Kaizen is the Japanese word for “good change.” Within my commitment to being a life-long learner, I am constantly striving to see good change happen in my life. I hope I’m growing in my self-awareness and doing the dirty work of facing even the ugly parts of myself to bring them to the surface and effect change. I begin most mornings with a little prayer that I will not be the same tomorrow as I am today.
I have a long way to go, but I am slowly increasing my awareness of making small dial turns in my habits and outlook on life. In my twenties I didn’t have many specific long-term goals to generate intentional personal development. My thirties weren’t much better, but my job environment changed and the best mentors I have known entered my life and began pouring into me. Good change began to be apparent and year after year I can now see the growth in my inner life, all the things about communication, relationships, rhythms, healthy habits, and self-awareness.
Becoming more acquainted with the nuances of my personality and the quirks that ping-pong back and forth between cutely self-identifying and frustratingly awkward, I learned to be comfortable enough to acknowledge them, which is the first step in taming them. Nothing drastic has occurred in my daily practices or my overall view of life. It is the menial choices I make over and over which relentlessly drive me toward betterment.
I’ve found that one of the best ways to learn more about your need for personal growth is to increase the depth of personal relationships. During the first two years of my marriage I found more dysfunction in myself than I had in my entire 32 years of life prior to that. Relational intimacy makes it difficult to disguise your identity. Either you or the other person with eventually uncover your weaknesses. It’s up to you to do something about them.
Personal kaizen encourages us to make small tweaks. Whether you are working on handling conflict better, communicating more clearly with a spouse or partner, establishing healthy habits, or creating boundaries for yourself, incremental steps toward your goal are part of a lifestyle of improvement.
I’m a firm believer that life is not a sprint, but a marathon. It’s methodical and steady and if you try to make too many changes at once it will throw off your rhythm and create unnecessary complications. You can’t run a marathon in one gigantic leap; instead, it is accomplished through thousands of individuals steps at a pace of your own choosing.
Visualizing the perfect version of myself in a relational context I am warm and welcoming to everyone. I host happy hours and dinner parties on a regular basis. I am the perfect balance of affectionate and respectful. When I converse with someone one-on-one I have the sweetest and most encouraging words to say and people leave feeling like they have had a huge hug around their mind and heart. Okay, maybe I just need to turn into my mom. Haha.
Most of the time I feel I couldn’t be further from that picture I have in my head. I can’t change 100% all at once, but incrementally I can choose one conversation to have today and be a good listener. Tomorrow I might try to offer a few genuine compliments. Perhaps I’ll invite my neighbor over next weekend. Or maybe the weekend after that. I will make an effort for good change and accept the progress I make, no matter how slowly it emerges.
Although kaizen was created for the business world, I love applying this concept to my life.
When you wake up tomorrow, what if you tried committing to improving in a single area by just one percent? No one else may notice, but it could be the step in the right direction you’ve needed.
We can become stuck in our own growth, paralyzed by any number of reasons: fear of the unknown, the challenge of sticking to commitments, the motivation required to take a big first step. And I would nearly guarantee that you are stuck in some area. I’ve met very few people who couldn’t answer the question, “Where are you stuck in life?”
One of my favorite things to do is challenge people to pick one thing in which they want to improve. I’m definitely challenging you to come up with Big Hairy Audacious Goals, so keep going with those!
Equally as important are the tiny tweaks you make to your food choices, your life rhythms, the conversation with your coworker tomorrow, and your personal quiet time. A series of small changes may be the breakthrough you need for something bigger.
Keep dreaming as big as you possibly can. Then tomorrow, wake up and take one tiny step of good change.
I know you can do it and I can’t wait to hear about your kaizen!