Kaizen: Lessons for Everyday Life
There’s an holistic approach used in Japanese business culture to create environments where all can thrive. Here’s how to apply it to your life.
Kaizen is a term based on the Japanese business philosophy that loosely translates to “change for the better.” It is a slow-and-steady method of encouraging success in workplaces. For companies that follow Kaizen, people at all levels of their organization—from the mail room clerk to the company president—use key fundamentals to make productive changes, improve attitudes and increase overall achievement. But the principles behind this practice can also be applied to your everyday life—your interactions with those around you, the attainment of personal goals and your quest to find balance and contentment in the daily grind. “This technique helps the brain learns habits through small, daily steps we take to improve our health, our relationships and our work efforts,” says Robert Maurer, Ph.D., an expert on Kaizen who has guest-lectured at Canyon Ranch in Tucson.
In a Kaizen-centered business, employees are broken into teams, each serving as the expert in a particular area and being responsible for its role in the company’s overall success. This dynamic isn’t unlike a family—all members contribute in some way to the common good. By fostering this in your home—say, by encouraging your husband to “own” weekend dinner preparation because of his growing culinary skills—you cannot only distribute roles you may currently take on more evenly (making your day a bit easier), but grow feelings of validation and appreciation amongst your loved ones.
Staying on task is, of course, an essential part of business. But remaining committed to your goals is just as crucial in everyday life; it’s easy to let your desires fall to the wayside when you’re not focused on and committed to carrying them out. Consider meeting personal milestones just as important to as work deadlines. And if it ever seems that the road ahead is too steep, help your inner drive stay alive by taking small, less-overwhelming steps that will get you closer to where you want to be. For example, if you are aiming for your healthy weight, start by committing to drinking water instead of soda each day. Your efforts will prove their worth quickly, keeping you motivated to keep going.
In Kaizen business-speak, this term refers to people who are brought together to discuss and identify potential improvements that could be implemented. Think of your family and friends as such groups. Make it a point to regularly communicate with them about issues you’re facing that may benefit from others’ points of view (or simply their support), as well as anything that’s affecting the group as a whole. For example, at dinner, bring up the long list of commitments you all have and how you might be able to pare that down so that you can spend more quality time together.
We all function a little better when we’re working—and living—in a positive environment. In a work setting, as Kaizen reminds, being acknowledged for a job well done can boost your confidence and drive. It’s no different after 5 o’clock: Congratulate yourself on your own successes—even the small ones, like going for a jog or finally cleaning out the closet. Do the same for those around you, too. Sharing positivity with others cannot only give them a boost, but improve your outlook as well.
Suggestions for Improvement
Businesses have long been soliciting customer ideas on how to make their services better. In fact, Kaizen followers know that the best companies realize that this kind of evolution is what gives them an edge. Create a personal “suggestion box” for yourself: Write down personal improvements you want to make that will contribute to your own success and fulfillment: I want to forgive. I want to exercise more. I want to express my gratitude. Revisit these notes every now and then as a reminder of what you asked of yourself—and to see if you’ve made the change.