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Self-improvement: The kaizen way

The fundamental principle of ‘nature’ is to grow continuously which means continuous improvement. If we even look at a tree, till its death it grows as a natural process. A river without flow is a dead river, the same way, a human without a progressive mindset for continuous growth is mentally dead. In the same manner, a company or a product without continuous improvement as per the demand of time is at danger. The culture of continuous improvement needs to be inbuilt in the system of the company to survive and grow.

Self-improvement-The kaizen-way

In the last 15 years, 52% of Fortune 500 companies have been banished from the earth, and one of the fundamental reasons would be not changing with the demand of time, which means a lack of continuous improvement effort over time. On the opposite, analysts say the great companies of today’s world have become Great due to the adoption of the philosophy of continuous improvement or Kaizen.

Looking at the History of Japan’s continuous growth and competitive success, we see one of the core elements is Kaizen. The philosophy of Kaizen helps Japanese companies to outshine all other competitors by adhering to certain set policies and rules to eliminate defects and ensure long term superior quality, reducing lead time and cost and eventually customer satisfaction. Work for a Japanese company and you would soon realize how much focus and importance they to the process of Kaizen. Toyota, Japan’s auto industry leader, is well-known for implementing kaizen. In fact, kaizen is one of the core principles of Toyota, whose slogan is ‘Always a Better Way’.

Kaizen, core to Lean Manufacturing, is a philosophy to creating continuous improvement based on the idea that small. Ongoing positive changes can bring radical change over time by a continuous effort by each and every employee from the CEO to line staff to ensure the improvement of all processes and systems of a particular organization.

It was developed in the manufacturing sector to lower defects, enhancing quality, eliminate waste, boost productivity, encourage worker purpose and accountability, and promote innovation. The ultimate goal of Kaizen is the transformation of the culture of a company, and Kaizen believes that the culture transforms when the mindset of the employee transforms which essentially means building the positive habits for progress for the start of the journey from ‘Good to Great’!

We often talk about operational excellence, but operational excellence without personal

excellence is a big vacuum. Elimination of defects and ensure long term superior quality, reducing lead time and cost and customer satisfaction are not only been required for an organization, but it is also eventually deeply needed by an individual for its growth which ultimately leads to the growth of the company. Until and unless the company men are growing the company will not grow, the ‘Kaizen Mind Set’. HR has a major role to play here.

Self-improvement-process-Kaizen

Kaizen has another profound meaning inside, the way Kaizen builds a culture of continuous improvement the same manner Kaizen helps an individual in personal development means building the habits of continuous development more specifically reprogramming the habits of the employees. It must be mentioned that changing habits is not an easy task. It takes dedication and practice again and again and this is how the habits are reprogrammed.

Although Kaizen is traditionally used in business it can be applied to self-improvement. In today’s article let look at the influence of Kaizen on personal improvement. The Japanese method of Kaizen– meaning ‘change’ ‘good’ – is the practice of making small, step-by-step changes to transform your life in a big way. improvement is infinite and self- improvement is a never-ending lifelong journey.  It needs constant self-analysis, recognition, self-reflection and acknowledgment of bad habits, a desire for personal growth and most importantly, action in a positive direction.

With the new year well into motion, we focus on our New Year’s resolutions or improving ourselves. Often, people make big promises to themselves at the beginning of the new year that are soon forgotten once the reality of everyday life sets in. Big goals can be overwhelming, wish for large, radical changes sound good but they can actually make you more resistant to change. There is a scientific and biological reason why this may happen, thanks to part of our brain called the ‘amygdala’.

The Amygdala is an almond-shaped set of neurons located in the brain. It is responsible for our fight-or-flight or stress response when we face with forthcoming danger. The Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Robert Mauer describes in the book ‘One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way’, “When you want to change but experience a block, you can often blame the midbrain for gumming up the works. The midbrain is where you will find a structure called the amygdala. The amygdala is absolutely crucial to our survival. It controls the fight-or-flight response, an alarm mechanism that we share with all other mammals.”

“It was designed to alert parts of the body for action in the face of immediate danger. One way it accomplishes this is to slow down or stop other functions such as rational and creative thinking that could interfere with the physical ability to run or fight.”

He explains that the amygdala’s fight-or-flight response in today’s modern lifestyle, “…sets off alarm bells whenever we want to make a departure from our usual, safe routines.”

Dr. Mauer explains that Kaizen is effective in preventing the amygdala from spoiling our efforts as, “The little steps of kaizen are a kind of stealth solution to this quality of the brain.” Mauer says in the book, “As your small steps continue and your cortex starts working, the brain begins to create ‘software’ for your desired change actually laying down new nerve pathways and building new habits.”

You may wish for a big change in your life but the amygdala prevents you from bringing the change in you. It could bring on feelings of stress, panic and anxiety and cause us to stop and leave the cause of the discomfort, i.e. the new change.

How to overcome this problem?

The solution lays in Kaizen. Kaizen turns the giant goal into baby steps aiming for little improvement each day gives your feeling of victory and trigger release the small dose of Dopamine in your neuro system. Our brains don’t distinguish between small and large victories. Reaching a goal of any size triggers a release of dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter. Dopamine motivates you to take action towards your goal gives you a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them. Procrastination, self-doubt and low or lack of enthusing are linked with low-level dopamine.

Eventually, all those small actions will add up to become big changes in your life. Every day you improve you are reinforcing the idea of success in your subconscious mind and over time subconscious mind changes its program and creates a new habit and victory becomes your habits. That is why Aristotle told, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a Habit”.

Examples of Kaizen in daily life are:

  • Goal – Read more books— Kaizen application – Read one page
  • Goal- Stop Taking Sugar- Kaizen application- one spoon less sugar in tea
  • Goal- 100 Push Ups- Kaizen application- One additional push up every day
  • Goal – Write a book —Kaizen application – Write one paragraph a day
  • Goal – Lose weight — Kaizen application – Eat one bite less
  • Goal -Run a 5K — Kaizen application – Go for a 10-minute walk outside
  • Goal – Quit smoking — Kaizen application – Smoke 1/2 less cigarette
  • Goal – Meditate for 20 minutes every day — Kaizen application – Meditate for 1 minute
  • Goal – A cleaner workplace — Kaizen application – Set a timer and clean for just 5 minutes every day
  • Goal – Save Taka 500—Kaizen application – Save Taka 1 per day

Now, are you ready to kaizen your life, here are some ideas on how to implement this philosophy in your daily life:

  1. Set a goal and ask yourself how can I reach it? Break down your goal and ask yourself questions like ‘What is the first thing I can do to make it?’ Think about the smallest possible action that you could take towards achieving your goal
  1. Prioritize your actions
  2. Focus on the process, not the goal
  3. Do it better, make it better: Always a better way
  4. Mentally prepare: Visualize your success
  5. Hansei (self-reflection): Make yourself accountable
  6. Take regular breaks throughout the day
  7. Track your progress

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