny way toward achieving your goal.
Let’s say you need more energy. Perhaps then the thing you need is to get more sleep. Maybe you want to wake up half an hour later, so why not buy yourself a steamer and save a lot of time ironing? Or replace all your shirts/blouses with ones that don’t have to be ironed.
That’s a tiny change you’ve made – switching your shirts/blouses – but the result is half an hour of extra sleep. That will make a huge difference to your energy levels throughout the day.
What else do you need to achieve your goals? If you need a little more money then perhaps you could look for a way to save $1 a day. A dollar a day is a tiny thing to have to change, so maybe it just means that you have a cup of tea in the morning instead of a coffee, or get off the bus one stop earlier.
Now you have 30 minutes of extra sleep and an extra few dollars a week. Those are two tiny changes but they’ve just made it much easier for you to accomplish anything else you want to in your life because you have more energy and more money… What else might be possible? Our coaching sessions will reveal the answers.
Why Big Goals Fail
haps you’d like to be stronger, perhaps you’d like to be thinner, maybe you’d be richer, or maybe you’d just be happier…
Those are all great goals but chances are that you’ve had these goals since you were first an adult and quite possibly you’re no closer to achieving them now than you were when you first turned 18. This is the case for many people because guess what? We all want those things.
The problem is that these goals are too big, too daunting and too abstract and that’s why we never achieve them. But there is another way.
If You Could…You Would!
Continuous improvement, referred to as ‘Kaizen’, means making lots of changes all the time that only have a small impact on your goals and on the quality of your life – but which will ultimately result in large beneficial changes.
Say you want to lose weight. What you might then do is decide that you’re going to start running every evening for forty minutes and that you’re going to cut out all your day time snacking. Sounds great doesn’t it?
Except it’s really not that simple; because if you had the energy that you would need in order to be that active every evening, then you would already be exercising. Think about it: do you feel like you have tons of free time? Or tons of free energy?
The answer is probably no. So adding on 200-280 minutes of exercise and removing some of your fuel isn’t exactly going to be an easy and straightforward objective. You still will be too busy, too stressed and too tired to do anything else… and so you’ll really struggle to suddenly just add a huge commitment on top of everything else.
The Continuous Improvement Approach
Instead, then, think about setting lots of smaller goals that will have an impact on your life. That could mean just removing one item of junk food from your day; going to bed 30 minutes earlier and then maybe starting to add in one jogging session a week; or parking farther from the store, or walking up the stairs instead of catching the elevator, or walking in front of the TV while listening to the news.
This way you’ve taken very small, very manageable steps. But what you’ve also done is create the space and the energy necessary to start doing that little bit of exercise and moved you closer to losing weight. You’ve also tricked your brain into accepting change!
The best bit? These changes are cumulative. Make a few small steps and you’ll start moving much faster towards your achieving your personal goals! The Downside
Nothing is perfect, however, and of course Kaizen also has drawbacks. One downside is that smaller changes are also much easier to forget and to undo. This means there will be times when you might be taking one step forward and two steps back.
The trick here is not to get disheartened because of it. This is relatively normal and no cause for concern. If you aren’t moving constantly forward all the time that’s not the end of the world; you just need to keep going and keep trying!