Many of us have grand aspirations. It is extremely common to hear people announcing that they’re going to start a new training program, that they’re going to write the next great novel, or that they’re going to improve their careers.
The problem? They never get anywhere. Or at least, the vast majority of people don’t. We all know a couple of people who are highly successful in dating, fitness, business, and money. But they are rare.
The rest of us make these promises to ourselves, and then we never keep them.
There are a million reasons for this. But there is one amazing solution: and it’s called Kaizen.
What is Kaizen?
Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “improvement.” However, when you hear the word Kaizen it’s likely talking about the notion of making small changes in order to add up to a big impact.
The idea is simple: that if you want to make massive changes in your life, you’re best off not trying to make them all in one go. Instead, you should commit to making tiny changes regularly, such that they add up to a massive change.
The concept initially comes from manufacturing (Toyota to be specific!). Here, we see the use of assembly lines where lots of machines and people work together in order to build a big and valuable product. Each one has a role to play, but the result is the sum of all their work together.
Now let’s say that one job done by a human takes five minutes per vehicle. They need to take a bunch of cogs and wash them, then place them on the conveyer belt. Because why not (1).
But then we apply kaizen. We look for a small change that can make a big difference: we get them a better cleaning tool. It now takes only 3 minutes to clean each cog.
And suddenly, you’re saving two minutes per vehicle. If we previously got through 30 vehicles in a day, we’re now saving 60 minutes or an hour. Seeing as we were averaging around 16 cars per hour, we can now complete at least another 16 vehicles at that time.
It’s probably quite obvious at this point that I know nothing about manufacturing. But that’s not the point. The point is that by focussing on tiny details of a larger process, you can make a hugely beneficial outcome. And kaizen is about applying this philosophy to every aspect of the business, life, and health.
How to Apply Kaizen to Your Life
Applying kaizen to your own life then means doing a couple of things. First, you hone in on what it is that you are hoping to change. Maybe you plan on starting a workout program, and that means you need to give yourself more time and energy.
Maybe you want to save money and get out of debt. Either way, the old way of doing things doesn’t work.
The Old Way of Doing Things
The old way of doing things was to say: I want to get into shape, and so I’m going to start going to the gym four times a week.
Seems reasonable enough, right? Until you realize that those four-hour workouts are also surrounded by half-hour car journeys to and from the gym. 15 minutes of getting dressed and undressed and a 10-minute shower.
You also need to prep your clothes for the next day and wash the smelly ones. That’s now 8 hours of new activities, at a time when you previously (apparently) didn’t have time or energy. This rarely works.
And yet we continue to make this approach when it comes to our training for a few obvious reasons. One is that it is much “sexier” to start a program that promises to help you look amazing in a month.
Another is because that’s precisely what the media and most companies want us to
do. Gyms would not sell many memberships by telling people to start from home and take it slow!
The new way of doing things is to take a long hard look at your current situation. To assume that your schedule is full, or that your energy (which is a finite resource) is at least partly used.
Kaizen then means looking at this routine and looking for the small changes you can make to it to make you more productive and more efficient. In other words, before you add 8 hours of training to your routine, you first need to get 8 hours back into your life. And you do that by making small incremental changes.
Stop washing the dishes (get a washing machine). Create a more efficient system for keeping your home tidy. Ditch your daily commute by discussing with your boss working from home.
In short, make your life more efficient to create the time you need and the energy you need to do the things you want to do (in this case that means working out).
How to Build a Better Training Program
What’s more, is that you can start with a much smaller training program. And you can start by making smaller fixes to the rest of your routine to become healthier.
You can even try incorporating “micro workouts” which are ten-minute workouts designed to get your blood pumping. Maybe you are going to cycle to and from work to improve your physique. Then maybe in terms of strength exercise, you’ll start with just 20 press-ups a day, done at a time that you can afford to fit them in.
Do all this, and you’ll start to see improvements in your physique over time, even if they don’t come quite as quickly. But you’ll be FAR more likely to stick with them because those changes will be small things that fit around your routine (2).
More Small Changes
Once you realize the power of making small changes in your life, you’ll realize that there are countless other tiny changes you can make that will make you more productive, wealthier, more confident, fitter, etc.
