WHAT IS KAIZEN?
It is a Japanese word that I only recently came across in my meanderings through the www. Literally translated, it means change for the good. Although frequently applied to businesses, organisations, working environments, it is a philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement throughout all aspects of life. An on-going process offering the benefits of and gaining from continuous improvement.
Throughout our lives there will be major changes, major upheavals presenting us with the need to adapt and adjust in a major, sometimes immediate way. Maybe moving to a new home, new town or city, new country; starting a new job in which you seemingly have to hit the ground running. However, there are also more gradual or continuous changes taking place. Changes that we may not acknowledge or even recognise due to their subtlety. Usually the process of ageing comes into this category. It just happens, though you may be faced with its reality when you spot that first grey hair or realise that you can no longer do some of the things that you used to do as speedily, as easily. A kerching moment came for me when I realised that I no longer run up the stairs. Something I always used to do, but when had I stopped doing this and why hadn’t I been aware of it happening? I had no idea if I had simply stopped one day, or if it had been a gradual transition.
Just as we have life changes that are gradual, so kaizen offers an approach to positive change through that continuous approach and gradual improvement. An article in mindtools.com suggests that ‘There is always room to make small improvements, challenge the status quo, and tune processes and practice on an everyday basis’. Whilst this is mentioned with reference to organisations, I believe that it equally applies to our day-day life. Surely this can be considered an organisation, though on a more personal level.
We make tweaks to our daily lives all of the time. Small improvements, changes to routines which go largely unmentioned though over time accumulate to effect positive changes. Maybe you introduce a short piece of daily meditation, do a few yoga exercises, cut out foods that you recognise aren’t good for you. Small steps to improvement, which when looked at as a whole, show improvements in health. They have added up, joined forces for your good; reflecting that kaizen philosophy that everything can be improved. OK, the improvement may not be recognised immediately, but such gradual positive changes are easier to maintain over time when compared with such as a fad diet. As that article says, ‘These incremental changes add up to substantial changes over the longer term, without having to go through any radical innovation.’ It also suggests that once a month organisations spend some time identifying areas where there is waste – waste of time, effort, money and consider how this can be cut down or eliminated. How many of us, as individuals, as families would benefit from doing something similar? I tried it and recognised that I wasted time whilst I was writing by ‘allowing’ myself to be distracted by messages pinging through on Facebook etc or diverting onto checking out a phrase, an idea for a future piece. I now set a timer for an hour. An hour of uninterrupted writing. As I am likely to have forgotten any bright ideas, I simply add in to the current piece in a different colour so that I can check it out when my hour is up and set up as a new document for later research. As for social media and emails, I simply switch them off. I know that I could have, probably should have done this before but it is now my official policy and it is done. Small changes that allow for better focusing on the job in hand. Less time and effort wasted. My brain has a break at the end of the hour. I have a blast of fresh air to top up the bird feeders, check out my garden; or carry out a small domestic task; check those emails - then back to the lap top - and my timer.
KAIZEN OR BABY STEPS?
Simply different labels for the same approach, however there may be times when the more grown-up sounding word may be more appropriate.
I have worked with many clients who have been struggling to rebuild their lives. The reasons for this are very wide ranging. Included have been relationship break ups, abuse in its many forms, loss of a job or business, mental health issues including those triggered by one of these reasons. For many, this re-building can be a slow task, just like those first stumbling steps of a baby. They get up, fall down, they get up again and keep trying by taking those baby steps. There can be times when these baby steps, or the associated falls seemingly take them backwards rather than onwards and upwards.
I recall working with a client many years ago who had lost her business due to family issues. This led to a spell of severe depression with her self-esteem, self-confidence, self-reliance turning from being her strengths to being areas which presented difficulties for her. A slow re-build was needed involving those baby steps. However, this was something else that caused her to beat herself up. She often asked why on earth she could only make these small advances? She who used to run a very successful business, providing employment for others. She who was respected by other business owners. Why couldn’t she go straight back to setting up a successful business? We worked on the concept of the necessity of her taking baby steps, including steps to ensure that she continued to improve her mental health in order to be able to take on the strain of running a business again. On the days when she was feeling more positive these thoughts predominated. On the days when she was feeling low, feeling negative, she recognised the need for taking things slowly though she consistently berated herself for her lack of achievement compared with how things used to be. She began to accept that things were different. She was different and was still healing from the depression that had dominated her life.
