Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Kaizen Way

A Journey of 100 Miles Begins with a Single Step: The Kaizen Way

By Mike Marchev

I can’t remember being this excited about sharing my thoughts on any one particular topic in a long time! I stumbled on an old concept whose time had come and gone in my life, and I am better for it. But it might as well be new news as it has taken over my thinking once again.

If you’re ready, I have some very interesting information for you. Your life could be on the verge of changing for the better. Fast. Easy. And soon.

It all started at my kitchen table like so many ideas do… while reading the morning paper. My wife showed me a book review of One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, written by Robert Maurer, Ph.D. The review impressed me enough to go out and pick up my own copy at Barnes & Noble. (You can thank me later, Barnes & Noble.)

On page 21, I read this:

“All changes, even positive ones, are scary. Attempts to reach goals through radical or revolutionary means often fail because they heighten fear. But the small steps of kaizen disarm the brain’s fear response, stimulating rational thought and creative play.”
Since I often remind seminar attendees that Olympic Gold is usually won by 1000ths of a second, or by less than a single point, the concept of taking small steps to achieve goals was not new to me.

The Japanese might have given it its name (Kaizen) but what it involves is simply “continuous improvement.” Taking small steps toward a desired goal is the key. But believe me, this goes against the grain for the majority of people seeking any significant level of change. Grandiose action plans frequently bite the dust in less than two weeks, returning the practitioner to more familiar and gentler ways.

All one really needs to do is identify little things and make small improvements to each one. It is a beautiful, non-intimidating mindset. And it works. Because it is easy.

But where can Kaizen behavior help you? Let’s see…

When you want to clean the attic, the garage, the closet or the trunk of your car, just the thought of the task probably gives you a little stomach acid. As a result, these cleaning chores are postponed indefinitely.

But this behavior can be yesterday’s news if you subscribe to the Kaizen approach. Stop worrying about cleaning anything. All you have to do is pick up one book that is lying on the floor and put it back in its place. The next time you pass the closet, pick up or rearrange one garment. When in the garage, put a screwdriver back in its holster. Take small, non-intimidating steps. You will soon be amazed with your progress!

Since I read Dr. Maurer’s book, I find myself eyeballing a zillion items that, yesterday, would have gone unnoticed and worse, untouched. I figured if I wasn’t going to complete the task in one sitting, I would wait until I could find the time to do so. This has proven over time to a wasteful decision. (Kaizen goes against the popular teaching to finish what you start. With Kaizen, you eventually do complete the task, but not instantaneously.)

I now put one coffee cup away. Pick up one magazine. Pick up and throw away one item from the trunk of my car.

Kaizen works the same way when it comes to eating healthy. You don’t have to give up French fries “cold turkey” once you endorse the Kaizen philosophy. If you try, your brain will fight you and you will lose every time.

Here is what I want you to do. Order the fries. Then before you begin eating, throw one of them away. Just one. Then eat the rest of those tasty little devils. The next time you have a French fry “jones,” throw two fries away before polishing off the bag. Within the year, you will be French-fry-free. Get the idea? Little steps. Big difference. Great results.

But what about exercise? Same thing. You are not about to jog for 60 minutes on the treadmill when you’re coming off the couch in your new exercise program. On the first day, I want you to stand on the treadmill for one minute. Day two, stand for two minutes. Day three, stand for 60 seconds and walk for 60 seconds. This, as you can agree is non-intimidating no matter who you are. Day-by-day, step-by-step, you will soon be working up a sweat while enjoying the process.

Don’t tell me it doesn’t work. My wife and I are doing this exact thing after walking past the workout room in our home for nearly six months. Now, we stop for a minute or two (we are well above that now) and ride the bike or jog a bit without hesitation or remorse.

How does Kaizen behavior translate to business activities? Write one sentence for that hard-to-write sales letter. Send one postcard to a client or prospect (each day). Make one phone call to past customer. But not all at once.

The first day, just locate the piece of writing paper. Period. The next day, affix a stamp to the envelope. The third day, confirm the proper spelling and address of the recipient. Take little steps at first to overcome procrastination and any other excuse you may be relying on.

The concept is incredibly effective. By taking many little steps your efficiency and productivity will sky rocket. Your natural tendency to procrastinate will be deflected and you will feel much better about yourself.

Repeat after me: “KAIZEN.” (Pronounced Ky-zin.)

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