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Published on July 24, 2018

How Continuous Improvement Can Enhance Your Personal Life

How Continuous Improvement Can Enhance Your Personal Life

Kaizen is the Japanese philosophy and practice of continuous improvement. This concept of continuous improvement was first conceived in the USA during WW2.

To maintain the production levels and meet demand, the industry had to come up with a system that would allow for incremental progress in production rather than no progress at all – which was very much the reality the industry was facing.

This concept of consistent incremental improvement proved to be a huge success and saved the US manufacturing industry from a rapid decline.

After WW2, as part of the rebuild programme for Japan, the Japanese were invited to visit manufacturing plants through out the USA. The Japanese took this successful concept of continuous improvement and adapted into Kaizen.

This philosophy formed the base from which the Japanese have built a manufacturing industry that dominates the world today.

In this article, I’ll look into what continuous improvement is and how you can make use of this concept to enhance your life.

What does Kaizen (continuous improvement) have to do with you?

So what does Kaizen have to do with us? How can it help us enhance our personal lives?

“Persistence, perseverance, and continuous improvement are the ingredients for forming a successful person.” — Debasish Mridha

While Kaizen was originally developed to help businesses improve and thrive, it’s just as applicable to our personal lives.

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The Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement I believe is a failure proof system that enables us to achieve and sustain our personal goals and dreams in life.

The concept of continuous improvement offers us a way where we can live our lives to the fullest by continuously learning, growing and thriving.

We live in a world of never ending disruption and change. By adopting the philosophy of Kaizen, we become more adaptable, flexible and resilient to dealing with the constant demands and disruptions we face in our lives.

What continuous improvement is exactly

The philosophy of Kaizen is based on the concept that instead of making big changes at once, the continuous improvement approach focuses on making small improvement over time.

Kaizen is often referred to as the “strategy for 1% gains”. It is these 1% gains that athletes focus on to improve their performance. The 1% gains are incremental and if you keep building on the 1% gains the rewards are phenomenal.

Continuous improvement is perpetual and so to maintain gains and improvement, you need to work on them continuously.

Your personal improvement journey is never finished! What this means is, if you are truly committed to philosophy of continuous improvement, you are less likely to quit because you are always in search of the next goal.

How continuous improvement empowers you

How many New Year resolutions have you made and never achieved over the years?

Unless you are one of the small minority who are goal orientated high achievers, maintaining motivation and the commitment to achieving your goals is hard work and dare I say it – with not much success – one big FAILURE after another.

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Hence, these are the reasons why New Years’ resolutions are never achieved.

Continuous improvement can help you to achieve any goals you set. If you commit to the practice of continuous improvement, your motivation to achieve your goals and aspirations in life will never die.

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” — Benjamin Franklin

You will never have to struggle with the dilemma of giving up or giving in because it all became too hard.

Your achievements and success in life will be as a result of you taking continuous incremental steps toward your goals.

Continuous improvement is not about reaching the big goals in life but about taking small steps and improving and refining along the way.

How to commit to continuous improvement

If you truly desire a successful life where you are thriving, the first thing you must do is embrace and accept that your journey of self improvement and growth will never end. It is a lifelong journey of learning.

Once you have accepted that your journey to improving your life is life long, you then follow these steps:

1. Set your goals based on the philosophy of 1% incremental achievements

Remember that setting the goal is the easy bit. Keeping motivated, focused and on track to achieving any goal is the hardest part.

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The concept of continuous improvement provides you with a system or a process that if you commit to following will enable you to confidently achieve any goal you set- you are guaranteed to win.

“Instead of trying to make radical changes in a short amount of time, just make small improvements every day that will gradually lead to the change you want. Each day, just focus on getting 1% better in whatever it is you’re trying to improve. That’s it. Just 1%.” — Brett and Kate McKay of The Art of Manliness

It might not seem like much but continuous 1% improvement/achievements every day will gradually add up to 100% and the goal is achieved!

In their book The Art Of Manliness, Brett and Kate McKay talk about how the journey of self improvement and personal growth is a lot like a rollercoaster ride – scary, exciting and with lots of ups and downs.

They believe that by following the concept of Kaizen (the 1% improvement) every day enables you to get off the roller coaster ride of feeling like a failure and being angry with yourself because you keep giving up.

2. Break down the system into small actions

Continuous improvement is a journey of personal growth where you are making long-term steady progress. It is not about random bursts of improvement with fits and starts of activity. This approach to self-improvement will not give you the sustainable long-term changes you seek to improve your life or achieve your goals.

For example, if you have huge debt and you want to pay it back but it is all too much, so you hide away from taking any action. To put the concept of continuous improvement into action, the first thing you need to do is not focus on how much you owe, instead focus on creating a system or process that enables you to pay back an incremental amount each week.

