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. The Japanese then 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".
Kaizen has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life coaching, government, and banking, to name a few.
Digging a little deeper, the philosophy of Kaizen 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 eventually leads to significant change.
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 we all put on ourselves. 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?”
- Working continuously toward a goal is one of the few ways to lift your dopamine baseline. (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 the Latin cognitio, from cognoscere, 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).
- Becoming a Man: Nearly all males in our culture have some growth to do in terms of becoming a solid man.
A “solid” man might be characterized as kind, assertive, compassionate, decisive, wise, community-focused, honorable, mentally and physically strong, committed, leading, loving, and persevering.
Ever since we became an industrialized nation, sons have not been working alongside their fathers learning to farm, hunt, or becoming proficient at a trade. More recently, even when
fathers are at home they are not that available. As a rule, our young males do not end up with a solid “mode of male feeling.” One can make some progress filling that hole in a relatively short time.
But it really is a lifetime pursuit, one that results in a sense of peace and confidence. More about this on the “Becoming a Man” page.
- Healing: Just as “Becoming a Man” is a lifetime pursuit, so is “healing.” We all have suffered one kind of trauma or another, some of us more than others. Everyone would like it if we
could just make the pain we carry just go away. The bad news is it won’t. The good news is that you can change your relationship with past pain and the attitude you take toward suffering in the future.
You can turn your experiences, both good and bad, to better understanding human existence. From pain you can learn compassion and how to help yourself as well as others. More about this on the