I used the term baby steps. On reflection, I now wonder if the use of the word kaizen (which I hadn’t heard of at the time) would have been more appropriate. Did the words ‘baby steps’ give her further opportunity to challenge her slow, though steady progress in a negative way? Would she have considered being a part of a programme of development and healing through kaizen as being more suitable for her? I cannot wind back the clock, though I can hope that she continued to take her baby steps which then grew into strides long after we finished working together.
DO BABY STEPS ALWAYS WORK?
A proverb tells us that “It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” I imagine that many of us can equate with taking that great leap and ending up on their backside. I did so yesterday. I pulled a muscle in my leg way before Christmas and have been encouraging healing through a combination of resting said leg, gentle stretching, and application of plenty of various rubs. It has been an excuse for Epsom salt baths too; a plus side not to be ignored. Yesterday, I needed to go into town and, as my leg has shown a marked improvement I chose to walk – and then to walk back rather than wait for a bus. Despite one of those baths when I got home, I have been on my backside today – literally and figuratively. I had taken a leap rather than wait for a bus. No problem, just more TLC required and no more leaping. I should have made the transition from the baby steps around the house and garden more smoothly. Those baby steps that had been working.
It’s great if you can have support with your baby steps. Just as I did yesterday, it is easy to castigate yourself for being an idiot. If the baby steps were being taken by an actual baby, you would offer heaps of encouragement at each tumble or tumbling onto a backside. So why don’t we always do this with our self-talk? If others are on your side, they hopefully supply supportive words of encouragement as a counterbalance to our self-berating.
I have recently joined a group that is offering support with public speaking. A group of like-minded people, who attend Kindle Speakers to develop their confidence in giving presentations and generally speaking to groups/gatherings of people. For me, it is a re-gaining of confidence. As a teacher, I was used to presenting to whole classes. I used to provide training and presentations within the field of education, but also addressing groups whilst representing a charity I supported.
My confidence in many areas of life was demolished a few years ago. I have worked hard by taking those baby steps to re-build my confidence. Public speaking was a skill that still needed to be re-honed. I am now doing this step by step with the support of a group of supportive people ready with their support and encouragement which is much appreciated by all.
DO BABY STEPS ALWAYS LEAD TO LARGER STEPS?
In my experience, I feel that this is not always the case. As a mother, I supported my sons through endless hours transporting to and from swimming pools and sitting watching their developing skills at squad sessions. One son in particular was an excellent swimmer, but easily became fed up when it came to galas, so swimming stopped. Like riding a bike though, it’s always a good skill to have. I have encouraged the playing of piano, guitar, recorder whilst often wishing for ear plugs. These were baby steps that did not develop. For one son, I was told that on the days when he ‘forgot’ to take his recorder to school that he got a better tune out of his ruler that he had to ‘play’ instead. The piano didn’t join us in our move over to Cheshire. As for the guitar, my son still plays though my granddaughters assure me that it can be painful to listen. Baby steps taken but not ones leading to larger strides. All part of life’s rich pattern of winning some and losing some.
No matter what you choose to do by way of taking baby steps – or including kaizen in your life, your life will be all the richer for you doing so. Don’t forget that that first baby step – as with my clients, in picking up the phone, writing that email or text; or you choosing to make tweaks to your life, to develop new skills - that step is the hardest. The step that actually happens before this is probably the most important one. The step whereby you realise that you need to make those tweaks and accept that you ARE going to take that step. Chances are that it won’t be all downhill or even a level playing field thereafter. But, you have got the worst over and done with.
Why not make a first baby step today – read the first chapter of the book that has been lying unopened for ages. Pick up the phone to begin rebuilding a friendship that has become broken. Clear the first piece of junk from that drawer, that cupboard where you hide away those ‘things to be sorted’
Just like those babies taking their first steps in walking, if you fall down – pick yourself up, dust yourself off ..... and, as the song tells us .... start all over again...
If you are havig a problem with that getting back up and taking those steps, do get in touch. I offer distance therapy by Skype as wel as face-face work.
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