Think about one significant change you’ve made that supported your health, fitness, or well-being. How did you make that change? Did you will the change to happen, or did it sneak up on you? Or was it a combination of both?
We all know that change can be difficult, whether we’re going through a re-organization at work or trying to create new habits that support reaching our goals. We may think we want the change, only to experience internal resistance that undercuts our efforts.
Kaizen is an approach that can help us deal with the internal resistance we face when implementing change into our lives. It’s often used in business to systematically ease change into an organization, but I will share some ideas of how it can be used as a gentle and effective approach to successfully implementing healthy lifestyle changes.
What is Kaizen?
Kaizen is a Japanese world that literally means “good change”. In practice it is the steady, continuous improvement that comes with making small steps toward change.
How Kaizen works
One significant way Kaizen works is by alleviating the internal resistance we often experience when we try to implement new habits or quit destructive ones. We’ve all experienced mental and emotional resistance to change. We may think we want a change and see that it would have a positive impact on our life. But the change still evokes internal resistance like anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, and a general discomfort of venturing away from habitual (and perhaps efficient) ways of doing things. These mental and emotional states obstruct the attitudes we need for change, like acceptance, clarity of purpose, gratitude, and a willingness to stay committed as we struggle.
In his book The Spirit of Kaizen, Robert Maurer shows how Kaizen presents a solution to this problem. He points out that small, incremental changes are far less likely to evoke the internal resistance. For example, all sorts of resistance may arise if you commit to exercising five days a week when you’re not used to doing it at all. But committing to exercising twice a week may not evoke as strong of a reaction. A Kaizen approach may involve experimenting with exercising twice a week for three weeks, then checking in with yourself. You may find that you’re ready to increase to three times a week. This is Kaizen at work; one small step leads to the next. After six months of these small changes and self-evaluations, you may find that you consistently exercise five days a week, without the struggle and angst of pushing yourself to do it when you don’t want to.
An alternative to quitting
The practice of Kaizen can be very helpful when you’re thinking of giving up on a goal. Instead of giving up, ask yourself “what smaller step can I take to get me closer to the goal?” For example, say you want to be ready to do a hike with a 3,000 foot elevation gain by July 11th. Instead of giving up on your goal because you couldn’t finish grinding out a 3,000 foot elevation hike last weekend, think of a smaller step you can take. Maybe that smaller step is doing a weekly hike with a 1,500 foot elevation gain. After two weeks, you re-evaluate and may decide you’re ready to try hikes with a 1,700 foot for another two weeks, and so on. These smaller steps will make you ready to take on the 3,000 foot gain and enjoy yourself in the process. Kaizen offers this gentle alternative to fighting the anxiety, frustration, or self-doubt that may cause you to give up.
How Kaizen helped me stay committed to my health and fitness
I accepted the General Manager position at ZUM in May of 2016. Prior to that I owned my simple personal training business and maintained a healthy balance of work, rest, personal development, and enjoying friends. I had business mentorship through a company that taught me the ins and outs of fitness entrepreneurship, but I didn’t have experience managing a team. Doing my best is always important to me, and I had much to learn (and still do!) I was inefficient and unsure of what I was doing. I worked long hours and wasn’t sleeping well. I was also dealing with shoulder and lower back discomfort, which I believe was my body reacting to the stress. Finally, my fiancée and I were planning our wedding.
The first thing I learned about maintaining my fitness during this time was that I was inconsistent when I tried exercising in the middle of the day. I had to adapt by exercising in the early morning. Getting up at five to do my morning ritual and get to ZUM by seven was a big change for me. My body was stiff and I didn’t have much energy for exercise. Just showing up without expectations was my first step.
The next step was adjusting my evenings so I could get to bed between nine and ten, which didn’t start happening consistently until the fall.
The next step was to be more efficient with my morning rituals so I could consistently start exercising at seven. This was important, as I had to finish by 7:35 so I had time to shower, eat, and start working at eight. Refinements commenced in September, established by January.
The next step was taking a rehab training approach for my shoulders and back. The shoulders stopped aching around February, and I’ve recently noticed my back is almost pain free.
A year later I’m feeling strong and energetic, and I exercise at least five days a week. Usually six. I love exercising in the morning and starting my workday clear-headed and body-connected.
I can’t fail when I take a Kaizen approach to my heath and fitness. It helps me be realistic with my expectations and adapt to my life circumstances. It’s a gentle approach that helps me be gentle with myself.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
Join me on Wednesday, June 7, at 6:45 pm as I expand on this blog and present Kaizen and Lifelong Heath and Fitness in the upstairs classroom. Free to members.