Kaizen is a Sino-Japanese word literally meaning "good change". More broadly, Kaizen describes any kind of improvement, whether it is a one-time improvement, several improvements or a system of continuously unfolding improvements. Although Kaizen is used primarily to streamline business operations in Japan, the Western world has taken the concept of Kaizen and applied it to every day life situations, especially the ability to build and maintain good habits.

Habits are Good Things!

People talk about being "creatures of habit" like habits are embarrassing or unwanted things to have. Unfortunately, habits have gotten a bad reputation because they are viewed as "boring" and indicate a person who does not like change. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Habits help us achieve goals. In psychology, the self-concordance model of goal-setting examines how we establish habits to achieve desired goals by examining the sequence of steps we use to make these goal a reality. Amazingly, the majority of the actions you take throughout the day are actually habits you learned that will, for the most part, bring you a gratifying sense of well-being, meaning and stability to your life.

Habits and Their Goals

Think about the habits you perform every day. They all end is some type of goal, right?

  1. Habit: brushing your teeth. Goal: to keep your teeth white and healthy
  2. Habit: stopping by your favorite donut shop to get coffee and donuts in the morning. Goal: to satiate hunger and get your caffeine fix from a cup of coffee.
  3. Habit: at the end of the work day, we clean off our desk and prepare it for the next day. Goal: to make mornings more organized and less stressful
  4. Habit: going to bed at early enough to ensure you get at least eight hours of sleep. Goal: to feel energetic and refreshed in the morning.
  5. Habit: mowing the lawn once a week in the summer. Goal: to have a nice-looking lawn and make it easier to mow the next time.

Now think about the necessity of these habits. None of them are truly necessary. Your life will continue pretty much as it is now if you don't indulge in these habits. However, it won't be as healthy or pleasant, would it?

Good habits, once established are just as hard to break as are bad habits.

Why are Some Good Habits Difficult to Keep?

Some of the hardest habits to establish and maintain are associated with health. Eating good food (fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meat), exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep are probably the top three habits everybody wishes they could "get into the habit" of doing every day.

Kaizen advocates making small, almost imperceptible changes in your life to develop good habits. Recognizing that all changes, whether good or bad, can be intimidating to us as true creatures of habit, kaizen methods help to disengage the natural fear response to change by circumventing traditional approaches to change (it's all or nothing) and focusing on smaller, less pressuring steps.

Take, for example, dieting. People almost always create a great deal of stress by throwing themselves headlong into a diet that inevitably fails. Why? According to kaizen principles, it is because the change is too rapid and too overwhelming for the habit-loving brain to accept. By establishing goals that are nearly impossible to attain (eating less than 1500 calories a day, walking three miles every day, losing five pounds every week), you actually stimulate the "flight or fight" response in the brain and force the release of stress chemicals into your blood stream.

Kaizen Your Habits with Creativity

Creatively incorporating small habits and goals into your life is like digging a well with a toy shovel. If you go out each day and dig for 15 minutes, that hole will inevitably get bigger and the habit of digging a little each day becomes a part of your lifestyle. It doesn't matter that it may take several months to reach water--what matters is that you've established a successful habit that will eventually culminate in achieving two goals--you've got fresh drinking water and you've been getting daily exercise.

Take It Easy On Your Brain

Start to kaizen your habits by making small, creative changes in your life and your brain will respond positively by creating new neuronal connections that lead to establishing good habits permanently. Continuous improvements that build on one another provide balance (another important kaizen concept), a sense of empowerment and the ability to discover your full potential by reaching goals that benefit your lifestyle without disrupting it.


Image: giovanni_novara