Once you have created the system, you must break down the system into small actions or behaviours with the least resistance and effort. Commit to these actions on a daily basis until your original system is habit.

Commit to paying back a realistic amount each week and then increase the amount you pay back by 1% plus every week after that. Keep going until the debt is paid off.

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3. Keep track of your 1% success

The other important factor about incremental achievement is that you must measure and keep track of your 1% successes.

Evaluating and measuring your improvements are important for your own motivation and commitment to the journey. If you are not measuring your progress, your subconscious brain will kick in and sabotage your progress by convincing you that it is all too hard and you are not making any progress at all.

Your subconsious brain only believes what you tell it. Unfortunately you have told your brain a lot of untruthful things over a long period of time about how you are a failure, not motivated and never really achieved anything in life. Your subconscious brain as a result believes all these “facts” that you have told it to be true.

Measuring and evaluating your 1% successes is key to you retraining your subconscious to believe that Yes – you can achieve your goals and succeed in life!

Focus on the progress, always

Continuous Improvement does not focus on making huge gains or big improvements all at once. Instead it focuses on long-term steady progress.

When you follow the philosophy of Continuous Improvement, you won’t radically change your life but over time with consistent and constant improvement and change, you will find that you are living your life to the fullest – empowered, resilient and thriving.

Why would you not want to embrace this philosophy of incremental improvement and growth into your personal life?

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will be a stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilence Coach who is passionate about thriving and growing in a complex world

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Last Updated on October 23, 2018

Easily Distracted? Here’s Your Solution

Easily Distracted? Here’s Your Solution

Are you reading this article because you’re currently searching for a solution or method to help improve your focus? Trying to find a way to concentrate better so that you can get more done in your day? Or, do you feel like you spend a lot of time easily distracted on things other than what you’re meant to really be focusing on?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone! As our society becomes more and more advanced, there is much more information for us to digest and more opportunities to experience. This can definitely be overwhelming and distracting! Whether it’s a work proposal that you’re trying to focus on writing, or a goal in life that you’re striving for, distractions do get in the way of your focus towards those important things in your life. And, the distractions come in a wide variety!

For example, many of us are easily distracted by our mobile phones. Whether it’s the constant notifications popping up, or the need to scroll through your social media news feeds, these are all distractions that cost us time. There are also bigger distractions like wanting to go to a game on a beautiful day, or taking a weekend holiday even though you have a deadline due on Monday.

What are Distractions?

Let’s go deeper to break down and understand how distractions happen in the first place. Distractions are things that divert away your attention from the action that you’re trying to do. They make you lose focus and put you off track. The problem with distractions is that they not only cost time, they dilute your energy, too. Repeated interruptions of this sort can lead to demotivation, because you’ll feel like you’re overwhelmed… yet not getting anything done!

Contrary to popular belief, our brains perform best when we’re focused on one objective at a time. We’re generally not good at constantly switching our attention between different tasks. Multiple studies have shown that when we do this, the performance of each task suffers compared to if we focused on them one by one. So multitasking isn’t the best option when it comes to wanting to get more done quickly.

How Much Do Distractions Cost?

As I mentioned previously, in today’s society, we’re faced with so much information that it’s easy to be bombarded by distractions.

If you’re a typical working American, you’ll be distracted every 11 minutes; and, it will take you 25 minutes to settle down again to your task. Additionally, the more complicated your project, the longer it will take to regain your focus. This happens because your brain has to put in considerable effort when switching between complex objectives.

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Distractions have a huge cost on our focus and productivity. If you want to improve or increase your focus, you need to learn to deal with the distractions in your life.

What are Internal Distractions?

When it comes to distractions, we tend to think of them as external occurrences: your phone starts ringing, someone talks to you and interrupts your train of thought when you were immersed in something important, or the sudden onset of construction noise when you’re in an important meeting.

It’s very easy to blame external distractions as the cause when you can’t focus. But, there’s actually a hidden type of distraction beneath the surface that is just as, if not more, responsible for taking away your focus. These are Internal Distractions.

The problem with internal distractions is, if you’re not acutely aware of them, you can be wasting both time and energy without even knowing it. So, before tackling external distractions effectively, you first have to take care of your internal distractions.

Priority Chaos

There are a few types of internal distractions, but let’s start with probably the most common one: the concept of Priority Chaos.

One of the most common distractions we encounter is that we have too many options on hand. This can cause priority chaos.

For example, some people may find it hard to focus at home because there are too many options to choose from. You can choose to feed your dog, read a book, watch TV, have a snack or take a nap.

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Besides the costs of distraction mentioned before, priority chaos is a big demotivator. When there are too many potentially attractive options, it’s hard to focus your energy and choose one of them – ideally the one you should be doing.

