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Last Updated on November 5, 2019

How to Strive for Continuous Improvement and Growth

How to Strive for Continuous Improvement and Growth

Take a second to think about how your life is right now. Are you moving towards the goals you truly want to achieve? Or, has your progress halted?

I know that the majority of you would agree that it’s incredibly frustrating to feel as though our lives have become stagnant. More and more often, people are seeking opportunities which not only align with their values and beliefs but also provide these chances to develop and grow.

This is why the topic of continuous improvement has become so hotly discussed in recent years. People are looking into how they can efficiently and productively facilitate their continued growth and self-improvement.

This process of learning how to incorporate continuous improvement and development into our life allows us to build motivation and progress towards the goals we truly want to achieve in life.

Is this something that you’re interested in?

The good news is that, I’m going to outline why continuous improvement is important and how you can strive for it in your life to in order to achieve YOUR unique goals.

What is Continuous Improvement?

Continuous improvement is based on the idea that even when things are good, they could be better. Continually improving helps us to deliver on our goals and better meet the needs of our daily life. For example, finding ways to become either more productive or remove inefficiency from your life could both be outcomes of your efforts to improve continually.

Basically, continuous improvements help us to ensure that we’re functioning as efficiently, effectively, and accurately as possible.

There are many different methods through which we can pursue continuous improvement, such as through using the Deming Cycle.[1] This plan-do-check-act cycle involves first planning for the change, implementing the change, monitoring to see if that change makes a difference, and then acting on a larger scale if the change was successful.

You could also attain continuous improvement through self-evaluation.[2]

Despite the variety of continuous improvement methods, they can usually be segregated into either the incremental improvement category or the breakthrough improvement category.

Incremental vs Breakthrough Improvements

It is possible to achieve continuous improvement using only one of these two methods. However, the best practices tend to combine the two.

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Incremental Continuous Improvement

Incremental continuous improvements involve making small tweaks to a system as problems and challenges are found. Through this process, we are able to make small changes and corrections without having to review the entire process.

For example, imagine that you’re tasked with editing and proofreading a website for the organization you work for every week. As you work through the webpages, each you notice one or two broken links and you update them.

This would be an example of incremental continuous improvement. You are making small changes to the website that help it function at peak efficiency without having to review the entire system as a whole.

Breakthrough Continuous Improvement

Breakthrough continuous improvements contrast incremental ones. Breakthrough improvements involve making large changes to a system or process and usually involves a large-scale review.

The time and effort invested in breakthrough continuous improvements are larger than incremental improvements, but the results typically generate larger revisions and bring about larger changes more quickly.

Let’s return to the webpage example. Imagine that the organization you’re working for has decided to use a new operating system and a new theme for the webpage which significantly alters the design, formatting, and functionality. Now a much larger update is needed than correcting a few links to keep the webpage working efficiently.

Yes, you’ll have to invest more upfront to make these changes, but the results will likely yield a significantly updated and more modern webpage.

Benefits of Continuous Improvements

The benefits of making continuous improvements are clear. These practices help you to constantly be better yourself, your team, your organization, etc.[3]

Remember, nothing is every perfect and there is always going to be room to tweak and make improvements. Small incremental charges or large breakthrough changes can both bring about continuous improvement.

Are your daily routines holding you back in some way? Maybe it’s time to add/subtract a few things and make some small incremental changes to better your life. Or, it could be time to completely redesign your lifestyle to attempt to skyrocket your productivity immediately.

This isn’t a complicated concept or even a difficult one to implement once you understand it. But learning about continuous improvement methods such as the PDCA cycle, selecting one which works best for you, and implementing it in your life means that there’s practically nothing you won’t benefit from.

So now that you understand what continuous improvement is and how it can potentially benefit your life, it’s time to discuss how you go about incorporating these continuous improvement methods into your daily routine.

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How to Establish Continuous Improvement

Though you could try to tackle continuous improvement without a clear process, you will likely be much more successful if you set a plan to follow. The method I’ll outline today is one that we’ve already briefly mentioned, the PDCA cycle.

Though this model is often used within companies and organizations, it can also be applied to each unique individual.

The steps of the PDCA cycle include:[4]

  • Planning: Identifying and preparing for the change.
  • Doing: Implementing the change and attempt to improve the process.
  • Checking: Monitoring the results and outcomes of the change.
  • Acting: Implementing the change on a larger scale and applying it to other areas of your life as applicable.

The best way to utilize the PDCA when you’re starting out is by making small incremental changes rather than large breakthrough ones.

Smaller changes are easier to manage and you can simply make these changes as problems arise in your life on the fly. No need to consult anyone or seek guidance as you might need to for much larger breakthrough improvements.

Planning Phase: Clearly Define the Problem and Target Solution

Clearly Define the Problem

As problems arise, your first step in this continuous improvement process is to clearly identify the problem. If you don’t define the problem clearly your solution will lack both accuracy and effectiveness.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What is the problem here?
  • Who or what is the problem impacting and how is it having this impacts?
  • When does the problem commonly occur?
  • Why has this become an issue now?
  • What are the consequences of this problem?
  • What would the ideal result of overcoming this problem?

Your answers to these questions should help you clearly define the problem in question. Once you’ve got a clear understanding of what the problem is, what its impacts are, and how it’s occurring, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Establish a Potential Solution

Now that you understand the problem, you need to brainstorm some potential solutions and decide which you believe is the best.

