The Power of Kaizen
September 2017, dragging two cases of clothes and toiletries (at least 50 per cent more than what I needed) through Heathrow Airport. Feeling bogged down by the endless political bad news and stuck in London living, I quit my job, left my flat and booked a one-way ticket to Tokyo. I needed to go somewhere completely different. I wanted it to help me to gain perspective and to change some of my bad habits. I had no sort of exercise routine whatsoever, suffered from insomnia and I was incapable of having money and not spending it. Dropping a life-bomb was the right move.
Tokyo felt calm and ordered, despite the fact it had an even larger population than London. As soon as I arrived though, I immediately felt less anxious. There I was, on the other side of the world, without my support network of friends and family around me, and starting a freelance career with a nine-hour time difference. I also had to think carefully about how I would spend my time, energy and money as, unbeknown to me, I’d chosen to move to one of the most expensive cities in the world.
One day, while working on my computer in a Tokyo coffee shop, I found an online article about Kaizen. Roughly translating as “change for the better”, Kaizen is a method for incrementally improving your habits. Rather than making drastic lifestyle alterations or following strict regimes, it’s about interrogating your existing behaviours, then making very small steps towards changing them for the better.
As somebody who has always struggled to sustain new habits, I loved the idea of taking small measures overdramatic course corrections.
The philosophy of Kaizen came from a business theory conceived by an American engineer, professor and management consultant, William Edwards Deming, to improve wartime production. After World War II, Deming was sent to Japan to help with the country’s reconstruction efforts. Its implementation is credited with influencing the success of Japanese companies in the late 20th century. Rather than employees receiving instructions about how to do their jobs, everybody in the company (from factory foreman to canteen worker) was encouraged to suggest small changes to improve business operations.
Kaizen is also good for helping you to adopt better habits in everyday living. In the same way that each person on the production line in a Japanese factory might think of improvements to business efficiency, you are encouraged to assess your own behaviours and think of small steps towards achieving your goals. For example, if you frequently end the day dehydrated, have a glass of water every time that you get up to go to the toilet.
Kaizen focuses on such minor, additional changes that you barely notice it. The process doesn’t require a total overhaul or a new routine, so you have much more chance of sustaining positive behaviour in the long run. I have now returned from a transformative time in Japan and managed to adopt some amazing positive habits. I exercise regularly, save a portion of my salary and sometimes I even make my food for work instead of buying it. Kaizen starts with small steps – but the long-term result can be life-changing.
Kaizen by Sarah Harvey is available to buy now (Bluebird, £9.99)
The American Cardiovascular Society now classifies this as moderate exercise, so shed some calories and get a sweat on by sweeping up leaves or potting succulents in your garden.
Read a good book before bed
Just six minutes of reading has been proven to promote a night’s better sleep.
Leave online shopping items in your basket overnight
If you are shopping online but trying to save your money, leave the items in your basket and sleep on it. You’ll wake the next day with greater clarity on what you really want, rather than buying on impulse.