Priority chaos is also a demotivator because it makes you feel guilty. When you let your internal distractions overtake your focus, you’re the one who chooses to divert your own attention and energy away from your task. So when the task you wanted to complete doesn’t get done, you can’t blame an external factor. Whether you do it consciously or not, you’ll end up blaming yourself!

Why Does Priority Chaos Happen?

Your brain subconsciously prioritizes tasks based on three factors.

  1. To fulfil an existing need. For example, you need to go to the bathroom urgently, so your brain is guaranteed to prioritize it.
  2. To achieve a certain feeling of satisfaction, such as the satisfaction of eating a delicious chocolate fudge cake.
  3. The perceived cost of achieving the benefit. What is the effort, energy or time required to complete this action?

The brain automatically take these 3 factors into account even when you’re not thinking about it.  

Unfortunately, unless you’re consciously making an effort, your brain is not always the best at making accurate judgement calls. It tends to have a bias towards short term benefits and short term costs.

As there are often many more options our brains link to short term benefits, when you’re trying to focus on a task that gives you a long term benefit, that task usually becomes low priority. This is the essence of Priority Chaos.

How to Overcome Priority Chaos?

The good news is that it’s not so difficult to overcome this common internal distraction.

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The first step that you can take is to identify what task needs the most focus to get accomplished. Once you have that figured out, simply break down the that task into smaller, bite-sized tasks. Each bite-sized task should have a very clear short term benefit (something that you can easily describe in one sentence), and a very clear short term cost (something that you can quantify, such as time spent).

For example, let’s say you have a grant proposal to write for an upcoming project at work. The first bite-sized task that you can accomplish is to outline the grant proposal and split it into 4 different categories. This will ensure that you cover everything that is needed, and allows you to focus on each section one at a time.

Also, set a time limit or duration for each bite sized task. The time limit should be short enough so that it’s a no-brainer to want to check it off. Remember, the brain has a bias towards short term benefits, so it’s likely you’ll find it hard to resist checking off a bite-sized task!

The next step would be to evaluate your other options. Besides focusing on your grant proposal, what are all the possible things that you could be doing that would divert your attention away? Be realistic about what they are! Write them all down, and list out the benefits and the costs associated. You don’t have to write them down in detail, just a general description will do.

For instance, instead of writing your proposal, you could spend 20 minutes watching a comedy series on Netflix. The benefit is that you get entertained and have a good laugh. The cost is that you’ve just lost 20 minutes of your time, and that comedy series did nothing to help you with the grant proposal.

Once you have your list completed, start prioritizing them. You have a time limit, so you need to order your tasks by priority, starting with the focus task as your top priority. Then fit the others around it.

For any remaining tasks on the list that won’t fit within your allocated time, don’t worry. You don’t have to give them up. Just schedule them for another time.

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Long and Short Term Benefits

As explained earlier, our brains are not good at evaluating and comparing short term and long term benefits.

Short term benefits usually have a relatively low cost and are concrete, allowing our brains to easily grasp them. We usually associate long term benefits with high cost, and these perceived costs are usually not as clear cut. The longer term it is, the more effort it takes to imagine the benefits. This automatically creates a mental barrier and resistance in our brains. As a result, we tend to trade long term gain for short term gains.

This is the reason why you might know that something is good for you in the long term, such as losing weight and exercising, but for some reason, you can’t force yourself to feel excited about it. On the other hand, you might know that something is bad for you, such as binge eating junk food. But, the anticipation of short term satisfaction overwhelms your conscious ability to resist it.

This is the next type of internal distraction that we face, and it is called Short & Long Term Mismatch. Thankfully, this can be tackled, too.

If you’d like to learn more about this internal distraction and how to overcome it, subscribe to our newsletter today, where you will automatically receive more of this knowledge that will allow you to be in greater control of your situation and actions.

There is More Than Focus alone!

Whether it’s wanting to increase your focus to be more productive, or wanting to manage your time better, here at Lifehack, we’re committed to helping you find and become a better you. If you’d like to truly transform your life around, you shouldn’t be focusing only on one area of your life–such as changing a career or learning to manage your time better, and expect life-changing results. Instead, you must focus on changing yourself in several areas at once–which are what I call the 7 Cornerstone Skills.

These 7 Cornerstone Skills will help you to build a long term foundation. It’s not teaching a set of independent skills — it’s one system with different aspects. Here at Lifehack, we’ve created the perfect course that will enable you to learn all 7 skills, and as you go through the course, we’ll connect the dots into a single cohesive whole. You’ll progress on a journey of personal growth and transformation with each module that you complete. So if you’re feeling stuck in any area of your life today, why not start this journey with us?

Featured photo credit: Erik Lucatero via unsplash.com

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