Painless Progress

June 24, 2011

I recently learned of another Japanese concept that I find interesting and encouraging: Kaizen. Kaizen is the process of continual improvement through small and incremental steps. It started as a Japanese management concept and continues to be used in business, as well as in areas such as psychology and life coaching. It reinforces my belief that as long as you keep moving forward, even if by baby steps, you will eventually get where you’re going.

One of the beauties of Kaizen is that the steps can be so small that you don’t mind doing them over and over again, until they become habit. Once established as habit, you don’t have to think about them anymore. Kaizen encourages the practice of starting with something easy so you’ll see immediate benefits to encourage you to continue. I’ve got several ongoing projects/issues that are not going as well or as quickly as I’d like. In addition to trying to keep myself from feeling overwhelmed, I’ve been casting around for ways to make some small changes that I hope will jump start me. For example, I want to get back to sketching, and I’d like to take off a few pounds. My plan is to replace some of the time I spend watching TV at night with doing yoga, or with sketching. Not for hours, and not every night—maybe just 15-20 minutes three times a week to start with. To make it easy, I’ll keep my yoga props handy in my bedroom, and a few sketching supplies in a basket in the family room so that I don’t spend time searching for what I need to get started.

I find Kaizen comforting. Changing small things doesn’t scare me, and I believe I’ll make more progress by doing a little every day (or most days) than if I become too harsh a taskmaster for myself. I already regularly use a kitchen timer for short timed-writing sessions (it’s amazing how much you can write in 15 minutes if you just keep the pen moving), so I know this can work.

What small, incremental steps can you take on your way to your dreams?

For a much more thorough and inspiring exploration of Kaizen in regard to goals and dreams, visit

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  1. Sounds like a great idea Kathy. I think I'll do something similar so I sketch more often too. Thanks for the idea!

  2. Sounds like you've already made progress! Love the idea of Kaizen as I just had a round of browbeating with myself earlier this morning for failing to do something.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. You're welcome, Cheryl. Let me know how it goes, and I'll do the same.

  4. Laure--Be nice to yourself--you're pretty awesome! Seriously, we all struggle with the right balance of self-discipline and kindness to ourselves.

  5. love this concept! I struggle at work to do a better job and I believe this concept will help greatly. Thanks for posting this :)

  6. Hi Kathy,

    What a cool concept and article that you have written about it. I think that is what I do, I just didn't know that there was a name for it. One way that I use this is when I get overwhelmed and need to make a to-do list, I do the easy things first so that I have a sense of accomplishment before I attack the hard stuff.

    Baby steps work. I laugh when I think about the term though, because it reminds me of Bill Murray with a goldfish around his neck in "What About Bob?". LOL.

    You are so lucky, you have Johnny Damon on your team. He is my secret boyfriend! If you could ever get an autograph for me from him, I would be forever grateful! You would be catching happiness for this Kathy, lol.

    Hope your week is great!

    Kathy M.

  7. Anonymous--You're welcome--hope it helps!

  8. Kathy--A confession: sometimes if I have a long to-do list, I'll write something on it I've ALREADY DONE that day and cross it off!! Hey, whatever motivates!!

    Johnny Damon has been a great addition to the team--he has fit in incredibly well, and is having a terrific year. (Unlike the sorry Manny Ramirez...) If I ever find myself near him (ha), I'll be sure to get you an autograph!