Take the first step: discover the power of Kaizen

On May 1, 2019, I set a goal to exercise every day for 365 days. About three days in I started to question if my goal was too lofty because the thought of exercising makes me panic. I hate sweating, I hate feeling hot, I don’t like pain and all I think about while I am exercising is the 900 other things I could be doing instead. Given my extreme dislike of exercise, I should celebrate that I have successfully exercised for 25 consecutive days. What is driving my consistency and commitment?


I believe in taking smaller steps to achieve a bigger goal.



For my one-year exercise sole goal, I am applying the Kaizen method to help me stay motivated, determined, consistent and committed. Kaizen is the Sino-Japanese word for “improvement” and it means, “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” The Kaizen philosophy began after World War II when Toyota first implemented quality circles in its production process. In the Japanese manufacturing industry, Kaizen is a strategy where employees at all levels of a company work together proactively to achieve regular, incremental improvements to the manufacturing process.


The basic tenant of Kaizen is making great and lasting change through small, steady increments.

In the book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. Dr. Robert Maurer illustrates how the Kaizen philosophy used in business and industry can be applied to personal improvement and success. The core idea of his book is simple: how can you take a step so small that it is impossible to fail?



Achieving goals isn’t about going big and bold


Dr. Maurer explains that when it comes to success and goal setting we are typically taught to think big and take big bold steps, however, this approach can be a recipe for failure. Taking big, bold steps may seem exciting at the moment, but that excitement will quickly wear off and leave you with anxiety, stress, uncertainty, and fear of failure. When you experience those negative emotions, the brain triggers the amygdala to activate our fight or flight response. The amygdala is designed to alert parts of the body for action in the face of immediate danger. It slows down or stops other functions such as rational and creative thinking that might interfere with the physical ability to run or fight. As a result of our fear, we start to seek short-term comfort, distractions, and coping mechanisms.


“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step.” - Lao Tzu

The Kaizen method of taking super small steps toward a goal allows you to essentially tip-toe past the amygdala and avoid the fight or flight response. Slow, low-pressure change helps your brain circumnavigate the fear that blocks success and creativity so you can take action on a goal without the fear of failure. If you apply the Kaizen method to reaching your goals, your resistance to change begins to weaken.


You cultivate an appetite for continued success and lay down a permanent new route to change. This is the key to building constructive habits. –Dr. Robert Maurer

In his book, Dr. Robert Maurer provides several strategies and useful insights to apply the Kaizen concept to stand-alone goals or fixing troublesome behaviors. He unpacks how to think small thoughts and use mind sculpture as a strategy to help you when you can’t psych yourself up to take the first step. He describes how to ask small questions to defuse complicated fears. He gives meaningful examples of taking small actions, solving small problems, using small rewards for intrinsic motivation, and identifying small moments.


Kaizen is a daily process that requires faith, or belief in the power of your body and brain to carry you where you need to go. It is a process that should not be complete just because you reached your goal or crossed the finish line. Kaizen encourages you to view life as an opportunity for continuous improvement.


Have a goal? What will be your first step?


Want to quit drinking coffee? Try taking one less sip each day.

Need a cleaner house? Set a 5-minute timer and see what you can get done.

Want to learn a new language? Pick one new word to commit to memory each day.

Want to start exercising? March in front of the tv during commercial breaks.

Want to save money? Save one dollar each day – figure out ways to do that in your daily expenses.


Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Kaizen, the Japanese theory of gradual, incremental improvement, works well for me and I am applying it to my 365-day exercise sole goal.


I am not trying to look a certain way, build muscle or lose weight. I don’t want to focus on metabolic conditioning, reaching my peak fat burning zone, and I don't care about calories burned. I just want to be physically active so my mind, body, and soul are healthy and physical movement is not hard for me as I age. Since there is no pressure to hit a certain weight loss target by a certain date, I am taking baby steps. I am focusing on ease of movement and finding a source of new inner mental strength as it relates to exercise. I am not interested in overworking myself. While it would be nice to get fit, I would rather not have to go through a bunch of pain to get the gain.


Since I am a realistic optimist, I knew there was no way I was going to hit the gym and do full on weight training circuits when I haven't lifted weights in years. I knew I would not run 2 miles a day when I can't even jog for 5 minutes. I knew I could not commit to doing 100 crunches a day when I haven't done a set of crunches in over a year. On the flip side, I knew I could be successful at this goal provided I started slow. Applying the Kaizen method has helped me stay consistent and kept me from procrastinating. I may only do short 5-10 minute exercise increments right now, and I am okay with that. I will gradually increase those increments over time but only when I feel like doing so. I don’t feel a desire to increase the time or intensity right now because simply checking off my daily habit tracker boxes is enough. I like this concept of micro-change because 10 minutes of exercise does not stress me out. I am confident I can handle little bursts of activity.


This month I have been trying a variety of simple exercises to see what keeps me motivated, brings me joy and gets me moving. I enjoy walking so I have covered 27 miles in 25 days. I have also done squats, jacks, crunches, lunges, push-ups, and planks. None of these exercises seem daunting because I limit the quantity and duration of the workouts. I hope my baby steps will help lead me to figure out what is my exercise thing! Could it be kickboxing, weight lifting, yoga, group classes, walking, cross training, dance, or Pilates?


Dr. Robert Maurer and the Kaizen philosophy has taught me that forming a habit around exercise is so much more important than going big and failing.
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