“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
-Vincent Van Gogh
I got acquainted with Kaizen philosophy in a dusty library while I skimmed through old archives about Toyota. What started as a research project transformed into a personal development and growth mantra.
As it turns out, this Japanese practice goes beyond business-savvy decisions. Embracing the ‘continuous improvement’ mantra can transform lives and build careers. It is also an excellent way to power through a post-pandemic world.
The trick is to know how to apply Kaizen philosophy in personal life and commit yourself to its principles.
Here is everything you need to know about it.
The Basics: What Is Kaizen Philosophy?
The Kaizen philosophy merges two Japanese terms Kai (good) and Zen (change). The term’s simplified translation is equivalent to the phrase ‘change for the better.’
The core method centers on the belief that focusing on ‘ongoing improvement’ can generate better outcomes. The Japanese borrowed this idea from Americans and seamlessly integrated it into their corporate culture post-WWII. Standard implementation requires people to eliminate non-essential tasks and investments to maximize efficiency.
Modern business executives view the Kaizen principles as the original adopt lean management approach. Their primary goals for implementation include cost-effectiveness, higher productivity, and better outcomes. Their perspective is unsurprising, considering the origins of the Kaizen method.
The Origins: How It All Began
We can trace its conception to the modest offices of an automobile company. When Toyota started utilized the Kaizen principles, it was merely attempting to restore operations in the aftermath of a calamity. Yet, its effective management methodologies and gradual improvement transformed it into the world’s leading automobile brand.
Later, Masaki Imai introduced the term Kaizen after conducting extensive data analysis and assessments on productivity principles. He dedicated his life to understanding the Kaizen philosophy and also founded the Kaizen Institute. His company studies simplify and teach this method to its clients. Around the same time, businesses in the West started adopting this formula to replicate Toyota’s success. Their interest turned Masaki Imai’s book “Kaizen: Japanese Spirit of Improvement” (published in 1985) into a best-seller.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Transforming it into a Mindful Mantra for Personal Growth
Over the years, Kaizen developed into a meaningful way to live.
Think of it as the story of the hare and tortoise. The hare might have been fast, but it was the tortoise’s slow and steady progress that resulted in victory. Likewise, applying the philosophy of improving 1% a day can turn things around for people stuck in a rut.
Some people associate it with ‘Shinto’ (God’s Mind) and martial arts. The inclusion of the word ‘Zen’ encourages several interpretations for individuals interested in achieving personal development goals. The idea is to aim for small and consistent growth each day. Your daily efforts and progress would eventually lead to significant results.
Think of it as any trivial act of personal hygiene. Brushing your teeth and combing your hair each day aren’t life-altering habits. Yet, they manage to prevent underlying health issues just the same. Applying Kaizen philosophy in personal life has beneficial implications for your mental, social, and professional life. You accomplish these goals by striving for continuous improvement every day.
How to Begin?
A preliminary study compared participants who used Kaizen in daily life for personal improvement. These individuals applied standard Kaizen principles to change their quality of life and eliminate bad habits. The researcher concluded that this philosophy could develop a ‘harmony between body and mind,’ similar to Buddhist beliefs.
Success rations depended on three elements:
· An unwavering will power
· A motivational goal or incentive
· A growth mindset
Once you combine these three characteristics, you find it easier to commit to this long-term game plan.
10 Kaizen Principles: Why the Kaizen Philosophy Works So Well?
Kaizen teaches you to navigate through life with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Using this approach gives you a better chance of reaching the desired outcomes. Otherwise, you cling to traditional techniques and the hope that things will change when you find a secret solution. When, in reality, everything in the natural world progresses slowly to create a significant change.
The most common examples include a caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly.
Traditional Kaizen methodology consists of ten segments or principles. There are many variations of these guidelines.
My version highlights the personal growth and developmental aspects of this philosophy:
1. There is always room for improvement, so continue to learn new skills and relearn old ones for healthy growth.
2. Replace old habits with new ones whenever traditions fail to meet your current goals.
3. Seek assistance from many mentors instead of consulting one expert.
4. Stop spending too much time making excuses when you fail. Change is only possible if you actively find solutions for your problems.
