Kaizen is the Japanese art of relatively small, continuous improvements.

I first learned about this idea way back when I was an engineer working in aerospace. I was in a class about quality control and learned that Japanese automotive firms used the Kaizen principle in their manufacturing processes, achieving remarkably positive outcomes in product quality as well as employee well-being.. little by little. But, it wasn’t until recently that I realized I could use these same principles in all areas of my life.

In the past when I sought to improve something in my life, I would typically plot out an ambitious plan that would start out great, but invariably unravel when I failed to keep up.  At best, the result was frustration and at worst I abandoned the effort altogether. Then, I started to take a different approach, asking the question, “How could I make things just a little better right now?”

An example of how I applied this idea is with my yoga practice.  Throughout my twenties and early thirties I had a daily practice and was quite a Gumby.  Then along came parenthood… next came my forties.  I grew less and less limber and had less and less time available to practice. I kept trying to reestablish my routine in the way that I had when I first started yoga.  The only problem was that I was twice the age and had half the free-time.

Then one day early last year, although I didn’t realize it at the time, I began to apply the idea of Kaizen to my yoga practice.  At that point, I was practicing about once a week.  Given I didn’t have the time to practice for 90 minutes everyday like I used to, I asked myself “How can I make things just a little better with my yoga practice right now?”  The response to my own question was, “Do one sun-salutation sequence a day, for a week.” (for those of you not familiar, a sun salutation is a flowing series of movements that takes about a minute or two to complete.) The next week, I increased the number of repetitions by one per day, until I was doing five sets each day. I continued to build on this foundation by adding various sequences to the mix.

More than a year later, I have a relatively consistent yoga practice. No, it isn’t perfect, but it is continuously improving, and I feel SO much better. Now, instead of feeling defeated because I am not meeting my ideal, I am celebrating because… “it’s getting better, a little better all the time.” I have a lot more I could say about it, but I need to go so I can fit some yoga into my day! I am curious to hear about how this works for you!

2 Comments

  1. Niall MacMenamin

    Great post, Joe! I’ve always been a BIG believer in small improvements.

  2. Robert

    Great philosophy, I’m better at little steps, so this has promise for me. Thanks, Joe. Robert.

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