Kaizen is a Japanese word for improvement. However, nowadays it has become synonymous with the concept of continuous improvement.
Pushing the limits continuously
When I talk about kaizen I talk about self-growth and expansion of character. Kaizen means to expand yourself every day, to go beyond your limits. It is a way of life where you are continuously improving yourself. You could apply this personal kaizen to your professional career or to your very life. I apply it to this blog and to my exercise form when working out!
Kaizen as a life discipline is a personal development equivalent of compound interest. When practiced correctly, it is very powerful.
In the book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma, it is stated that expanding yourself means living a fearless life and to challenge your fears until they fade away. Many things which we fear, are no more challenging than other tasks which we are used to. We have simply been imprinted with fearing certain tasks.
When the first trains came about, they were no faster than today’s mopeds. They couldn’t fall over or crash into another train, since they were on rails (duh). But people still thought of them as deathtraps. The sheer thought of riding one was horrifying! Today most of us navigate our ways through traffic every day, where even one small step off the sidewalk could maim us instantly. We have become used to cars, buses and trains and we don’t really fear them anymore, even though they are among the most dangerous objects we are exposed to in our everyday lives.
By creating a habit of going beyond your limits every year, every month, every week and maybe even every day, you will learn by your own experience to not fear those imaginary limits which your mind has constructed. You will learn to reject limits set by others.
Taiichi Ohno made Toyota big
Background: It was Taiichi Ohno, the founder of the Toyota Production System*, who introduced the idea of continuously applying many small modifications to the production system, in contrast to occasionally executing major upgrades. This way of going about large-scale industry production proved extremely successful. Today this philosophy is being used in all kinds of industries, for example in the software development of smartphones and in the many different applications and plugins for mobile phones, computers and web platforms that are downloaded worldwide and regularly updated. Small improvements that are carried out frequently.
- Abbreviated to TPS, or Lean production in USA
Currently kaizen is a familiar concept in many creative professions as well. But an idea that simple, really can be applied everywhere. If kaizen could be applied to big, complex industry production systems, it could certainly be applied to a single individual as well.
How to practise the ten exercises
OBS! Advanced self development
Beyond this you can practice Kaizen by doing ten exercises in order to make you happier, more balanced and overall a better version of yourself. These exercises do not just target one or two parts of the mind or the body; instead they influence many different aspects of your being and they work together to form your whole person.
I will retell to you these ten exercises – or rituals – in my own order and with my own words. Remember that the order of these rituals don’t matter very much, as long as it makes sense to you. For reading, I do recommend The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma. Buy it as a paperback or borrow it from a library. It can also be downloaded as a free trial on Audible as of 2017.
When you try to do these exercises you should be consistent, but I do not recommend that you start with all ten at the same time unless you already have developed a strong discipline. It is easier to learn one habit at a time. For example, start with waking early, exercising and meditating the first thing in the morning. Tadaa, now you have a morning ritual! You can add from there.
The 21 day challenge
It is a good idea to start implementing these exercises by doing them every day. When you are doing every exercise every day, keep this up for 21 days. After twenty one days, if you still don’t think that these exercises improve your life in comparison to the time and effort you put in, feel free to finish the challenge and pick out only the elements that you find useful. Otherwise, keep going!
Without further ado, I give you a list.
THE TEN EXERCISES OF KAIZEN
- Early Rise
- Temple of the body
- Centering solitude
- Living food
- Abundant knowledge
- Self reflection
- Gift of music
- The spoken word
- Congruent character
- Simple life
1. Early rise
This first step is so important. It is by far the hardest, but there are many benefits.
Wake up early, preferably so you can enjoy rising with the sun. Every day is a gift and the sun is the source of life on earth. Take part in its glory.
Not many people will disturb you this time of the day and any work carried out will have the whole remaining day as a buffer. Learning to wake up early hardens your discipline and when you eventually find it comfortable, it makes you more productive.
2. Temple of the body
Exercise daily and with thought. You can hit the gym some days and only stretch and do light exercise other days, but constant exercise is key. It prevents the body from deteriorating and it keeps the soul calm.
Breathing is an essential part of physical health. Take a few moments every day when you make sure you are ventilating enough. Breathe deeply so that your stomach moves. More about breathing can be learnt from many types of meditation, several forms of martial arts, yoga, etc.
3. Centering solitude
Spend time alone with yourself every day. The ideal is what I call The Garden of Quiet Calm, which is a beautiful place, preferably a garden, where you spend your alone time mostly in silence.
