Struggling to reach your goals? Try using the Japanese practice of Kaizen

You have big, ambitious goals and even bigger dreams. But how do you get from where you are now to make those dreams come true? The answer may surprise you: By aiming for just 1 percent improvement. This counterintuitive approach is called Kaizen, and it was invented in the Depression-era US and perfected at Toyota in Japan. But instead of using it only to continuously improve our workplaces or our jobs, Kaizen can be a powerful approach for improving ourselves.

That’s because it’s all about the small things you do today rather than making grand plans for someday. With Kaizen, self-improvement works by aiming for 1 percent improvement today, another 1 percent tomorrow, and so on. It’s a great concept that may need to be tweaked just a little, depending on what you’re trying to improve. If you improve by 1 percent every day, that adds up to 100 percent improvement in just over three months. That will be doable for some things and less so for others. Let’s say you run a mile every day and you want to work up to running two miles. One one-hundredth of a mile is just under 53 feet, so it makes perfect sense to add 53 feet to your run each day and gradually work up to the second mile.

But let’s say it takes you 10 minutes to run a mile, and you want to work it down to five. That may be a lot harder to achieve in 14 weeks. For Kaizen to work, you must first begin with a goal for 1 percent improvement, whatever that might mean in the process you’re trying to improve.

Second, decide how often you’re going to work toward that goal and stick with the plan, whatever it is. You can keep your grand goal, if you have one, in the back of your mind, but don’t focus on it. Focus on achieving that 1 percent improvement. Once you’ve solidly accomplished that, pick your next 1 percent goal. If you keep repeating this process, you’ll soon find you’ve accomplished major changes in your life.

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