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A new word recently floated across my screen. The word is “kaizen” and in Japanese it means “improvement.” Management gurus adopted it to use in the workplace, and added a bit to the root meaning. Kaizen has come to imply small continuous improvements that lead to overall change that is bigger and better. Rather than taking on a huge challenge, and then feeling overwhelmed, kaizen is a philosophy that suggests more gradual small changes.

This appeals to me because I’m more of a rabbit than a turtle. I like to make great leaps – quickly, and I resist (and sometimes resent) small purposeful steps towards my goal. But health is an area where leaps don’t work very well.

I can’t take my vitamins or my medicine in big gulps every so often (like when I remember or feel like it). Instead I have to create a habit of doing this small thing every day. It’s the same with most health related changes or habits. Exercise works best if you do a little every day or attend a class once a week. That is much more beneficial for your body than a three hour hike one weekend a month.

So the idea of “kaizen” is helpful. It reminds me that the way to master change is best done in increments. This is gradual and gentle – and if you keep on it, this method gets results!

So what might this look like?

Think of something you would like to change to better support taking care of yourself, or feeling healthier. Examples might be the obvious, like losing weight, or exercising, or cutting some refined foods out of your diet so you can eat more healthy alternatives.

Kaizen suggests that instead of our usual attention on the result – where we want to be, we shift our attention to the process, how we get there. This requires a different focus. How will we map out the way? What will important markers be to help us move in that direction?

Let’s use the example of losing weight. We know the drill. But what if we decided to change one small thing, and do it until it becomes something we do without thinking. You can begin with the small step of eliminating 100 calories a day. You decide to give up that afternoon can of soda.  You won’t even miss it.

What will happen?

One pound is made up of 3,000 calories, so in a month, or thirty days, you can cut back one pound. That is a results focus – and if you’re like me, you jumped right to the “potential end result” – and judged it “not enough.” The rabbits in our midst go crazy – how can a little turtle step be satisfying?

For one thing, it is a step. When we look at a potential end result and judge it as unsatisfactory, then we tend not to even begin. Focusing on the process keeps us in the present. We can feel that we are doing something. We are moving one thing forward. It reinforces that we are in control. Acting – instead of fantasizing – helps us be more powerful and strong. That’s what turtle steps are – strong purposeful actions.

You can think of other areas where small – really small – measurable steps add up to a big difference. Suppose you want to get up half an hour earlier every day so you can meditate and center yourself before plunging into all your activities. You try setting your alarm for 6:30 instead of 7. But when the alarm goes off, you are so sleepy and “just one more minute” becomes thirty, and you don’t even try after the second day. What if instead you tried moving back the alarm for five minutes a day – and you did that for two weeks? Now you’re asking yourself to get up at 6:55, then 6:50, and in a few months you’re getting up at 6:30, and you don’t even notice how hard that was. It has become your habit.

The biggest obstacle to this is your inability to be satisfied. So – keep track. Remind yourself that you are on a path of slow and gentle change. That’s the best way to get to where you want to go!

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