Now, the solutions that you come up with will be unique to the problem in question. For example, imagine that you’re wasting 30 minutes each morning in bed as you scroll through social media on your mobile phone. There are many potential solutions to this problem.

You may decide that you should leave your phone on the other side of the room. You might decide to leave your phone outside of your bedroom each night. Or, you could simply lock yourself out of social media for the morning.

All of these are potential solutions. The main criteria for an effective solution should be that it helps you to overcome, correct, and prevent the consequences of the problem from occurring in the future.

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Your job is to now decide which of your brainstormed solution meets these criteria best. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to the next step of this continuous improvement cycle.

Doing Phase: Test Your Change

Now that you’ve established a potential solution that you feel best addresses the problem, it’s time to implement it. If you want to achieve continuous improvement, obviously you need to take action!

To do this, you need to set up a small trial. If we use the social media example above, a potential trial could be to test your solution for a week.

The purpose of the trial is to ensure that you track this issue/problem closely for the designated time-frame. This will ensure that you’re effectively addressing the problem and not shaking your life up a bit and then forgetting about it.

Additionally, through monitoring, you can make minor tweaks to your solution throughout the trial period if there are issues with it. This will help prevent you from creating more issues than you are solving.

Once the trial phase is over and your small-scale test is complete, you can move onto the next step!

Checking Phase: Review the Trial

Now that you’ve completed your trial phase and have the results you know whether your solution worked or whether it needs more work.

If your solution worked flawlessly, that is awesome! However, many times you’re going to find that your solution will require tweaking as additional issues you hadn’t predicted make themselves apparent.

It’s just the reality of continuous improvement that not every solution you implement will be a winner. But don’t worry, failure is just a stepping stone.

Let’s take a look at this in action by returning to the social media example outlined above.

Imagine that you’ve selected the solution to place your mobile phone outside of your bedroom. You believe this will force you to get up each morning and start your day before checking your phone. Now you’re going to run the trial for a week.

Initially, the trial went well. However, after the first few days, you noticed that you ended up just grabbing your phone from outside of your room and sitting on the couch to check social media.

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This causes you to tweak your solution by adding an app on your phone to lock yourself out of social media accounts for the first few hours of each day. Now you return to the trial phase and complete the process.

Acting Phase: Implement and Apply the Solution

Congrats! You’ve identified a problem in your life, implemented a solution, and tweaked it to correct for any unforeseen issues.

Now it’s time to implement that solution for the long-term to make a real significant change in your life. How you decide is best to do this will depend on the situation.

I find that the best ways to do this are through looking to other areas of your life where this solution could be applied. This helps to engrain it into your lifestyle.

For example, maybe you also struggle with wasting time before you go to sleep on social media. If this is a habit you want to eliminate, you can now transfer the solution you just tested to this problem as well.

Now that you’ve successfully addressed the initial issue with a solution that you’ve fully integrated into your life, it’s time to start the cycle over.

After all, this process of continuous improvement is only continuous if you commit to continually improving different aspects of your life.

After you’ve got some experience with the PDCA cycle, you’ll find each subsequent improvement slightly easier to implement.

Be warned though, the process can be addicting. Once you start, you might find that you don’t want to stop!

Final Thoughts

Continuous improvement is one of the ways through which you can continually work to better your life. One day you’ll be able to look back at this process you underwent and view it as its own reward.

Hopefully, this article motivates you to get working to better your life, even if it’s already pretty good. There’s always room for improvement.

If you commit to a process of continuous improvement such as the PDCA cycle, hopefully, you’ll minimize the time you spend looking back on your life and wishing that you had done more.

I hope this article motivates, inspires, and provides you with the knowledge necessary to push yourself to reach your full potential as you make small continuous improvements each and every day.

More About Continuous Improvement

Featured photo credit: ROOM via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] ISIXSIGMA: Deming Cycle, PDCA
[2] Educational Administration Quarterly: Program Self-Evaluation for Continuous Improvement
[3] The Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement: Continuous Self-Improvement: Systems Thinking in a Personal Context
[4] Encyclopedia of Quality and the Service Economy 2015: Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) Cycle

More by this author

Mark Lynch

Featured Life-Balance, & Personal Development Author

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

“Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

“The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

“The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

    Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

    1. Build a Memory Palace

      What is it?

      The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

      How to use it?

      Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

      “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

      Example

      An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

      • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
      • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
      • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
      • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
      • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

      You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

      2. Mnemonic

        What is it?

        A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

        How to use it?

        Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

        Example

        I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

        I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

        Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

        Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

        Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

        Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

        C

        J

        H

        D

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        P

        Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

        Cubs

        Just

        Hate

        Doing

        Push-ups

        Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

        3. Mnemonic Peg System

          What is it?

          According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

          How to use it?

          The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

          Example

          Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

          0 = hero

          1 = gun

          2 = shoe

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          3 = tree

          4 = door

          5 = hive

          6 = sticks

          7 = heaven

          8 = gate

          9 = line

          Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

          4. Chunking

            What is it?

            Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

            How to use it?

            In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

            Example

            Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

            Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

            081127882

            Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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            081 – 127 – 882

            Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

            “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

            5. Transfer of Learning

              What is it?

              Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

              “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

              How to use it?

              There are two specific ways to use it:

              1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
              2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

              Example

              I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

              Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

              The Bottom Line

              The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

              We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

              Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

              “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

              More About Enhancing Memories

              Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
              [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
              [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
              [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
              [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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