To make big changes in your life, follow the Kaizen philosophy

If we want to change something in life, especially a big change, it can be daunting. When we decide to shed several pounds, it’s easy to give up when we’re seeing little results after months and months of sweating, panting, and eating salads. Any gargantuan task, from self-improvement to writing a dissertation, induces such a weary sigh that we half-heartedly trudge along.

We don’t do well with space, and a distant horizon makes a lot of people say, “Fuck it, I’m going out for a drink.” And that has repercussions. If we don’t meet our goals, we’re less likely to do well in the future. Success breeds success and failure repeats itself.

We expect too much of ourselves and others

There is something wrong with each of us. Even if you’ve tried to live an impeccable, impeccable, and perfect life, there’s always something to criticize. You may be noblely philanthropic, but maybe you take too much time to yourself. You may be a doting and hardworking daughter, but maybe you don’t call your dad as often as you should. You may be a trojan at work, but you may spend some time in the company on social media. Nobody is perfect.

But it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being better; Accuracy is impossible.

We live in a time when we expect many people. Mistakes, no matter how innocent, have ruined careers. Forgiveness seems as rare as the Egyptian phoenix. However, it is not healthy to see yourself and other people as temporarily disappointing god(s). Instead, we shouldn’t focus on being the best, but on being better than you used to be. As the Roman Stoic Seneca put it:

“I’m not a ‘wise man,’ nor… ever will I be. So don’t ask me to be a match for the best, but to be better than the bad. It is enough for me if every day I reduce the number of my vices and blame my mistakes.”

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The problem, however, is that the command to “be better” is a classic example of a vague, unhelpful resolution that’s usually broken by lunchtime. Trite, meaningless, and ill-defined goals will get you nowhere. That is why the Japanese philosophy of kaizen (改善) is so powerful and so useful. It makes the insurmountable manageable and allows us to master even the biggest tasks.

The philosophy of kaizen

kaizen is not some ancient arcane secret buried deep in some lost monastic scrolls. It’s a business practice popularized by Toyota in the 20th century – like the automaker.

It literally means “good change” and is the practice of incremental, continuous improvement. It’s the philosophy that says we can all improve, but the best (and most sustainable) way to do it is slowly and in small increments. Toyota was once a textile company, and its transition to manufacturing cars was not an overnight revolution (the so-called Kaikaku). Instead, there was a change here, a shift there. Every day was a little different, every week a little better, and when a month turned into a year, an incredible change had been achieved.

We live in an age of quick fixes and instant gratification, however kaizen is neither. Its slow, determined buff can seem pointlessly small and insignificant when taken alone. But so many drops will one day make an ocean kaizen can change any life. As the days turn into years, you’ll look back on who you were with new eyes.

kaizen is a proven, effective and practical way to get better.

Three examples of kaizen

We can all keep ourselves busy kaizen. It was literally invented to be used in everyday life. Here are three practical (and common) examples, such as:

clean up your house. No matter the size of your house, all too often the “spring cleaning” is kept getting pushed back and forth until the spiders assert the squatter’s rights. A big cleanup is a daunting struggle, but that kaizen The way is to say, “Today I’ll make the bedroom and nothing else.” Or, “I’ll make the chairs this morning and the tables this afternoon.” It will probably take longer, yes, but it will get done.

Athletic performance. For the world’s non-runners, a marathon is a breathtaking endurance feat. But every race or endurance feat is just one small step at a time. Many runners repeat “just to the top of the hill” or “just one more mile” over and over until one mile becomes 26.2.

Change your character. There is much truth in the force of habit. When we do something over and over again, our brain literally rewires itself. It’s impossible to be “friendly” overnight. It takes small, gradual changes—it takes kaizen. So make a conscious effort to do something nice before lunch. Do one more before you go to bed. Over time, kaizen teaches us that one day you will do kind things easily and habitually. You have will kind.

The philosophy of kaizen is also found in expressions such as “Rome was not built in a day” and “good things come to those who wait”. In an age where “slow” is considered a vice, that’s a tough trick. But slowly, slowly, and over a long period of time, great things can be done.

Jonny Thomson teaches philosophy at Oxford. He runs a popular Instagram account called Mini Philosophy (@philosophy minis). His first book is Mini-Philosophy: A small book with big ideas.

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