To me there is something truly magical about the philosophy and practice of Kaizen. After all, how could such small actions and thoughts create such amazing results?
But, when I speak about Kaizen in front of a group, I occasionally get the eye roll and the “Ugh! Not this again”. This is from women who have grown up in companies that employ Kaizen as a quality control process. Or they had to certify in Six Sigma, another improvement methodology. In these settings it is about streamlining and continuous quality improvement that result in financial returns.
No, no! I exclaim. This is different.
While it’s true that Kaizen came out of manufacturing, the way that Dr. Robert Maurer presents it in his book, The Kaizen Way: One Small Step Can Change Your Life, makes it so much more approachable. It becomes a softer science. Continuous improvement for you, a lovely, warm, flesh and blood being. Not hard, cold manufactured stuff. It offers a way to live as we create a rich, Multidimensional Life, a life more truly connected to who we are at our core.
Sneaking past the amygdala
When I talk about Kaizen I’m talking about actions and thoughts, questions and rewards that are small enough to bypass the attention of the brain’s amygdala. That ancient section of gray matter, developed for the fight or flight response, is just waiting to squash any attempts to make a change, to do something a daring, take a risk, be yourself. It must hang out with the ego. It’s for your own good, dearie!
I see the amygdala sitting on the front porch, kicking back, feet up on the railing, filing her nails. But she’s alert. She snaps to attention if she hears any rustling noises or sees you sneaking out the side door or attempting anything out of the usual.
The beauty of the small steps, questions, thoughts and rewards of Kaizen is that they help you tiptoe right past her.
The four elements of Kaizen
Small steps that are so small that it’s almost impossible to not do them. But in doing them, they accumulate and give you traction. That leads to momentum. All of a sudden, your taxes are done because you’ve broken it up into tiny steps, small increments of time, and the dread and angst never get a toehold.
Small questions that don’t overwhelm and don’t require an immediate answer. They are small enough to bypass the amygdala and make their way to frontal cortex, the creative part of the brain. The frontal cortex goes to work while you go about your own business. These small questions are probably my favorite; they feel like magic. I prescribe them to my coaching clients all the time and utilize them myself. For instance, I wanted to know what one of my fiction characters was keeping from me. I asked myself the question frequently but didn’t struggle with it. Then one morning I woke up startled as I realized what her secret was. And even now as I prepared to write this post and remembered this example, I just got another download. Because my brain continues to chug away in the background.
Small thoughts which can sculpt our mind. Similar to visualization, it involves all the senses. Athletes have used mind sculpting to “practice” while sidelined from injuries or to improve their skills. The brain doesn’t really know the difference – real or imagined – and the results are tangible. In Kaizen small thoughts/mind sculpting is taken a few steps further. Dr. Maurer suggests that we experience what it is we want (public speaking, writing, weight loss) in our minds utilizing all our senses. Feel it, hear it, smell it, see it, taste it. It’s not just seeing or visualizing ourselves doing it; it’s participating in our minds. Maurer gave a great example in a lecture I attended when he confessed that he really didn’t enjoy writing. But he needed to get his book written. So, he spent 30 seconds at a time imagining himself writing. How his body felt in his desk chair, the sensation of his fingers tapping the keyboard, the sound of the tapping, the ease of words flowing from his brain to his fingers to the page, the joy of the creative expression. His brain didn’t know that this was only his imagination; it created the habit he needed to get his book written. His brain chemistry changed, new connections were made and new patterns emerged. More magic?
And finally, small rewards. Often the bigger the reward the harder we try. We strain and struggle because the stakes are high and we don’t want to fail. The result is that nothing – or nothing special – happens. By contrast, small rewards – a cup of coffee after writing 500 words, a manicure after losing 5 pounds, a new pair of fun socks for reaching a workout goal – don’t involve a lot of risks. As a result, we are more willing to take a bigger risk and stretch a bit more. After all, the stakes are low and there’s not much to lose.
Kaizen and creativity
Kaizen is about continuous improvement through small steps. I combine it with principles of creativity. The process becomes unique and powerful.
Consider yourself as the creative work. Discerning what you want, beginning to see it and to take the small steps to begin the journey to it. This is the most important work you will ever do!
Do you want a life that’s rich and full and constantly evolving and growing? Try practicing these four principles. In fact, pause for a moment right now. Ask yourself: “what is one small step I can take today to get me closer to my goal.” And then just listen.
Contact me to find out how this can help you…whatever your dreams.