Continuous Growth

Video presentation of this page


The Japanese word kaizen refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, large or small, in the same sense as the English word “improvement.”

The concept of continuous improvement was first conceived in the USA during World War II, to provide a system that would allow for incremental progress in military production. After the war, the Japanese were invited to visit manufacturing plants throughout the USA. And subsequently, they applied the concept of continuous improvement to their industrial and business processes.

Because the western world is chiefly aware of this particular use of the word “kaizen”, the word in English is typically applied to measures for implementing continuous improvement, especially those with a "Japanese philosophy".

The kaizen continuous improvement philosophy focuses on making small improvements over time. This is sometimes referred to as the “strategy for one-percent gains.” One percent is hardly noticeable, but a succession of one-percent improvements over time, eventually leads to significant change.

Kaizen has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life coaching, government, and banking, to name a few.

Approaching personal improvements in this way has a number of benefits:

  • It is a well-known fact that you will be more likely to succeed with creating a new habit (or breaking an old habit) if you focus on “consistency” instead of “intensity.” This is, in part, because our minds do not like rapid change. According to Srini Pillay, author of Tinker Dabble Doodle Try, “Your brain rebels against change, even if it is good for you, and irrationally tries to stay stuck. Stuckness can feel safer than change.”
  • “Continuous” means the job is never finished. That may sound daunting, but it is also relieving because time is your friend. Pacing your improvements will help reduce the pressure you put on yourself. Also, if you adopt the kaizen habit, you won’t arrive at 65 and think, “I’ve seen and done just about everything I want to do,” which is a sure recipe for a mental and physical downslide. Instead, you will think enthusiastically, “What’s next? How can I keep improving?”
  • When you reach a goal, you may feel good for a while, but with time the sense of accomplishment can fade. A more sustainable way to lift your sense of well-being is to be working continuously toward some kind of improvement. Specifically, improving your own life. Gently working toward a goal is one of the few ways to lift your dopamine baseline, without a subsequent crash. (Dopamine plays a role in how we feel pleasure and how we think and plan. It helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting. If you would like to learn more about this concept, listen to Andrew Huberman's podcast titled "Controlling Your Dopamine For Motivation, Focus and Satisfaction".)

Specific Areas of Growth

  • Mindset and Mastery: We know from recent advances in neuroscience that our brains are far more malleable than we ever knew. Connectivity between neurons can change with experience and neural networks can grow new connections and strengthen existing ones. This is at the heart of the term, “Growth Mindset,” coined by Carol Dweck, author and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University (see video below). These discoveries show us we can increase our neural growth by living healthfully, using good strategies, and striving for continuous improvement – all of which lead to mastery. Having a feeling of mastery puts you in the driver’s seat. By adopting strategies, a life philosophy, and a positive way of being you are putting yourself in charge. Being in charge is empowering and less stressful than just reacting to life’s demands and moods.
  • Metacognition and Mindfulness: Metacognition is an awareness of one's own thought processes and an understanding of the patterns behind them. The term comes from the root word meta, meaning "beyond," and cognito, which means "get to know." Thinking about how you think, behave, and react leads to mindfulness: the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. (see video below).

Dr. Alia Crum: Science of Mindsets for Health and Performance by Andrew Huberman


Paraphrasing from the podcast...

Mindsets are about the core assumptions that shape and orient our thinking. They simplify our lives in some way by constraining the number of things that we have to consider.

We have mindsets about many things: mindsets about stress, mindsets about intelligence, mindsets about food, mindsets about medicine, even mindsets about the best way to live our lives.

For example, what is your core belief about stress? Do you view stress as enhancing and good for you or as debilitating and bad for you? That "stress" mindset orients your thinking. It affects what you expect will happen to you when you are stressed.

Carol Dweck talks about the “growth mindset.” The idea is that if we are not proficient at something we should instead think "not yet," and that we are on a path to proficiency. As humans, we need simplifying systems to help us understand complex realities. The assumptions we jump to, such as whether intelligence is fixed or malleable, help us to simplify a complex reality. But they are not inconsequential. They matter in shaping our motivation. As Dweck has shown, adjusting our mindset to believe intelligence is malleable can motivate us to work harder to grow our intelligence.

Another way of looking at it is that mindsets are portals that operate between conscious and subconscious processes. If through our upbringings, public health messages, media, and other things, our minds believe stress is bad, then that concept sits there as an assumption in the brain. As a result, when our brains are figuring out how they should respond to stressful situations, the inclination is to rev up the things that protect us versus revving up the things that help us grow. Revving up protective processes triggers the production of epinephrine and cortisol (stress neurotransmitters), so one can see how the conscious shaping of our mindsets can shape our subconscious and physiological processes.

And by way of extrapolation, one can see the importance of having an optimal life mindset when striving for an optimal life experience.

Teaching a Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck

Mindfulness: All It Takes Is 10 Mindful Minutes - Ted Talk by Andy Puddicombe