Here are some examples of very small changes you can make right now, that will help you to become a better version of yourself. These are small things, but they add up to a lot over time.
Talk to One Stranger a Day
Take one minute out of your routine to strike up a conversation with a stranger. This is a small thing, but it not only means you meet new and interesting people but also helps you to develop your social skills and become more confident and charismatic. This is game-changing in the long term.
Make Your Bed
Another very small and simple act. Just making your bed every day will mean starting your day in the right productive mindset. Moreover, it will mean creating a tidier and cleaner environment that is more conducive to productivity.
Write Down Three Things You’re Grateful For
This will help you to appreciate what you already have, which will make you that much happier. You will find that as you practice this one, you eventually learn to focus on the positive naturally and become a happier person!
Stretch for 5 Minutes
Five minutes of stretching can improve your sleep, your posture, your mobility, and more. You’ll be pain-free and far more energetic than many of your contemporaries!
Drink a Veggie Smoothie
A veggie smoothie doesn’t take long to make if you have a blender, but the health benefits can be huge. That’s especially true for veggie smoothies because they don’t carry the same high sugar content as fruit smoothies.
Do 20 Push Ups
If you currently don’t exercise, then committing to just 20 push-ups a day is a great path to improving your physique and your health. You’ll tone your core and your pecs, and you’ll improve your cardio fitness too.
Turn Down Your Heating One Degree
To show how everything can benefit from the kaizen approach, even just turning your heating down by a single degree can mean that you’re sparing the planet and saving money. And this really does add up over time!
Pay $5 Into Your Savings
Every day pay $5 or whatever you can afford into your savings. That is a small amount that you’ll hardly miss, but in no time at all it will grow to become much larger.
Smiling more every day can help to make you happier thanks to something called facial feedback (we feel the way we look!). It will also make others happier, and mean they enjoy being around you more. The result is that you become more influential and popular!
Puff Your Chest When You Walk Through a Door
This simple act makes you beam when you enter a room. You’ll make a bigger impression and you’ll feel more confident.
The One Minute Rule
A similar concept that is related to kaizen is something called the “one-minute rule.” The one minute rule tells us that if something takes only one minute, then we should do it immediately.
So, for example, if it takes one minute to answer an email you’re putting off, then you should just do it right away.
If it takes just one minute to buy something you need on Amazon… do it right away!
This might seem like a small thing, but it’s actually hugely transformative and can make a massive difference to your life.
That’s because it’s often the very small things that we end up putting off, which in turn end up causing us the most stress and problems.
Take for example answering an email to a colleague that you have been putting off doing. This is something that a lot of people might put off because it is a source of stress –
they don’t want to let them know they’ve read the email, they’re focussing on work after all.
Worse is when someone invites you somewhere and you have to politely turn them down… so you put off answering. It’s a source of stress, so it’s easier to just compartmentalize. Until you realize that in doing so, you’re now going to give them much less noticeable when you cancel, and that’s going to make them even more unhappy!
But if you just answered, then this would stop playing on your mind, and you wouldn’t be stressed anymore. It’s what Tim Ferriss refers to as an “open loop,” and the sooner you dismiss it, the sooner it will no longer be a source of stress (3).
Just do it!
The Quick Check
Another “quick” thing you can do to make your life better is to just “suss out” or check the bigger projects that you have been putting off doing. Maybe you’re planning on building a website. Maybe you’re planning on starting a new business. Maybe you want to learn a new language.
But this task is so large and so daunting, that you haven’t even attempted it yet. This can go on for days or weeks or months even.
So, what is the solution? Again, taking the “small things” approach, you’re going to make an effort to simply “check” on the project. That means suss it out, take a look at how the land lies.
For instance, if it’s building a website, then you might just log into your site-builder tool, perhaps that is WordPress, and see what you would have to do to start building the website.
If it’s starting a new workout, you might just try doing a few of the moves to see how they are. This is a small step, but it is a crucial one.
This will not only help you to stop blowing the project out of proportion in your mind but will also make that first tiny step toward progress.
These two things can then in turn make it much easier to then eventually make serious progress in that area. It’s the first Kaizen, and it makes a huge difference. As they say, even the longest journey starts with a single step!