“Little strokes fell great oaks”
— Benjamin Franklin
Kaizen is a Japanese word originally meaning “improvement.” Today, it is known as an approach for continuous self-improvement.
The typical approach to self-improvement is to set a large goal, then create and execute a detailed plan. The entire path is planned out and strategized from beginning to end.
While this may sound good in theory, people who attempt to self-improve in this way often find themselves falling short of their goal. Along their path to the end goal, they experience burnout, boredom, and even complete failure.
Kaizen takes a different approach. Instead of starting with the big end goal, we begin by focusing on the small things — the simple, 1% improvements we can make in our lives to move forward.
This method is based on the idea that small, positive changes can deliver significant overall improvements when executed consistently over time. It leaves room for error and correction while maintaining simplicity and constantly building a foundation for long-term success.
How Kaizen Works
“There are no big problems — there are just a lot of little problems.”
— Henry Ford
We often convince ourselves that change is only meaningful if we’re achieving some massive success. The goals are always earth-shattering: get a six-pack, start a billion-dollar business, or become the CEO.
The problem with setting such enormous goals is that they’re so far out, that they become difficult to plan for and tackle effectively. How can you build a billion-dollar business when you haven’t experienced building even a million-dollar business? How can you get a six-pack when you barely even workout at all?
Kaizen takes the opposite approach.
Instead of going top-down, starting from the top goal, and figuring out how to get there, Kaizen starts at the bottom: start moving forward and eventually find your way to your goal. Make small improvements every single day, and they’ll eventually lead you to the goals you want to achieve.
Each day, just focus on making a 1% improvement in whatever skill or task or profession you wish to achieve a goal in. Something small, but positive.
By focusing on small improvements instead of massive goals, you’re able to stay more focused. The work doesn’t seem daunting. In fact, since each 1% improvement is small, the work looks simple and even easy.
The Kaizen approach also takes into account the unpredictability of life. There will inevitably be ups and downs on your way to success. With Kaizen, since you’re focusing on the small stuff, it’s easy to adjust course. You’re no longer committed to some overarching plan — your only commitment is to continuous improvement.
Kaizen also encourages you to take action. Big plans require a lot of thinking before any action takes place. But making 1% improves starts with action. And the more you move, the easier it is to take even more action. That momentum will build up over time until you’re constantly moving and improving.
The 1% improvement might not seem like much at first, but over time, they will compound on each other. If your business makes $100 a month today, a 1% improvement means earning $1.
But what if you improved by 1% every day? In a month, your monthly income would have increased to $135. In a year, you’ll be at $3700 a month. In 3 years, you’re at nearly $54,000 per month.
You’re leveraging the power of compound interest.
How to Practically Apply Kaizen
Kaizen is easy to apply in your everyday life. Just ask yourself this simple question every day: What’s one small thing I can do to improve my life? Remember, it can be anything as long as it’s a positive improvement.
Here are a few tips to help you with finding some ideas.
Do more of what works
Doing more of what works is about recognizing what’s already helping you to improve, then doing more of it.
- You already workout by doing push-ups at home. So every time you do them, try to go for just one more than last time. You may not be able to add one whole push up each time, but you can at least try to make progress there. Working out is great because you can always make things for challenging to self-improve
- If you wrote 1000 words for your blog today, try 1010 tomorrow. And then 1020 the day after. And so on. If it gets to a point where you feel the word count is enough, that’s fine too. Kaizen allows room for error and correction. You can switch over to focusing more on improving the quality of your writing
Limit the negatives
Besides doing more of the right things, improvement can also mean doing less of the wrong things.
- If you usually watch 3 hours of YouTube each day, try going for 2 hours and 55 minutes. Then 5 minutes less each day. Eventually, you’ll work your way down to a much healthier number
- If you’re trying to lose weight, start by cutting out just one sugary item from your day. Or even just half of one. Or a quarter. Then, do a bit less each and every day. Even if it’s small, the more important thing is that you’re constantly taking action in the right direction. Compound interest will work in your favor
Do something new
If you’ve covered all the positive and negative things already in your life, then it’s time to start something new. Even if it doesn’t work out, the fact that you’re trying is in it of itself a positive 1% improvement.
- If you don’t already, start meditating each night. You can start with time as small as 1 minute and then work your way up. Once you’re doing it long enough, you can work on improving the quality of the meditation
- Learn a new language. This is an endless learning path with so many different languages to learn
These are all simple examples of 1% improvement most people can make in their everyday lives. Your 1% improvement might be more targeted, aiming at the long-term goal that you want to achieve.
The most important thing is to be committed, to focus on improving each and every day. Compound interest will work in your favor. It’s the Kaizen way.
There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.
― Ernest Hemingway
One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer
The Kaizen Pocket Handbook by Kenneth W. Dailey