5. Trust factual evidence over subjective opinions whenever you make a big decision.
6. Ask ‘Why’ five times to uncover the root of everyday disruptions and problems.
7. Sometimes, budget-friendly solutions are better than costly purchases.
8. Pave a distinctive path towards success by questioning the status quo
9. Take things one day at a time instead of setting it aside for another day.
10. Collaborate and communicate with others to benefit from shared success.
In short, valuable change is a more organic and subtle approach. It comes from appreciating the significance of smaller initiatives and harmonized contribution.
5 Ways to Apply Kaizen to Everyday Life
In my experience, you can adjust the ten Kaizen principles according to your life. When you succeed, you start gaining unique insights into the way your family, friends, and professional environment work. You would have missed these lessons if you spent each day chasing timelines and pushing tasks under the whims of a better tomorrow.
Many companies adopt Kaizen philosophy by following the 5S System borrowed from the Toyota Production System. My rendition uses a similar strategy to improve my quality of life and clear my cluttered mindset.
The 5S stand for:
Seiri: Sort and Eliminate
According to the Pareto Principle, ‘80% of production generates from 20% efforts’. The Kaizen philosophy encourages us to use this same strategy when it discusses the elimination of ‘wastefulness.’ You can do this by identifying futile tasks and time-consuming chores within your daily routine. Once you recognize these tasks, replace them with something meaningful.
When the pandemic started, I found myself doom scrolling to catch early updates related to the outbreak. Due to this, I wasted precious hours ‘breeding anxiety’ instead of focusing on something productive. These days, I use the same time to meditate or read articles related to work.
Seiton: Organize My Workstation & Home
Organization skills go hand in hand with productivity and efficiency. You learn this the hard way when you misplace an urgent report due to the files and empty coffee cups cluttered on top of your desk.
(Or that one time you lose a present because you dumped it with the rest of your belongings!)
Life is a mess, but your work and home should not follow suit. I follow Kaizen, Marie Kondo-style, by discarding objects that do not ‘spark joy’ in life. Many health experts recommend clearing workstations to increase mental focus. That means more creativity and concentration whenever I get to work.
Seiso: Aim for Healthier Life Choices
Seiso (or cleanliness) can help you maintain an ideal work-life balance. Use this method to cut out unhealthy habits and mentally draining activities. Replace it with substantial and valuable lifestyle choices that cleanse your mind, body, and soul.
It can be something as simple as:
· Meditating to unwind after work or rejuvenate yourself each morning
Seiketsu: Set High Standards
Standardized cleanup sounds like a clinical way to disinfect your house. Applying the Kaizen philosophy in personal life often means developing standards.
Use this strategy to avoid toxic friendships that hinder your progress. Once you start cutting off these ties, you make room for meaningful relationships and mind-stimulating hobbies. Spending quality time with your support system would uplift your spirits and mood. These benefits would reflect in your work and prove advantageous for your health too.
Shitsuke: Maintain Discipline for Continuous Improvement
Lastly, get rid of the biggest vice of them all, aka procrastination.
Procrastination is a form of ‘self-harm’ that thrives on lazy excuses and bad moods. If you fall prey to daily grumbling and negative self-talk, you can never take risks. You also lose sight of your action plan because you give way to irrational thoughts. Before you realize it, you built unachievable hurdles that stop you from becoming successful.
Kaizen teaches you to discipline yourself by living in the present. It encourages people to visualize attainable goals and set smaller milestones to maintain motivation. With time, your desired destination will come closer until you reach the finish line.
In a Nutshell
In the end, I apply Kaizen in my personal life by embracing the spirit of continuous improvement. I live for each moment and prioritize productivity over instant gratification. These habits ensure that I continue my upward progress with efficient tiny steps instead of losing my vocation in a blind chase for greatness.