The Philosophy of Kaizen

Kaizen

According to WikepediaKaizen (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:

  1. Waking up earlier (with the help of four alarms) and showing up to work on time
  2. Walking, jogging or hiking every other day for at least 20 minutes 
  3. Cooking my own food 
  4. Drinking more water 
  5. Drinking less alcohol
  6. Eating less sugar
  7. 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?

18 Comments

  1. One of my professional roles involves Lean Six Sigma – so I smiled when I saw the title of your post. Good for you on those changes! You’re inspiring me – I need to get my sleep under control to feel better – and have to stop going to bed at 1am and waking up at 6am. I have been changing my diet, slowly and in little steps – and noticed today that my work clothes felt a little less tight. Yay! Let’s keep baby-stepping forward.

  2. Congrats! These are all such healthy steps…and it’s so much easier to make small steps (that will add up to big changes if done consistently — I get BORED.) I wonder if the need for four alarms to wake you up is residual depression? Or maybe get to bed earlier. Sleep deprivation is very common now, and not good for your health.

    I just, finally, did my four miles in an hour walk along the reservoir I used to do quite often. Tomorrow off to the driving range and, perhaps, the batting cage. I’m still learning to trust my new hip 18 months into having it. GOT to shed a &^@&()_ 30 pounds somehow. Hell, hell and hell.

  3. That’s awesome about your 4-mile walk! Along the reservoir sounds pretty too. We’re on the same lbs mission. It ain’t easy, that’s for sure.

    My four alarms are not all for waking up. Two of them are, but the other two are for keeping me on schedule (i.e. by this time I should be in shower, by that time I should be out the door). Though I do find it difficult to wake up in the morning, could be residual depression, could be what I’m waking up for (my current job). Maybe I should think of it like I’m waking up for me instead. 🙂

  4. I think it could be early for you to have your new year’s resolution. However, changing for the better has a lot of good effects. Go get it girl!

  5. Here’s what I actually wrote on my wall a couple months ago. Yes, my wall: Kaizen= constant, never-ending improvement. Great minds think alike. Those “little” steps still seem so steep to me, but I will try. Kudos to you.
    Peace,
    Patti

  6. Hi, there!! I’ve been reading every one of your posts from my iPhone lately and wait for them patiently. :o) I haven’t had a chance to “Like” all of your posts lately or to respond but now have a brief moment at my laptop. I have only a couple of really fun things that I look forward to in my daily life and I wanted you to know that one of them is seeing nivaladiva or Riding Bitch post alerts on my phone. It really makes my day and I look forward to them. So, thought I should let you know that because, sometimes, we feel as though we’re writing for ourselves and tend to forget that people actually appreciate our posts let alone look forward to them.

    Just this past week, one of my “friends”, (my doctor, actually), committed suicide. It hit me really, really hard. I didn’t realize how hard until I had to go to his Memorial/funeral. My whole last week has been in a daze and I will write about that more sometime on my blog. But, I wanted you to know that, while I was in this hazy, foggy mess, I kept on reading your writing and tried to keep my head above sea level while attending to the regular, mundane tasks of daily life. My two daughters and my wonderful hubby and parents helped but, for some reason, I just couldn’t shake it.

    I love your idea of Kaizen. I feel as though I am making small, simple strides back to “normalcy”. I just couldn’t believe that someone that I knew so well could be hurting so much. I also couldn’t believe that someone would take for granted something so precious…life, itself. But, I am slowly understanding his thinking (however wrong) about his life, his patients, his work, his family and his purpose.

    I believe that it takes all kinds to make a world and we all have a purpose here whether we understand it or not. I know that it will take me some more time to come to grips with all that has happened this past several days but I really love your idea of Kaizen and making small steps toward — whatever it is that we are moving toward. For some, it may be toward their goal, others it may be toward their purpose in life, and for me, right now, it is toward “normal” again. Thank you for your thoughts and sharing your own steps.

    Ciao for now,
    Shawn

  7. I’m so sorry to hear of your friend. One of my mother’s doctors committed suicide several years after he operated on her. It was very hard for her too. At least you’re gaining some understanding of his life now. Just sad this is that it took. When I hear of things like this it makes me grateful for the relationships and joys I have in my life (despite losing Kaz), because they keep me going when life seems too tough to bear. Hang in there.

    And thanks for your kind words about the blog. I’m so glad you’re reading and enjoying it!!

  8. Love this…I’m running a mud run on Sat. I’m taking this wisdom with me. Though when my kids sleep, I am most productive!

  9. Sounds good to me! I am something of an ‘order junkie’ (I won’t say control freak!) and actively seek and create balance and control in my life. I recognise I have no control over the big things so I try to invest care and thought in the little things; essentially a mindfulness of patterns that are good for me versus patterns that are not so good for me.

    Everything that facilitates your healthy progress towards a better, happier, more successful you is to be nurtured and encouraged.

    Keep making it happen, you are restoring yourself.

  10. Interesting! The things you listed are almost exactly what I tell my patients to do to help with PMS! Good for you for keeping on!

  11. I am working on it – I can get started, then I seem to lose motivation. This past Saturday was the final straw I think. I woke up with the worst headache and every joint in my body ached. What was the cause? Hell if I know – I certainly have not worked out and i have spent more time driving and stressing than anything. Plus I eat like cr*p. So, I spent Saturday in my pajamas – did house work and walk the Pee. I still ate like shit – it has become a nervous/emotional habit – not good for someone with a history of eating disorders. Yesterday, I got up when I woke up, took Pee for a walk, drove to get coffee – a habit I really need to get rid of and I sat on my bike for 17 minutes. I have not sat on my bike for over a year. (I have a tri bike on an indoor trainer). I felt like I was going o die, but I managed. I tried not to get to discouraged because I am a triathlete – i did an Ironman for heaven’s sake.

    When I go home, I am going to ride again – 20 minutes. Yes – small steps. No, I have no patience, but I have to 🙂 – your blog has certainly helped to inspire me –

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