new-years-day

With the year 2017 just around the corner, you might be already drafting New Year’s resolutions. After all, what better time to implement the desired changes in your life? However, the chance is your list will turn out to be a list of last year’s failures. We’ve all been there. So how to avoid yet another downfall? Here’s where kaizen methods come in handy!

Where Kaizen Comes From

By now you’ve probably heard about kaizen, especially if you work in an international organization. The term comes from Japanese and means “change for good”, yet the origins of the industrial-wide applications of this idea can be traced back to the USA during the World War II. At that time, the US Department of War launched the Training Within Industry program in order to scale-up production in war-related industries. As these were extremely strained, time and resources were limited. Instead of introducing drastic innovations, the idea was to implement small tweaks and fixes across all of the production stages. All of the people involved in particular processes were encouraged to look for ways to save time and energy wherever possible. These methods were later on transferred to Japan, where the occupying American forces trained Japanese personnel in hopes of restoring the local economy. The Japanese liked the idea so much that they gave it their own name: kaizen.

How Kaizen Works

The widespread use of Kaizen methodology helped Japan become one of the biggest economies in the world. With time, it found its way back to the USA and became popular in quality improvement initiatives across international corporations. How does it work exactly? The main assumption is that even the smallest changes, say, automatizing your Excel spreadsheet with a clever macro or formula, can save A LOT of time when multiplied by the number of days/times you use it. And time means money. Moreover, it gives employees an authentic opportunity to improve the processes they deal with on daily bases. It’s a win-win situation. “Ok, great, so kaizen can help corporations save money, what does it have to do with me and my resolutions?”. Well, as it turns out, a lot. If you let it.

Small Steps vs Giant Leaps

Do you remember how you felt the last time you tried to change something in your life? Break a bad habit, take on a new hobby, learn a new skill? If you’re anything like me, you probably found it hard or even stressful. Every change, no matter how positive, requires you to step out of your comfort zone. Our brain doesn’t really seem to like it. Comfort means safety and evolution programmed us to avoid anything that poses a threat to our well-being.  Change is one of these things. This is why negative thoughts tend to pop up whenever you try to implement it in your life. “It’s not for me”, “I can’t make it”, “It’s not worth the effort”, “What do I need it for anyway?”. Sounds familiar? Luckily, kaizen can help you to overcome this. How? By taking baby steps! Instead of acting against your habits and routines, you can give them a little twist, channel them towards your goal little by little. If it doesn’t seem like a change or invasion in your comfort zone, your subconsciousness is less likely to throw these mental obstacles in your way. Setting tiny goals makes it way more difficult to fail. Not only do you avoid the discouragement that comes from abandoning your resolutions, you actually feel like you accomplished something, no matter how small it is. Once the initial alteration feels normal, the next step will come much easier and more natural. Instead of forcing yourself towards the change, you’ll be actually eager to carry it out.

kaizen

Putting It Into Practice

Here’s how you can apply kaizen methods to some of the most commonly abandoned new year’s resolutions.

Get in shape

The natural thing to do is to sign up to a gym or find a training routine to follow. Instead, try the smallest thing possible that would still be considered as a way of getting fit. For example, you could downsize a half an hour workout routine to just 5 minutes every day during the TV commercials, do a series of stretches on a break at work, choose stairs instead of an elevator. If you want to take on running, start with practicing a warm-up first and set off on your first run only when the desire to do so cannot be contained. Make your resolution as small and insignificant as possible, that way it will be hard to abandon it.

Quit smoking/drinking

The failure rate here is very high due to the addictive nature of these substances. Anytime you cut yourself off, your organism will rebel and make you feel miserable. Try a different approach. Spend a minute every day visualizing yourself with the said substance, say, a cigarette. Imagine you go out for a quick smoke, take out a cigarette, light it and… throw it away. Pay attention to the emotions this imaginary action evokes. Repeat this and add small twists, like throwing away the cigarette without even lighting it. Replace it with a carrot or a deep breath of fresh air. Such an exercise will help you create new mental habits, which in turn will make quitting the addiction way easier later on. Imaginary quitting will prep your brain for the actual detox and increase your chance of a long-term success.

Get out of debt/save money

That’s a major wishlist point for all of us. However, before you can make or save more money, you need to know what’s happening with the resources you already have. Kaizen teaches us to start small. Therefore, a good thing to do first would be to go through your spending history and mark the things you could have done without. Resolve to spend a minute or two each day for this and create a list of unnecessary spendings. Once it’s done, use this time to ask yourself small questions, like “What can I do today to improve my financial condition?”. The key here is to focus your attention on short-term, easily achievable goals instead of fear-inducing ones, like saving aside a certain amount by the end of the month.

Learn a new language

Before you enroll in an expensive course or hire a private tutor, try the kaizen approach first. Sign up for a word-of-the-day newsletter from the language you wish to learn. Grab a dictionary and try to memorize one word every day. Listen online to the radio in the target language while you surf the net or wash the dishes. Use a mobile app like Duolingo or Memrise and set yourself a daily goal that requires only 5 minutes of your time every day. No matter how tight your schedule is, you can easily fit these small activities in between your daily tasks. At some point, they will become an integral part of your life and you’ll start to prioritize them and want to spend more time doing them.

Taking such small steps is the very essence of the kaizen method. They might even seem ridiculous, yet that’s exactly how they can help you to avoid the obstacles that led to your failure in the past. You barely need any effort to accomplish these tasks, so your brain won’t even bother to consider it as a threat to your comfort and safety. Repeated over a certain period of time, they’ll help you establish new habits and let you carry on with your resolutions all year long. Taking it easy, one step at a time.

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