“A journey of 1000 miles begins with but a single step.”-Lao Tzu
Homeostasis is the tendency of all things in nature to return to their original state or condition. It is the Yin/Yang of all existence. Ice will eventually melt and returned to the air temperature, matter eventually disintegrates and returns to its elemental state. In humans, it’s the reason that most diets fail, and that most personal goals never get realized. There is, however, a fair amount of predictability with this process when it comes to humans.
When we set goals for ourselves of any type, and there is doubt in our minds that we can attain it, we run the risk of failure. We go back to the way things were, back to a homeostatic state. We literally scare ourselves into thinking that it’s not possible. There is a way to trick yourself into believing that you can do whatever the task you’ve chosen is. The answer lies within the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese philosophical concept for constant, continuous, and gradual improvement. It was first applied to Japanese industrial practices in the postwar 1950s. It was the driving force behind the rise of Toyota, Honda, Sony, and most successful Japanese industries. Since the 1990s it has been applied to personal development by American self help authors such as Robert Mauer and Anthony Robbins. Kaizen is a useful philosophy that has the ability to help people attain goals due to the systematic and persistent approach that it advocates.
Principles of kaizen are surprisingly easy to implement. You look at a task or goal and break it down into incremental, almost unnoticeable, chunks. Baby steps. Remember the 1991, comedy classic “What about Bob?” starring Bill Murray? Bob’s idea, baby steps, was a parody of kaizen. The movie was funny, and the idea seemed obvious. The idea, however, does work.
Let’s walk through a few examples of how kaizen can be implemented in your life:
You decide that you want to wake up an hour earlier each day. If you decide to do this all at once you probably will end up failing. Those first few days when you drag yourself out of bed at the sound of the alarm are going to be miserable. You’ll slog through a couple of days as doubt and fatigue began to set in. You will eventually give up as the combination of a tired body and doubting mind convince you that you can’t do. Kaizen would suggest that you break this down into baby steps that are barely noticeable, for example two minutes earlier each day. Getting out of bed two minutes early per day will allow you to comfortably attain your goal of rising an hour early in 30 days. Breaking it down in this manner eliminates the self-doubt that otherwise would have sabotaged this plan.
You decide that you are going to,”get in shape.” You start thinking of getting back to your high school weight, and embark on a plan that you are going to go to the gym three times per week after work. You start out all gung ho, but eventually fatigue, work, muscle soreness, and family obligations set in-surprise, surprise-and you give up. The principle of kaizen would break exercise down into miniscule bits. Instead of going to the gym, kaizen would suggest that you begin to exercise at home during one minute commercial breaks of your favorite TV show or newscast. These 60 to 90 second bouts of exercise amounts to less than five minutes per day but are laying the groundwork for success. Your mind will tell you that the five minutes per day is not helping, but it is. In three weeks you begin to add to this and the five minutes becomes 15, three weeks after that you’re up to 30 minutes, and your mind accepts the process without self-doubt and self-defeating internal dialogue. The problem with the original plan was that it was not convenient enough. The health club industry makes its money from January 1 to March 1 each year. People think that “This is the year that I get back in shape.” The plan to go to the gym three times per week after work sounds great until reality sets in. Breaking the task down into incremental baby steps allows one to almost lull themselves into improved physical condition.
Let’s say a family vacation is in the works. Instead of planning for the vacation, it makes more sense to plan how to pay for it. Setting aside small sums of money weekly over the course of an entire year can painlessly allow you to do this. Some of you may remember the concept that some banks had years ago called the Christmas Club in which the bank automatically deducted a small sum of money each week and put it into an account which was later used for Christmas gifts. This worked well because you didn’t think about it, and as a result self-doubt was not an issue.
Here’s some ways to implement kaizen:
1. Break your goals down into chunks that you think are too small. There is a sound reason for this. That boredom that you have with the small chunk is paving the way for confidence down the road. Review the examples that I gave above. You may think this will make it take too long, but you are stacking the deck in your favor that you will succeed.
2. Find time for kaizen. Time is one of the biggest obstacles to goal attainment. Finding a minute here or there can make a big difference. Consider the exercise example above. You’re watching TV, why not make productive use of the commercial time? I don’t think the Sham Wow guy is going to notice.
3. Be persistent and stay aware of what you are doing. This is a process of change, not an event. Remember that you are not merely focusing on the goal, but are training your brain to accept change.
4. Remember to visualize your eventual goal. The kaizen principle is designed to make your goal so believable to you that you can’t help but attain it. Positive visualization is a huge help in this process.
Be creative as you begin to implement this concept into your life. Remember what you are trying to accomplish with kaizen. Constant, continuous, never ending improvement along the way toward goal attainment is what you are seeking. Before you can accomplish this, you must retrain your brain to accept and believe that the goal is not only achievable, but that failure is impossible.
Break it down into small bits. You’ll be amazed at what’s possible.
“Baby steps… Baby steps…”- Bob Wiley (played by Bill Murray)
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