We all know that New Year’s resolutions have an extremely high rate of failure. Life change is tough work and many people set very ambitious goals. Life will get in the way one way or another. Too often people allow slip ups or breaks to discourage them to the point of giving up, and by March we’re back to life as it was the previous year. How can you successfully take advantage of the new beginning of a new year?
One of my favorite examples is the story of a woman who drank sweetened tea throughout each day, until her doctor diagnosed diabetes and instructed her to drastically limit her intake of sugar. Going from a tablespoon of sugar per glass of tea to unsweetened tea could be a change drastic enough to cause distress, defeat, and hopelessness. One sip and she’s likely to think unhelpful thoughts like “I can’t do this” or “I’ll never get used to this,” and resign herself to drinking her sugary tea. Instead, I would encourage her to swipe just a few granules of sugar off the top of her tablespoon before adding it to her tea. Although minutely, she has already decreased her sugar intake. If with each glass, she is able to swipe away just a few more granules of sugar, eventually she will grow accustomed to unsweetened tea and will become disgusted by the sweetened version she used to drink. She is achieving her ultimate goal in manageable steps.
This is a small illustration of the Japanese philosophy of change known as Kaizen, meaning continuous improvement. I once explained the theory to a group of teens as “positive life change, one step at a time.” It is the idea that each better (even if not best) choice is a step in the direction you wish your life to go.
Kaizen was originally developed in the business world as the Japanese were recovering from World War II. It is an all inclusive idea, to be applied to all areas of business or one’s life. All involved parties, from CEO to janitor, are encouraged to suggest any small improvement that could improve effectiveness, productivity, efficiency, etc. These suggestions are immediately put into action, making immediate improvements. The strength of the Japanese auto industry is often cited as an example of the effectiveness of the Kaizen philosophy. Rather than waiting for a focus meeting or New Year’s Day, Kaizen encourages you to take action now.
Do what you can to move towards your goal. Whether you have clearly defined, lofty goals or just a general idea how you would like things to change, any opportunity you have to alter the status quo, no matter how small, is change. Just like weight lifting, it requires practice and repetition to grow your ability to make changes. New Year’s Resolutions are generally more like a 100 pound dead weight, rather than the manageable hand weights of Kaizen. Which are you more likely to continue to lift? Which do you think will be most able to help you grow? If your goal is to lift 100 pounds, it may take you longer building up to it by lifting smaller weights; however, you are more likely to actually achieve your goal.