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What the Kaizen Principle Means For Your Child, Your Family, and You

Posted Jan 09 2013 10:20am

What the Kaizen Principle Means For Your Child, Your Family, and You

January 9, 2013 By Nicole Beurkens, PhD

Happy family of five together at homeWith the dawn of a new calendar year comes the urge to make big changes in our lives.  There is something about starting a fresh calendar with the entire year ahead that gets us thinking about all the things we might do over the next 12 months.  If we are honest with ourselves most of the things we aspire to change are tough, and many of us fail before we really even get started.  While it can seem like a good idea to set big sweeping goals, it is also overwhelming and can be a recipe for staying stagnant and making no changes at all.

A few years ago a good friend of mine told me about the “kaizen principle,” and I think it has profound implications for how we view our ability to change.  The word “kaizen” originated in Japan and simply means “improvement”.  Over the years various people have expanded it’s meaning, and today the principle of kaizen includes the idea of “continuous change or improvement”.  More specifically, it means that small shifts in what we are currently doing can have a big impact over time.  Just a 5-10 degree shift in our current behaviors can propel us toward big change in the long run.

The idea of shifting in small degrees, or the kaizen principle, is a helpful way to think about change for our children, our families, and ourselves.  When we set goals that are too big we are easily overwhelmed and don’t end up making any changes or improvements at all.  However, when we start off with a very small shift in our behavior it is much easier to sustain and build on over time.

With that in mind, here are some areas where the kaizen principle might apply as we start this New Year:

  • Healthy Habits – Instead of committing to a huge change in your diet, activity level, or lifestyle, consider instead some small shifts that would feel more manageable and increase your health over time.  You could start drinking a healthy protein shake for breakfast instead of grabbing a muffin and juice.  Taking a 15-minute walk after dinner with your family would allow for an increase in physical activity and some family time.  Maybe you’ve wanted to get rid of processed foods or a certain category of foods, such as gluten, from your family’s diet.  Start by swapping out specific foods items you eat often, and take it a few items at a time.  Choose one sugary processed food your child eats regularly and replace it with a healthier organic version.  Reduce your caffeine consumption by drinking just slightly less each day, and reduce a little more as you go along.
  • Together Time – If one of your goals is to spend more meaningful time together as a family, start with small periods of time on a consistent basis.  You might read 5 pages of a book together in the evening.  Maybe you’d like to play a Wii game together after dinner (make it a Wii sports game and you can spend time together and get physical activity!).  Another option would be to eat dinner together on weekends.  Find some brief things that you can do together consistently and start there.
  • Engaging Your Child – Some of you have a goal of spending more time engaging your child/children with you throughout the day.  Think of small things you can do together on a regular basis such as sorting laundry, setting the table, making the bed, or unpacking the lunchbox each day.  Commit to spending just 5 minutes each day sitting in the same area as your child while s/he is doing something.  Focus on making one positive comment to each of your children before bed to spotlight the good you see in them.  These seemingly small tasks add up over time to equal much more engagement and positive emotion over the course of a month!
  • Time for Yourself – It’s a good idea to make sure we each have some time for ourselves!  Many parents, mother especially, can feel overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to get some “me time” during the week.  Some small shifts might include putting the kids to bed 15 minutes earlier so you can take a bath, call a friend, or read a few pages of a book.  Another way to accomplish those kinds of activities is to institute some “alone time” for everyone in the house for 15-20 minutes each day.  The kids go to their own rooms/spaces and you go to your space to do whatever you want to do for those few precious minutes of time.  Put a favorite hand cream by the kitchen sink and take 10 seconds to put some one each time you wash your hands.  Find something that makes you feel happy or peaceful, no matter how small, and start doing that thing regularly.

When thinking about small changes like the ones above there is a tendency for us to feel like they are inconsequential or won’t make a difference.  It’s easy to skip the small stuff because we think it doesn’t matter.  However, the kaizen principle tells us that it is in taking small consistent actions that we can accomplish big things.  If we set a goal that is too big we run the risk of doing nothing.  If we strive to make small changes consistently we start down the path of significant change over time.  What 5 degree shift are you willing to make right now?

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