According to Wikepedia, Kaizen (改善) (pronounced “Ky-zen”), is Japanese for “improvement”, or “change for the better” and refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, and business management. It’s a phrase that’s also used in psychology to refer to the practice of making small changes/improvements in one’s life while working towards larger goals. (There is quite a bit of research on the meaning, origins and uses of Kaizen, as well as books like this one about the psychological aspect, and this one, more business-oriented.)
The first time I heard of it was in spring of 2011 during the caregiver’s support group I used to attend. I had just shared with the group that Kaz was deeply depressed due to his declining health, and I was at my wits end trying to figure out how to help him. I felt like the depression was making him deteriorate faster. One of the group members suggested that I encourage him to make little changes that might improve his outlook gradually. She said this was the Japanese philosphy of “Kaizen.” I discussed it with Kaz and he thought it was an interesting concept that made sense. He also felt like he was past the point of “small improvements” doing much good. It was a tough situation.
The other day the word popped into my head again when I was thinking of the small changes I’ve made recently and how they’re making me feel. It hasn’t even been that long (this is the second week), but I already have more energy and feel more upbeat than before. I’ve had moments of sadness but not the sluggish, hopeless feelings of depression. Even my attitude at work has improved, all because of these simple changes:
- Waking up earlier (with the help of four alarms) and showing up to work on time
- Walking, jogging or hiking every other day for at least 20 minutes
- Cooking my own food
- Drinking more water
- Drinking less alcohol
- Eating less sugar
- Going to bed at a reasonable hour
Certainly not grand gestures, but I think that’s the point – little gestures, small improvements, which add up over the course of time. The challenge, of course, is to not lose patience or expect big results overnight. This has always been my downfall in the past, not seeing results fast enough and getting discouraged. I’m trying to avoid that by taking it one day at a time and not thinking too far down the line. I found this challenging to do when Kaz was sick because the ‘end of the line’ felt like approaching Niagra Falls and knowing only one of us would survive the fall. Things are different now.
Can you relate to the idea of changing things a little at a time? Do you have the patience?