By personal experience I know that it is not always so easy to even find a somewhat silent spot. But it doesn´t have to be a place of perfect silence; a walk in a park or something similar works fine for starters.
You can spend your time simply relaxing, meditating or any other thing that makes you calm or rebalanced. The idea is to center yourself and to inspire as much calm and content as possible. Do not mix this with self reflection.
To spend time in nature is very good, since it grounds you. Life on earth should be concrete and integrated, not just high-flying thoughts.
4. Living food
Eat fresh vegetables. They make you healthier and more productive. “Living food”, refers to vegetables, fruit etc.
You don’t need to become a vegetarian if you don’t want to, but reducing heavy consumption of meat and processed food, while increasing on the salad side, will have benefits.
Vegetarian food in general is easier for the body to digest. This means that the energy is faster accessible and that you save energy when your body is digesting it, reducing drowsiness after a meal. Also, vitamins are not found in beef.
Occasionally an extra dose of proteins or some extra fat in the morning can be good for you, but the key word here is occasionally. If you are unsure which way to go, be somewhat moderate but tip over to the easy-digestible side. I love fried pork, but I don´t eat it every day and my stomach is very grateful for that.
5. Abundant Knowledge
In my head, reading and breathing are both essential to the well-being of a human. The ritual of abundant knowledge aligns with this personal philosophy since it encourages a certain kind of reading.
Abundant knowledge means living in an abundance of knowledge. We should spend at least about 30 minutes a day reading, watching a video or listening to something that gives us knowledge or food for thought that we value.
The time you devote to this ritual should be of high quality, so spend it reading about something that is useful to you, usually non fiction. Reading something that is mainly entertaining or staying up to date by reading newspapers is not considered as performing this ritual. You could also read philosophical texts from old masters, or read some beautiful poetry. The choice is yours, but you get the idea. It is about constantly gaining more knowledge about whatever we find worthy and meaningful.
Another crucial aspect of this ritual is that you take time to absorb the knowledge. You reread (or rewatch) the material you are interested in constantly, until it is absorbed in your mind. Good books are like good friends, you long to see them again.
Ideally, you should realize when a text is of high quality and then reflect over all of its content, especially the parts you don’t understand at first. No need to sort everything out, simplye reflect over it.
Every day you should also spend time thinking about yourself. For example; at the end of the day, memorize everything you have done that day and then evaluate your actions. This way you know what you did well and what you should improve on. Also think about how you can improve.
We spend more time reflecting about the world around us than we spend reflecting about ourselves. Why is that? Do we think that since we are ourselves, we already understand ourselves? How foolish. Cosmos is vast and still expanding, but so is your mind and you can learn to control your mind when you know who you are and what you want.
7. Gift of Music
Music is like balsam for the soul. Let it wash over you. How much time you spend listening to music everyday is up to you, but listen to music for at least some minutes, every day.
8. The Spoken Word
Self affirmations and mantras can work as reminders to important facts of life which you know, but forget in moments of stress and worry.
They can also focus thoughts and feed the auto-suggestion mechanisms of the mind, which in turn gives you faith and clear-headed thoughts. I recommend that you Google mantras and self-affirmations and explore this topic on your own. Sometimes it works to just write as well.
9. Congruent Character
Be who you want to be. Do not let mood swings alter your personality. Train yourself to be congruent with your ideals, one practise of habit every day. E.g. “Today I will give a compliment.”
10. Simple Life
Finally, a simple way of living will create harmony in your life. The master walks one path, not several. The master does not stray.
To avoid unnecessary luxury, to cut down on one-time pleasures etc. is essentially to create more space for yourself.
A simple life will have two direct benefits. First, it will free up time and mental resources for you to focus on what is really important to you. Secondly, it will help shielding you from the chaos of life. This way of life means sidestepping the rush of the world.
So what kind of actions should you take? How does one live a simple life? Well, here are some concrete actions to take.
- Focus on your big goals. Make time for the most important things first.
- Do not overcommit. Learning to graciously saying no is a useful skill.
- Don’t fill out every minute of your day.
- Let go of things that don’t serve your goals. You could make it a challenge to remove a distraction, such as a social media or a video game, for a month.
Many humans have lots of fun living busy lives and surrounding themselves with small, harmless distractions, but if they keep it up for too long they will eventually lose grounding and time for reflection. The answers of life can only be heard by those who take time to listen.
I hope you found this article helpful!
Jesper Lindholm, totally Zen